American Religions & Traditions in "Yellow Woman" by Leslie Marmon Silko

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Native American religions and traditions have evolved greatly, due to the wide range of indigenous groups. Every religion developed to match the needs and the way of life of each individual tribes. Although these religions differ from tribe to tribe, they share many common beliefs, and their practices are deeply rooted in tradition. The arrival of the Europeans marked a major change in terms of Native society and its spirituality, and Native Americans have been fighting to keep their culture alive since. From the beginning their religious practices were misunderstood and as such were forbidden. The United States desperately attempted to destroy the indigenous populations traditions by forcing Christianity upon them; this also acted assimilate them into white Christian society. Freedom of religion is one of America’s most important principles; however, when it comes to Native Americans this same liberty is almost non-existent. For centuries, Native Americans have been discriminated and oppressed and, as a result, they struggled to survive in America.

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“Yellow Woman” written by Leslie Marmon Silko is a modern explanation of a traditional Native American myth. In this story the narrator reflects on her cultural heritage, her deep connection she had with her grandfather that passed away and her responsibilities as a mother and a wife. The stranger (Silva) that the narrator meets, convinces her that she is Yellow Woman and makes her spend the night with him in the woods.

Throughout the story the narrator struggles to accommodate the ancient myths of her grandfather with her place in the modern world. The short story showcases the significant impact myths and culture had on individuals. Although the narrator feels connected to the ancient stories she also must deal with unavoidable change. The stranger in the woods maintains an air of anonymity as he refuses to tell the narrator where he comes from. The stranger frequently mentions these old stories, adopting a tone that reinforces their validity. He would have the narrator believe that she really is a modern Yellow Woman, and he an ancient mountain spirit. The narrator is not quite ready to believe this herself, though, and repeatedly denies the possibility of being a modern embodiment of this spirit. At one point, she says that she cannot be Yellow Woman, “Because she is from out of time past and I live now and I’ve been to school and there are highways and pickup trucks that Yellow Woman never saw.” She makes similar comments throughout the story, which serves to remind the reader how aware Silva is of the old myths, and the constant influence they have over her thoughts and reactions to modern life.

The narrator is continually considering what it means if she truly is a new Yellow Woman, and considers how her situation might be similar to the women in the traditional stories. Native American culture plays a significant role in family life, with traditions passed down from generation to generation. However, the result of this process means the original meaning is often lost. In Leslie Marmon Silko’s short story “Man to Send Rain Clouds”, Leon and his family demonstrate their Native American identity through their practices. The local Catholic minister, Father Paul, tries to incorporate the church’s teaching into the life of the Pueblo society. Despite the strong Catholic influence, Leon endeavours to retain his indigenous identity; when Leon and Ken discover that their Grandfather is dead, they immediately perform the Native Pueblo ritual, showing his commitment to his culture. The ritual included the painting of their grandfathers face, tying a feather to his hair and wrapping him in a red blanket, and tossing dried corn into the wind. This shows the great importance they place upon their cultural beliefs. When transferring their grandfather back into town, Leon and Ken tell Father Paul that their grandfather won’t be herding sheep anymore in an attempt to hide their grandfather’s death, and thus escape the Catholic rituals that would be forced upon him.

When cultures collide, the two belief systems tend to greatly affect each other. However, for the original culture to remain in tact, their beliefs and values must continue to be practiced. Cultures bring us together despite great between them.

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