Words And Places native literature from the american southwest

Songs of My Hunter Heart: Laguna Songs and Poems

With Harold Littlebird

For Comment and Discussion



Paguate is one of eight villages on the 418,000 acre Laguna Pueblo Reservation. It lies at the mouth of Paguate Canyon on the northern slope of Mount Taylor, the sacred mountain of the Lagunas. Just above the village, along Paguate Creek, there are rich pastures and farm lands. There, the Lagunas have maintained small orchards and planted plots of corn, beans, and chiles. In the marsh land along Paguate Creek some Lagunas believe their ancestors emerged from the under¬world into this world.

Just below Paguate is one of the most extensive uranium deposits in this country. The Anaconda Corporation operates the Jack Pile mine there. As Harold Littlebird observes on the tape, the mine is steadily working its way up Paguate Canyon, eating up Laguna fields and threatening the village itself. The effects of the Jack Pile Mine on the village are complex. Presently the mine provides funds for a variety of Laguna tribal projects as well as good paying jobs for virtually all Lagunas who want them. At the same time it is destroying the fields which sustain the Lagunas' traditional way of life. Danger of contamination is ever present. Consider the dilemma the mine creates for Laguna people. It may be helpful to look at the way another Laguna author, Leslie Marmon Silko, uses the uraniam mine in her novel Ceremony (Signet, 1977). See especially pages 255-59.

A word has power in and of itself
It comes from nothing into sound
and meaning; it gives origin to all
things. By means of words can a man
deal with the world on equal terms.
And the word is sacred

Words This passage from N. Scott Momaday's The Way to Rainy Mountain is perhaps the clearest statement of an idea that runs throughout writing by contemporary Native Americans. Harold Littlebird's comments on the way Pueblo people approach language is in some ways an elaboration of it. Littlebird emphasizes that while words themselves are important, the manner in which words are spoken is equally important. Discuss Littlebird's ideas on Indian and non-Indian ways of speaking. Tosamah's sermon on St. John's gospel in Momaday's novel House Made of Dawn (Harper & Row, 1968; pp. 91-98) and Simon Ortiz's superb essay "Song/Poetry and Language" (Sun Tracks, 3 (1977), pp. 9-12) provide provocative points for additional discussions of this idea.

Hunting Most American Indian religions recognize the interrelatedness and kinship of all living things. Before going out to hunt, it is often customary for a hunter to sing or pray to the living thing he wishes to kill. Harold Littlebird sings two such song/prayers on this tape, and reads a poem/prayer which he uses for the same purpose when he goes deer hunting. Consider Littlebird's comments about the songs and his poem. Another of his hunting poems may provide a useful perspective:

alone is the hunter
who seeks only to kill and not reach into what he has taken
and accept fully
all that was given
   (from Voices of the Rainbow, p. 206)

The plot of Frank Water's novel The Man Who Killed the Deer (NY: Pocket Books, 1971) centers on Pueblo deer hunting traditions, and Leslie Silko's novel Ceremony (NY: N.A.L., 1978) portrays a poignant deer hunting sequence on pages 51-54. You may wish to contrast Littlebird's comments with these fictional treatments.

Man of Words Harold Littlebird is a potter, a teacher, and a filmmaker. He is also a man of words, a singer and a poet. Like many other Indian people, he lives and sings in many worlds. As a pueblo man he sings traditional pueblo songs such as the Turtle and Deer Dance songs on this tape. As an urban Indian, he sings of the urban Indian experience in the "49" songs on this tape. As a contemporary poet he writes and sings lyrics of his own life. Harold Littlebird's experience and his repertory show us that the songs of even one American Indian singer come in many forms and are used in many contexts. Some conform to our expectations; some do not. Talk about the variety of ways Harold Littlebird uses song.

"49's" "49" songs are very popular with many Indian people today. As Harold Littlebird explains they are songs which are usually sung late at night after the dances are over. Littlebird's song/poem "Talking 49" is intended to introduce us to the world of the "49." We might notice the kind of community created by the "49" and the way Littlebird describes it early in his song. Finally, "Talking 49" might also give us an opportunity to talk about an issue which is raised by all of Littlebird's work--continuity and change in American Indian oral traditions. Oral traditions are not static. They change as the people who carry them change. At the same time, they manage somehow to remain the same. Consider ways in which Harold Littlebird's songs and poems might be considered traditional, and ways in which they are not.

Recording Material for this tape was recorded at Paguate, New Mexico October 10-16, 1977 and in the Tucson Mountains, Tucson, Arizona December 13-14, 1977. All original tape is archived in the Southwest Folklore Center, University of Arizona, Tucson.

Related Readings Harold Littlebird's poems have appeared in numerous little magazines and in two anthologies: Kenneth Rosen, ed., Voices from the Rainbow (NY: Viking Press, 1975), and Geary Hobson, ed., The Remembered Earth (Albuquerque, NM: Univ. of New Mexico Press, 1981) pp. 250-53.

An interview titled "A Conversation with Harold Littlebird" appeared in Sun Tracks, 5 (1979), pp. 15-20.

Edward P. Dozier's The Pueblo Indians of North America (NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970) offers a reasonably complete and readable overview of Pueblo Indian life. Elsie Clews Parsons' Pueblo Animals and Myths (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1964) are helpful discussions of Pueblo religion and myth. Schat-chen: History and Traditions and Narratives of the Queres Indians of Laguna and Acoma (Albuquerque: Albright and Anderson, 1917) by John Gunn contains very valuable material on Laguna storytelling.

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Songs of My Hunter Heart: Laguna Songs and Poems

By This Song I Walk: Navajo Songs | Seyewailo: The Flower World | The Origin of the Crown Dance: An Apache Narrative and Ba'ts'oosee: An Apache Trickster Cycle | Iisaw: Hopi Coyote Stories & Hopi Songs | Natwaniwa: A Hopi Philosophical Statement | Running on the Edge of the Rainbow: Laguna Stories and Poems | Songs of My Hunter Heart: Laguna Songs and Poems | A Conversation with Vine Deloria, Jr. | Home