Professor Steven Alvarez
3 May 2011
The Loss of Identity in a Postcolonial Nation: The Effects of Colonialism on Subjugated People in Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony
Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony conveys the tribulations of Native American people after colonization. The European people who have taken over the land have simultaneously made the Native Americans feel alienated from their culture. By coming to America to pursue financial undertakings, the colonizers have also destroyed the Native Americans’ way of life, thus resulting in a loss of identity for the oppressed indigenous people. In his article titled “Colonialism and the Desiring Machine,” Robert Young discusses how colonized civilizations, such as the Native Americans in Ceremony, go through a process that reflects the circumstances of capitalism. Silko illustrates what Young puts forth when she writes:
But the fifth world has become entangled with European names: the names of the rivers, the hills, the names of the animals and plants – all of creation suddenly had two names: and Indian name and a white name; it tried to crush the single clan name, encouraging each person to stand alone, because Jesus Christ would save only the individual soul; Jesus Christ was not like the Mother who loved and cared for them as her children, as her family. (62-63)
The “fifth world,” or the Native American world, has completely changed from the infiltration of Europe into their society. The use of the word “world” shows that Europe’s colonization of the Americas has altered the entire lives of the Native people in order to accommodate the needs of Europe (which truly depict early signs of capitalist driven needs). In his article, Young describes how colonization must “do away with the institutions and cultures that have already been developed” (82). By the Native American world becoming “entangled with European names,” the colonizers have successfully begun to “do away with” the Native American language. Language and culture are deeply integrated; therefore altering or disregarding language ultimately alters or disregards culture. By “all of creation” having new names, the Native way of life changes drastically. The Native American culture presented in Ceremony shows a connection with nature as an integral part of their beliefs. Using a “white name” for the rivers, hills, animals, and plants negates the importance of what these things mean in the context of Native American culture and language. Everything entwined in the Native American culture ends up “deterritorialized” (Young 82) by the white men, or in other words, inevitably taken out of its previous contextualization. The world of the Native Americans develops into a “reterritorialize[d] (Young 82) Postcolonial nation, or a world where everything restored fulfills the terms set by the white men, or the colonizers. The colonizers attempt to destroy the idea of clans in an effort to “reterritorialize” (Young 82) the institution of religion. The white men venture to force the belief in Jesus upon the conquered Native Americans, encouraging them to “stand alone” because Jesus only saves the “individual soul”. The bigger reason the colonizers prefer the Native Americans to “stand alone” stems from the risk of the dominated group actually fighting back. Now that the Natives have been “deterritorialized,” the colonizers want their culture to have no chance of revival, and keeping them separate will help ensure this. The white men take away the “Mother” that the Native American people love so much. After the Europeans breach America, the Native American people go through a process of “deculturation and acculturation” where they leave their old ways behind and forcibly assimilate to the now dominant group.
By colonizing America and using the land for profit, the European people converted the entire lives of the Native Americans who were once so in tune with nature. Silko writes, “When the railroads came and the white people began to build their town, the Navajos had to move” 108). The whites took over the beloved land and reduced it to “the abstract value of money” (Young 82). The colonizers used the land to expand their railroad enterprise, not caring about destroying this important aspect of Native American culture. The European people reduced the indigenous people to the “abstract value of money” as well. Silko describes this when she writes:
The Gallup Ceremonial had been an annual event for a long time. It was good for the tourist business coming through in the summertime on Highway 66. They liked to see Indians and Indian dances; they wanted a chance to buy Indian jewelry and Navajo rugs. Every year it was organized by the white men [ . . . ]. (107)
The “Gallup Ceremonial” uses the Native American people for monetary endeavors. The event “organized by the white men” serves as a way to bring in “tourist business”. The “Indian dances” that occur during this ceremony carry no significance for the white men. They do not truly care about these dances or about the Natives performing them. The fact that people pay money to see the “Indians” and that they gain wealth from this remains most important in the eyes of the oppressors. Tourists want to buy “Indian jewelry and Navajo rugs,” but they do not even know the value behind these items. These once cultural objects now have a price placed on them by the white men, revealing yet another aspect of Native American life that has been “reterritorialized” to fit the colonizers needs.
Silko, Leslie Marmon. Ceremony. New York: Penguin Books, 2006. Print.
Young, Robert J. C. “Colonialism and the Desiring Machine.” Postcolonial Discourses: An Anthology. Ed. Gregory Castle. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 2001. 73-98. Print.