Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony was a fictional novel

LeslieMarmon Silko’s Ceremony was afictional novel with the intent of healing the protagonist, Tayo, through aseries of stories, where he would find answers in the characters from thestories as part of his journey. Renato Rosaldo’s ethnographical work on the Ilongot’s Headhunting provided aninsight on a ritual practice that serves as a healing method to individualsthat are dealing with rage and grief. In Ceremony,ritual is represented in old traditional events that always repeat themselves,which means the result for every main character is almost always the same. In Ilongot’s Headhunting, the ritual isbeing reported first hand and the conclusion is based on what evidence has beencollected by Renato Rosaldo, which brings in the element of surprise. Asmentioned above, the element of surprise is eliminated in Ceremony because Silko chose what to report unlike Rosaldo, whoreported what he had collected from his fieldwork. This explains the differencein emotional detail that Silko provides to the audience about the ritualprocess and the Ilongot people.

With fieldwork, capturing full emotion forRosaldo was difficult because in nature people do not open to the unknown,which is why the Ilongot people did not give us any visible emotions the wayTayo did, such as vomiting or nightmares. In Ceremony, Silko used Tayo’s memories to help him heal, whilesurrounded by his family and friends. Rosaldo did not provide any informationabout a support system in most cases towards the individuals that weregrieving. For example, after a man had lost his seventh child, the manconverted to Christianity for more guidance. Rosaldo’s article did not includeif he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or provide us withany hard evidence to suggest otherwise.

Inmost cultures, communities do not change their customs for centuries becausethey are sacred to their people. Silko managed to combine these qualities asshe wrote Ceremony by incorporatingevents from personal experience. Native Americans believed in usingstorytelling as their source of transferring culture. Since Silko was a NativeAmerican, her writing of Ceremony providesinsight to those living in the 21st century as a rough draft of whattheir customs involved. The idea she puts across from this novel is that eventsin this world always repeat themselves in one way or the other. Rituals arealso seen the same way because the cures that were performed before can be usedduring a different occasion.

Personalexperience helps explain certain events that are beyond understanding. Todaypeople respond to an individual’s troubles by acting like they know what theyare going through. Renato Rosaldo experienced the tragedy of losing his wifeand his brother during his time with the Ilongot people. This gave him someinsight as to how the Ilongot felt, but did not give him the same desire toheadhunt because he failed to conceive the force of anger. He described himselfas being in denial of rage because he didn’t feel the same way they did.

Hesaid, “Although grief therapists routinely encourage awareness of anger amongthe bereaved, upper-middle-class Anglo-American culture tends to ignore therage devastating losses can bring” (Ilongots, 171), which he assumes has forcedhim not to understand other cultures or engage with them. Silko also used herNative American experience to direct her novel. Both writers brought meaning totheir works by relating ritual to their personal experience. This also helpedthe audience understand more about these two cultures because it was relatableto the writers. Therepresentation of ritual in ethnography is first hand. This not only gives anadvantage to the writer, but offers them an opportunity of being part of acertain culture.

In fiction writing, the opportunity could be fabricated tosatisfy a specific audience. First hand stories and information can provide abetter understanding of the culture, which is the difference between thewritings of Rosaldo and Silko. Silko might have been a Native American, but asshe mentioned storytelling is how her culture was passed on (Ceremony).

To the readers,some of the cultural practices that she was taught through storytelling mayhave been altered to sell a novel. This is similar with first hand reports aspeople from the community might withhold valuable information because they donot trust the anthropologist. For example, in one of our readings by PaulRabinow, we encountered a situation when the community members were protectingtheir legacy by excluding some information about their culture. Rosaldo couldhave been given false information as to why the Ilongot people headhunt becausemaybe some did enjoy it. As a writer, he managed to stray away from heavilyimplying that the Ilongots were indeed savages. He was more cautious about hisreport.

Silkostructures the book as a ceremony, by beginning with the sun and ending withthe sun. According to http://www.universeastext.

com,Silko’s Ceremony is “healing for animpossible wound, and in many ways, Tayo stands for much more than himself. Inmy eyes, every reading of this book is a ceremony of sorts, and it works on itsreaders in unique, spellbinding ways” (Universe-Sea-Text). This sort of fictionengages readers to be part of Tayo’s journey without contributing to the cause.The type of fiction by Silko has characters that can be relatable to anyaudience. The process of trauma after participating in a war, can give readersa strong belief that anyone can be saved despite their current situation.

WithNative Americans, this type of ceremony is how they cope with PTSD. TheIlongots instead use headhunting to cope with grief and rage.”Fictionis something that uses imagination to portray the characters, but it allows usto understand the lives and histories of people” (Dr. Mallavarapu). Ceremony has done this by portrayingcertain characters like Tayo, the main character, as part of the traditionalLaguna stories.

These characters that Silko creates show her main concerns withthe continuation of the Native American culture through elements such aslanguage and resources. For example, she presents her audience with Betonie, amedicine man that advises Tayo on what he needs to do by referring to personalstories and ideas of change (Ceremony). Betonie provided some insight to as towhy ceremonial change was necessary. He suggested that tradition is subject tochange and for Tayo to be cured, adjustments needed to be made (Ceremony). Silkoalso uses female characters close to Tayo as part of his procedure. She usesthem to expose his strengths and weaknesses, but most importantly show theimportance of female roles in Native America.

We also get the same idea withRosaldo. After the death of his wife and brother, the void that his wife leftcouldn’t be filled. When he said, “how could she abandon me? How could she havebeen so stupid as to fall? I tried to cry. I sobbed, but rage blocked the tears”(Rosaldo, 171). It shows emotion to one party instead of both. This representsthe power of a female character in their stories. Wehave established that histories of people are shown as being part of fiction,but we could also conclude that it is also part of ethnography.

Ceremony by Silko was a way ofpreserving the Native American Culture, but with the Ilongot’s Headhunting, Rosaldo was more concerned with as to whythey performed such a gruesome ritual. For us to follow what Rosaldo wanted theaudience to understand, we must find a procedure relatable to headhunting. Afuneral is one act that is inevitable because we are human. Funerals aredefined by most cultures as celebrations that are symbolic and memorable afterlosing a loved one (Zimon, 46). Memorable in the sense that we show picturesand talk about the good they did before they left and symbolic in the sensethat we show some respect by dancing, crying, or singing. The same concept withfunerals is what Rosaldo is trying to put across with what the Ilongot’s did todeal with the same loss. He mentioned that, “Once the raiders kill theirvictim, they toss away the head rather than keep it as a trophy.

In tossingaway the head, they claim by analogy to cast away their life burdens, includingthe rage in their grief” (Ilongots 174). This quote represents the symbolicelements used by the Ilongots. Instead of drinking or dancing, they preferheadhunting. Rosaldo’s article tries to defend how cultural difference works. Oneperson might think headhunting is unthinkable, but consider the act ofcommitting suicide an acceptable way of dealing with grief. Another example wouldbe how the Ilongots responded to Rosaldo being drafted to fight in the war.

They were as scared of war the same way we fear headhunting. This shows theIlongots own ignorance about the cultures that participate in killing for theirnation.  Silkotries to help us understand what Tayo was going through both emotionally andphysically rather than just explaining the journey. Since ritual is subjective,it has been proven by both writers that only those within the culture willfully understand. For example, with Ceremony,before Tayo met with Betonie, he was sent to Old man Ku’oosh, a medicine man(Ceremony). He wasn’t familiar with the changes in the ritual, but he wasinvolved with the ritual.

The main point Silko is making is that he understoodthe ritual and knew Tayo needed some help. Therefore, each person created bySilko serves a significant purpose in the completion of the ceremony tosymbolize the power storytelling. Withevery writing or fieldwork, there will be some critics among the readers to questionthe author’s work and main points. I for one contribute to that audience.According to Paula Gunn Allen, “telling the old stories, revealing the old wayscan only lead to disaster” (Allen, 384). Thisrelates to Rosaldo’s work on the Ilongots.

Cultural values are supposed to bekept sacred, but once reported as I mentioned above, they could be altered tosatisfy the writers views. The audience that reads Ilongot’s Headhunting today could have the same response thatRosaldo had in the beginning. This is because as mentioned in the previous paragraph,Anglo-American culture shields us from understanding other cultural views. Therefore,I think if a tradition allows the next heir to the thrown to be in house, Ibelieve culture should also be part of the Ilongots without any intrusion fromthose that do not belong. Another example, would be from Paul Rabinow’s Reflections on fieldwork in Morocco. Oneof his informants was restricted from providing him with information simplybecause he was an outsider.

You must earn the trust of the community to be atleast part of a conversation.  Similarly,with Ceremony Paula Gunn Allenmentioned, “an anthropologist, Elsie Clews Parsons, who went to Laguna tocollect material for her study of Pueblo religion and social culture. They hadgiven her information readily enough and everything seemed fine. But whenParsons published the material, Lagunas saw how she treated their practices andbeliefs, and they were horrified” (Allen, 383). This example identifies theeffects of an outsider reporting about a culture she knew nothing about.Collecting information doesn’t make you an expert.

The reason why Ceremony was a success is because one oftheir own, Silko, created a Native American reality through fiction by relatingto her own struggles. The difference between Silko and Parson or Rosaldo, isthat Silko understands the pain that certain information has on Native Americans.Therefore, she shields sensitive information away from her novel that anthropologistssuch as Rosaldo or Parsons would include. Inconclusion, Silko and Rosaldo managed to produce successful writings despitetheir different beliefs. Knowing a culture and understanding it are twodifferent things. This was what separated Silko from Rosaldo because one wasaware of what she was creating while considering the emotions of what she waswriting about, and the other was reporting facts without understanding thereasons behind them.


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