Sunday, April 21, 2013

Nature, Women, and Religion in Native American Folk Tales

In contrast to tales like Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, and some Cinderella stories, Native American folktales seem to have a far less “fearsome” theme to the concept of traveling into nature.  While both regions’ tales use going into the wilderness and surviving as a rite of passage and growth, there is more willingness among the Native American tales to do so.  For instance, in the “Deer Hunter and White Corn Maiden” and “The Orphan Boy and the Elk Dog” tales, the titled characters fearlessly embark on their journey out of their village.  Nature and the unknown is also used to some characters’ advantage, like “The Flying Head” tale, where the villagers hide outside of the village because they know that something far more terrifying will be inside the village.  Also in “How Mosquitos Came to be”, the hero willingly sacrifices himself to the giant by lying outside of the village.

Native American Patterned Blanket
Comparable to "The End of the World" tale of the White River Sioux

Something else notable between European and American Indian tales is the approach to women in their societies.  While in European tales, women occupy either the devil-woman role (such as the evil step-mother in a handful of tales) or the innocent virgin (usually the heroine, like Snow White or Cinderella), the Native American tales have more of a sense of equality between the two represented genders.  While tales like “The Orphan Boy and the Elk Dog” have a strong sense of patriarchy, (“if you don’t do it, I’ll take a stick to you!”), the tale of “How Men and Women Got Together” discuss the importance of both genders working together to make a harmonious way of life.  “The End of the World Tale” also places the power of maintaining Earth and life itself in the hands of a woman finishing a blanket.  This reinforces the archetype of “Mother Earth” in several cultures, not just Native American, but also contrasts with the typical Christian-European beliefs in Revelations and the return of the male Christ.

wc: 325

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