Words And Places native literature from the american southwest

Running on the Edge of the Rainbow: Laguna Stories and Poems
Leslie Marmon Silko

Laguna Pueblo

For Comment and Discussion

Few viewers of this videotape could doubt that Laguna stories entertain and delight the people, but Silko tells us that stories have more important functions than entertainment. They "hold the people together," and they continue to be told at Laguna because they work in this important way. Stories mold the incidents of individuals' lives by relating them to the slow moving wisdom of the collective life. Stories make personal experiences less personal by traditionalizing them.

The first poem Silko reads on this videotape, "Storytelling," is a good illustration of this process. The poem turns on the relation between Kochinako, Yellow Woman, a major character in Laguna storytelling tradition, and a series of recent happenings at Laguna. Time and again in Laguna stories Yellow Woman leaves her family in the village to go to the river for water. There she encounters one katsina or another, leaves her water jar on the river bank, and runs off with the katsina to a world of supernatural adventures. In this poem and in her short story "Yellow Woman" Silko shows how many contemporary stories that we might write off as rumor or gossip are in fact more recent and immediate versions of the Yellow Woman's adventures. By connecting these recent happenings with the old-time stories of Yellow Woman, Silko traditionalizes them. Her poem "Toe'osh: A Laguna Coyote Story" works in much the same way. There she finds images of the Laguna trickster Coyote in a series of contemporary happenings on the Laguna reservation. She recognizes a continuum between the old stories about Coyote and more recent tellings of the adventures of contemporary Lagunas. In both "Storytelling" and "Toe'osh" Silko shows how Laguna stories hold the people together.

Material for this videotape was recorded March 26-31, 1976 at Laguna, New Mexico. All original film and videotape is archived at the Southwest Folklore Center, Univ. of Arizona, Tucson, 85721.

Related Readings

The best print complement to this videotape is Silko's book Storyteller (NY; Seaver Books, 1981). It should be required reading for all who view this videotape. Silko's novel Ceremony was published by Viking Press in 1977.

Silko talks about her life and work in "A Conversation with Leslie Marmon Silko," Sun Tracks, 3 (1976), pp. 28-33. Kenneth Roemer discusses some aspects of her poetry in "Bear and Elk: The Nature(s) of Contemporary Indian Poetry," The Journal of Ethnic Studies, 10 (1975), pp. 233-236. The American Indian Quarterly published a special issue in 1979 devoted entirely to essays on Ceremony. Per Seyerstad's Leslie Marmon Silko, Boise State Univ. Western Writers Series, 45 (Boise, ID: Boise State Univ., 1980) provides an excellent survey of Silko's work.

Edward P. Dozier’s The Pueblo Indians of North America (NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970) offers a readable overview of Pueblo Indian life. Elsie Clews Parsons' Pueblo Indian Religion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1939) and Hamilton A. Tyler's 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. Selections of Laguna stories are also available in Parsons, "Laguna Tales," Journal of American Folklore, 4 (1931), pp. 137-42, and Franz Boas, Keresan Texts (New York: American Ethnological Society, 1928). Silko's great-grandmother Susie Reyes Marmon was one of Parsons' and Boas' principal sources in compiling these two collections. See Silko's discussion in Storyteller, pp. 254-56.

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Running on the Edge of the Rainbow: Laguna Stories and Poems

By This Song I Walk: Navajo Songs | Seyewailo: The Flower World Yaqui Deer Songs | 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