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Unit 1: Origins of the American Tradition Oral Tradition.

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1 Unit 1: Origins of the American Tradition Oral Tradition

2 A people’s literature is the great textbook for real knowledge of them. The writings of the day show the quality of the people as no historical reconstruction can. —Edith Hamilton

3 Oral Tradition The oral tradition is the passing of a work, idea, or custom by word of mouth from generation to generation. These messages, narratives, and testimonies were transmitted within early cultures through –speeches –stories –poetry –songs

4 Recording of Oral Literature In the past few centuries, works created in the oral tradition have been transcribed and written down. This has allowed them to be shared with others outside of the culture in which the works originated. Recording oral literature took the collaborative efforts of anthropologists, linguists, and native speakers.

5 Oral Literature As a result, works from the oral tradition have become part of the canon of great world literature. Reading and examining different types of oral literature can provide valuable insights into the cultures that produced them.

6 Types of Oral Literature Oral literature encompasses many types: –fairy tales and folk tales –tall tales –myths and legends –ballads –proverbs and parables –fables

7 What memorable characters do you associate with oral literature? What makes these characters memorable?

8 Purposes for Reading Oral Literature Oral literature can –entertain readers –enlighten readers by sharing the human condition or experience –provide readers with an escape from reality –help readers learn about themselves and others –teach readers lessons in morality –allow readers the opportunity to explore diverse cultures

9 Shared Characteristics of Oral Literature Although each type of oral literature has its own features, they also share some characteristics. These characteristics can be traced to the literature’s roots in the oral tradition.

10 Shared Characteristics of Oral Literature Some of these shared characteristics include –a performer and an audience –an anonymous origin –several versions of the oral literature in circulation ?

11 Narrative Format in Oral Literature Another characteristic that is shared by many types of oral literature is a narrative, or story, format. A narrative format typically uses chronological order, relating events in the order in which they occurred.

12 Chronological Organization To analyze the text organization of a narrative that uses chronological order, use a graphic organizer like a Sequence Map or a Time Line.

13 Shared Characteristics of Narratives Other characteristics that narratives share include –stereotypical characters (such as good/evil) –plots that focus on solving a problem –settings in olden times and faraway places –a narrative voice, or the voice that tells the story –a universal theme, or a message about life that can be understood by people of most cultures

14 Native American Oral Literature The oral tradition is an essential part of the Native American culture. Long before there was written language, Native Americans preserved their tribal history and culture through the storytelling tradition.

15 How does Momaday, a writer of Kiowa ancestry, capture the essence of the Native American storytelling experience? In the telling of a story there are silences in which words are anticipated or held on to, heard to echo in the still depths of the imagination. In the oral tradition silence is the sanctuary of sound. —N. Scott Momaday In the telling of a story there are silences in which words are anticipated or held on to, heard to echo in the still depths of the imagination. In the oral tradition silence is the sanctuary of sound. —N. Scott Momaday

16 Native American Oral Literature Native American tribes believed strongly in the power and sacredness of the spoken word. Because of this, they assigned the role of storyteller to special members of the tribe. Storytellers were selected at an early age and educated for this prestigious position. Storytellers assumed the great responsibility of memorizing the stories that told of the history, language, traditions, and beliefs of the tribes.

17 Native American Oral Literature The tales of the Native American storyteller focused on some common themes: –a reverence for Mother Earth –a respect for ancestral wisdom –the value of maintaining a social order –an understanding of nature’s creation and its cyclical patterns –the importance of ethical behavior –the idea of physical transformation

18 The Storyteller and Audience Relationship The relationship between Native American storytellers and their audiences was key. The storyteller connected with his or her audience through tone of voice, gestures, body movements, and eye contact. The tribal audience knew the context for each work and could readily supply the associations necessary for full understanding.

19 Common Types of Native American Oral Literature Three common types of Native American oral literature are –myths (especially creation myths) –folk tales (especially trickster tales) and –tribal songs.

20 Myths A myth is a traditional story that reflects the values and religious beliefs of a particular culture. Myths typically have references to all-powerful beings with supernatural abilities, such as gods, goddesses, and human heroes.

21 Creation Myths in Native American Cultures In Native American cultures, myths usually take the form of creation myths. A creation myth explains how nature (including earth, plants, animals, and humans) began and flourished.

22 Creation Myths in Native American Cultures For early inhabitants of the earth, these creation myths answered several of their questions: –What events led to the creation of the earth? –How did living things such as plants and animals appear and multiply? –How were humans formed?

23 Creation Myths in Native American Cultures In Native American cultures, creation myths influenced the way people thought about their roles in the universe. Regardless of their place of origin, Native American creation myths share certain characteristics.

24 Characteristics of Native American Creation Myths Typically, Native American creation myths –explain the relationship between humans and nature or explain a natural event –have ordinary human characters that may be good or evil, or animal characters that behave as humans –have plots that present a problem to solve –have repetition of phrases or actions or the number four ( a sacred number to Native Americans) –contain supernatural elements or trickery

25 Example of a Creation Myth Which of the characteristics listed on the previous slide are evident in this Osage creation myth? Way beyond, a part of the Wazha’zhe’ lived in the sky. They desired to know their origin, the source from which they came into existence. They went to the sun. He told them that they were his children. Then they wandered still farther and came to the moon. She told them that she gave birth to them, and that the sun was their father. She told them that they must leave their present abode and go down to the earth and dwell there. —from “The Osage Creation Account” Way beyond, a part of the Wazha’zhe’ lived in the sky. They desired to know their origin, the source from which they came into existence. They went to the sun. He told them that they were his children. Then they wandered still farther and came to the moon. She told them that she gave birth to them, and that the sun was their father. She told them that they must leave their present abode and go down to the earth and dwell there. —from “The Osage Creation Account”

26 Example of a Creation Myth Which characteristics of a creation myth are evident in this Navajo tale? How does the Navajo account of the world’s origin differ from the Osage creation myth? Begochiddy went back to the Lukatso, bamboo, and found the people much excited, and they were very glad to see Begochiddy, and when he came back to them they called him Sechai (Grandfather). He told them that he had met many people above, and that the world was good. They were very glad to hear that, and then Begochiddy sent Badger up to see the world. —from “The Navajo Creation Myth” Begochiddy went back to the Lukatso, bamboo, and found the people much excited, and they were very glad to see Begochiddy, and when he came back to them they called him Sechai (Grandfather). He told them that he had met many people above, and that the world was good. They were very glad to hear that, and then Begochiddy sent Badger up to see the world. —from “The Navajo Creation Myth”

27 Native American Trickster Tales Another common type of Native American oral literature is a type of folk tale known as a trickster tale. A trickster tale is a story in which an animal is personified, or takes on human characteristics, and uses cleverness to outwit an opponent.

28 Trickster Animals The main character in a trickster tale is typically a small, weak animal who takes on a larger and stronger animal. The result is a struggle between brains versus brawn. Common trickster animals include –spider and rabbit (West Africa) –raven and coyote (Native America)

29 Trickster Animals Trickster animals challenge the established order of things, bending others to their will. As a result, these characters are not always honorable. –They frequently break the rules; behave in greedy, nasty, and selfish ways; and often get in trouble. However, trickster animals are also amusing, adding comic relief to the tales in which they appear.

30 Trickster Animals In some tales, trickster animals help humans without intending to do so. In other tales, trickster animals deceive a more powerful being into helping people.

31 Native American Trickster Animal In Native American cultures, the trickster animal is often Coyote. Coyote is a sly, mischievous figure who can either be a hero or a hindrance.

32 Example of a Trickster Tale In this passage, Coyote uses his wits to help starving humans—using humor in the process. “But tell me: why are you carrying a tree…?” “Aah,” said Coyote, “that is to stop the monster swallowing me. I’ll just wedge it into his mouth and he won’t be able to shut it.” “It’s too late!” wailed the woman. “He has already swallowed you. … He has closed his mouth, and there is no way out.” … “Well,” he said. “I don’t know what you’re all complaining about. This place is full of food! If we are inside the monster’s belly, then the sides of the canyon must be his flesh.” And he sliced off some of the lining of the monster’s stomach and shared it out. —from “Coyote and the Earth Monster” “But tell me: why are you carrying a tree…?” “Aah,” said Coyote, “that is to stop the monster swallowing me. I’ll just wedge it into his mouth and he won’t be able to shut it.” “It’s too late!” wailed the woman. “He has already swallowed you. … He has closed his mouth, and there is no way out.” … “Well,” he said. “I don’t know what you’re all complaining about. This place is full of food! If we are inside the monster’s belly, then the sides of the canyon must be his flesh.” And he sliced off some of the lining of the monster’s stomach and shared it out. —from “Coyote and the Earth Monster”

33 Native American Tribal Songs Native Americans also used tribal songs to pass along their history and cultural beliefs. A tribal song is a song that imparts wisdom through its lyrical performance.

34 Native American Tribal Songs Tribal songs were chanted or sung to mark ceremonies or rituals. Often, these songs were accompanied by musical instruments or dancing and required audience participation.

35 Characteristics of Tribal Songs Tribal songs share certain characteristics. These songs typically –contain references to the natural world –use figurative language to create pictures in the minds of listeners –have concise language –use repetition of words and phrases to lend musicality to the verse

36 Example of a Tribal Song What tribal song characteristics are evident in this excerpt from “Song of the Sky Loom”? O our Mother the Earth, O our Father the Sky, Your children are we, and with tired backs We bring you the gifts you love. Then weave for us a garment of brightness; —from “Song of the Sky Loom,” a tribal song of the Tewa O our Mother the Earth, O our Father the Sky, Your children are we, and with tired backs We bring you the gifts you love. Then weave for us a garment of brightness; —from “Song of the Sky Loom,” a tribal song of the Tewa

37 SUMMARY: Oral Tradition As you are reading works from the oral tradition, ask yourself: –How does the oral literature reflect the history, language, traditions, or beliefs of a specific culture? –What elements of oral literature are evident? –What elements of a narrative are present?


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