That the People Might Live

That the People Might Live: Loss and Renewal in Native American Elegy

Arnold Krupat
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    That the People Might Live
    Book Description:

    The word "elegy" comes from the Ancient Greek elogos, meaning a mournful poem or song, in particular, a song of grief in response to loss. Because mourning and memorialization are so deeply embedded in the human condition, all human societies have developed means for lamenting the dead, and, in "That the People Might Live" Arnold Krupat surveys the traditions of Native American elegiac expression over several centuries.

    Krupat covers a variety of oral performances of loss and renewal, including the Condolence Rites of the Iroquois and the memorial ceremony of the Tlingit people known as koo'eex, examining as well a number of Ghost Dance songs, which have been reinterpreted in culturally specific ways by many different tribal nations. Krupat treats elegiac "farewell" speeches of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in considerable detail, and comments on retrospective autobiographies by Black Hawk and Black Elk.

    Among contemporary Native writers, he looks at elegiac work by Linda Hogan, N. Scott Momaday, Gerald Vizenor, Sherman Alexie, Maurice Kenny, and Ralph Salisbury, among others. Despite differences of language and culture, he finds that death and loss are consistently felt by Native peoples both personally and socially: someone who had contributed to the People's well-being was now gone. Native American elegiac expression offered mourners consolation so that they might overcome their grief and renew their will to sustain communal life.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6585-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    This book attempts to provide the first broad treatment of Native American elegiac expression over a range of time and across the space of the contiguous United States and Alaska. The project arose from a request from Professor Karen Weisman, editor of the Oxford Handbook of the Elegy, to submit an essay on Native American elegy. My initial response was that there was no such thing, no correspondence between a genre originating in classical Greece and Rome and the oral expressive forms of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. The term “elegy” conventionally serves to categorize a very great number...

  6. 1 Oral Performances (I)
    (pp. 19-59)

    “The League of the Iroquois, or Confederation of Five Iroquois Tribes,” William Fenton writes, “had already been formed by the year 1570 A.D.” (1944, 80; see also Hewitt 1977, 163). But Fenton elsewhere, and others (e.g., Daniel Richter: the League was “established sometime late in the fifteenth century” [1992, 31]), suggest it may well have been in place a hundred years earlier, yet an exact date for its origin is not likely ever to be established. Originated by Deganawidah, and an associate named Hiawatha,¹ historical figures with mythic attributes, the League or Confederation in Mohawk, the “Kaienerekowa (‘the great law...

  7. 2 Oral Performances (II)
    (pp. 60-107)

    Indian people have been saying good-bye for more than three hundred years. As David Murray notes, John Eliot’s Dying Speeches of Several Indians (1685)—from which I’ve taken the quotation above—inaugurates a long textual history in which “Indians . . . are most useful dying”(35) or, as in the speeches I will consider, bidding the world farewell as they embrace an undesired but apparently inevitable exile or demise. Unlike the Iroquois and Tlingit condolence oratory we have examined, these elegiac speeches are addressed by Indians not to other Indians but to whites, and, it would seem, exclusively to whites...

  8. 3 Authors and Writers
    (pp. 108-133)

    In the previous chapter I examined the August 1832 surrender speech attributed to Black Hawk by Samuel Drake in which Black Hawk apparently acknowledged that his “plans” to “save” his nation were “stopped”: “He can do no more. He is near his end. His sun is setting, and he will rise no more. Farewell to Black-hawk” (Drake 155). But that moment of defeat was not at all the “end” of Black Hawk. After his imprisonment, his meeting with President Andrew Jackson, his trip through the East, and then, following further confinement, his return to his exiled people, Black Hawk worked...

  9. 4 Elegy in the “Native American Renaissance” and After
    (pp. 134-170)

    N. Scott Momaday’s The Way to Rainy Mountain appeared in 1969, the same year that his novel House Made of Dawn (1968) won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.¹ In part an autobiography, The Way to Rainy Mountain has also been called a “prose poem,” an “epic,” and the record of a “pilgrimage.” It is in some measure all of those things, although these descriptive terms are not strictly consistent with one another.² Here, I want to consider The Way to Rainy Mountain as what it so clearly is—an elegy for Momaday’s grandmother Aho and also for the traditional culture...

  10. Appendix: Best Texts of the Speeches Considered in Chapter 2
    (pp. 171-182)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 183-212)
  12. Works Cited
    (pp. 213-232)
  13. Index
    (pp. 233-242)