_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Sciences sociales et humaines
Université de Bouaké
- Côte d'Ivoire
House Made ofDawn est une œuvre romanesque où l'auteur, s'inspirant de la tradition orale, explore les
mythes, légendes et coutumes de sa société amérindienne. Notre objectif dans le cadre de cet article est
de montrer qu'au-delà du fait d'être un moyen de transmission et de sauvegarde de l'expérience culturelle
et ancestrale, la tradition orale constitue une source historique qui permet à l'écrivain de rétablir la vraie
image de son peuple et, partant de déconsidérer les préjugés colonialistes.
Mots clés: Tradition orale, conte, culture, coutume, déconstruction, subversion constructive.
House Made of Dawn is a narrative in which the author takes inspiration from the oral tradition and
explores the myths, legends and customs ofhis native American society. This article is intended to show
that beyond the fact ofbeing a means oftransmitting and safeguarding the ancestral cultural experience,
the oral tradition constitutes an historical source which enables the writer to restore the real image ofhis
folks, and consequently, brings discredit upon European colonialist prejudices.
Key-words: Oral tradition, storytelling, culture, customs, deconstruetion, constructive subversion
In 1969 Momaday won the Pulitzer for House Made
The novel actually deals with the story of
Although Vanspanckeren's statement is undeniably
a young Native American narned Abel who is caught
true that "American literature begins with the
between two worlds-his native heritage on the
orally transmitte~ myths, legends, tales and lyrics
reservation and the industrialized world of
(always songs) of Indian cultures,"
contemporary America in Los Angeles. In writing
1 the fact of
the matter remains that native American literature
this fiction, Momaday draws his inspiration from
has long been marginalized -
and, to sorne extent,
his own childhood experiences of growing up on
is still waiting to be fully recognized. The present
reservations through the tumultuous period ofWorld
article aims at analyzing the place of native oral
War II. His depiction ofAbel illustrates the difficult
tradition in House Made of Dawn (1968) by
experience of many young native Americans during
Navarre Scott Momaday, one of the most
the twentieth century: Indian relocation efforts, the
outstanding contemporary Indian writers.
struggle to enter the industrial work force, the
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Sciences sociales et humaines .
isolation of reservations, and the hannful effects of
not socially and historically oriented, or politically
alcoholism. In House Made of Dawn, Momaday
uses a combination of oral tales and personal
imagination to eloquently pass on the stories his
Kiowa fathers2 told him as a child - a task to which
he also felt bound.
A method of artistic expression whose exploration
Beyond Momaday's keen interest in transmitting or
certainly enables the reader to observe oral culture
safeguarding his ancestral cultural experience by
in House Made of Dawn is retrospection as the
means ofwriting, his narrative may be perceived as
writer has frequently recourse to analepsis or
a fonnal reinstitution and praise for Indian oral
anaphoras . To present his story, Momaday resorts
tradition. This perception seems to be in
to events and scenes prior to the episode presented
contradiction with how native cultures were
in the fiction. The narrator is not an actor who
interpreted and presented by European explorers in
actively takes part in the human experiences that
the pasto For indeed, there was a good deal of
he reports. He passes on stories he has observed or
uncertainty about the image of indigenous
heard, or been told about Abel, the protagonist and
inhabitants of America, whether they were brutal
his community. His heterodiegetic narration6 is
savages or had any culture. The dual image of the
centered upon the central character. If such a
noble and the ignoble savage that flourished in the
narration may considerably limit the predictive
eighteenth century constantly represented Indians
function ofthe heferodiegetic narrator, it allows the
as cannibals and primitive beings. This image of
storyteller a much wider possibilities of looking
Indians as uncivilized and barbarous people is still
back at past events or referring to the point ofview
shown on screens. Because it is directly or indirectly
and knowledge of other persons.
denying such assertions, Momaday's narrative
appears as a deconstructive process. For, as Cuddon
What should be established at the very outset is that
those individuals who serve as moral resources to
Momaday's novel are characters, that is to say
A text can be read as saying something quite
fictitious persons even though they may reflect a
different from what it appears to be saying ... it may
certain reality. They are essential vectors in the
be read as carrying a plurality of significance or as
literary and artistic creation. They represent the
saying many different things which are
driving-force around whom the events in the novel
fundarnentally at variance with, contradictory to and
spiral forth. Through them, the novelist conveys his
subversive of what may be seen by criticism as a
ideological and artistic perspectives. It is in this
single 'stable' meaning. Thus a text may 'betray'
respect, they may be seen beyond their literaI
representation as the expression of an aesthetic
which materializes and upholds the author system
The idea that literature is by essence a language of
connation4 leads us to take in for questioning the
potentially subversive power of Momaday's text in
1.1. Fa/her Olguin
so far as House Made ofDawn exposes the glaring
contradictions ofthe wording and its understanding.
In House Made of Dawn, Momaday conceives
In other words, if the author uses native oral
. Father Olguin as a priest who is very heedful of
traditions to inform his fiction, doesn't his text undo
memory and tradition ofhis church believers at the
the colonial discourse and restore the true image of
mission in Walatowa, New Mexico. The writer
Indians and their historical realities?
undoubtedly chooses a religious figure to express
Proceeding from an examination of this
his thought because tradition rests on spirituality.
fundamental interrogation, the following reflection
In fact, as a spiritual leader who is trained to advise,
intends first, to show how native American culture
teach and perfonn special religious acts, Father
is expressed through storytelling and then, scrutinize
Olguin learns and comprehends many things about
the writer's aesthetic approach to see whether it is
the history of the people of the tribe within which
he serves. His wide knowledge ofthe past serves as
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a springboard for Momaday's narrative art.
Through the voice of the spiritual leader, the writer
In Momaday's novel, the knowledge and
informs the reader ofmemories of the Native past.
perpetuation of the Kiowa traditions illustrate the
An illustrative example of his representation of
powers of recollection of successive generations.
tribal memory is the feast of Santiago, an important
Father Olguin is very conscious of his role of
cultural celebration in the Kiowa community. In that
safeguarding the tribal culture. He is obsessed with
regard, he evokes the exploits of Santiago who is
the past as we may notice through his reading of
considered as a saintly person by his people and
the parish records ofhis predecessors: "He [Father
neighbourhood. If the information given by the
Olguin] took up the letter carefully and unfolded it.
priest about the bold, adventurous act of Santiago
He felt curiously busy with it, as if it were his own
stands as a testimony of a specifie fact that took
creation and he were setting it down as a testament
place in the past, the novelist shows that the source
to his faith." (PAS) Father Olguin is fascinated by
of the legend can be retraced in a distant time
his precursors' diaries because for him, the past is
comparatively to the narrative present tense. The
certainly the most valuable thing that must be kept
juxtaposition offlashbacks and the use ofthe present
and taught to future generations. In this connection,
tense are very expressive.
it is noteworthy that he makes arrangements for the
commemoration of Santiago, which is originally a
Speech constitutes a fundamental eIement by means
feast of pagans, to become a great success. He
ofwhich speakers flaunt themselves. It also enables
invites Angela St. John, a newcomer in Walatowa
writers to take their distance from their characters.
and presides over the ceremony. His preoccupation
This idea can be justified in Momaday's book. In
attests his devotion to the tribal ancestral folklore
fact, to tell the reader about the origin of the feast,
and belief. Because of his
the author uses as an epigraph: "This, accarding ta
Father Olguin."7
This inscription at the beginning
attachment to the Kiowa clannish tradition and his
ofthe chapter actually indicates that the story, which
position as role model for many people, the narrative
is going to be told, is not from Momaday, the writer
voice remarks that: "Father Olguin was consoled
but from Father Olguin, a character / narrator who
now that he had seen to the saint's heart [....] He
also learns it from his eiders and predecessors at
would becorne a figure, an example in the town."
the mission in Walatowa. Father Olguin is portrayed
(PA7-8) Following the case of Father Olguin whose
as a person who is highly cognizant of memory.
evocation of the past serves as a support for the
Although he gets a great deal of information on the
narrative, the image ofTosamah, another traditional
people through the memoirs of his priestly
leader forcefully brings out the writer's technique
precursors, the myth of Santiago and many other
of retrospection.
stories of the tribe are verbally transmitted. Thus,
the analeptic evocation of the history of Santiago
demonstrates the significance of oral culture in
1 Kathryn Vanspanckeren, Ou/line ofAmerican Litera/ure, U.S.A: The United
States Information Agency, 1998, p.3.
Momaday's process of a reconstruction of the pasto
l ln his memoir, Momaday describes how his great-grandfather, Pohd-Iohk
Oral culture may be construed as a way of
passed on the heritage of a Kiowa storyteller to him. (Confer The Names: A
U.S.A.: Harper & Row, 1976).
transmitting history, literature or law from one
- Momaday is a Kiowa. The Kiowas .are a Native American tribe of the
generation to the next without a writing system. It
southem plains. They are known to have Iived in the Kootenay, Region of
British Columbia, Canada, to have migrated to Western Montana, and then
is an efficient tool that immortalizes peoples by
continued to move until they inhabited present day Nebraska, Kansas,
preserving their history. Arguing about the
Oklahoma and Texas.
J JA Cuddon quoted in Peter Barry. Beginning Theory: An Introduction to
importance of oral tradition for the preservation of
Literary and Cultural Theory
historical sources, Jan Vansina asserts that "In those
(Second Edi/ion). Great Britain: Manchester University Press, 2002, p.72.
4 Roland Barthes, Essais Critiques, Paris, Seuil, 1964, pp.262-264.
parts of the world inhabited by peoples without
, Analepsis or anaphora are used to designate any event or scene evoked
prior to what is currently being
writing, oral tradition forms the main available
presented in the narrative. (Cf: Gerard Genette, Figures III, Paris, Seuil,
source for a reconstruction of the past, and even
among peoples who have writing, many historical
6 To have more information about the notion of heterodiegetic narration,
please refer to Gerard Genette,
sources, including the most ancient ones, are based
Figures III, Paris, Seuil, 1972).
, Navarre Scott Momaday. House Made of Dawn (1968). New York:
on oral traditions."8
Perennial Classics, 1999, p. 34. Ali
subsequent references ta this nover will directly appear in the text.
• Jan Vansina, Oral Tradition: A Siudy in Historical Methodology. trans.
H.H Wright. U.S.A: Transaction Publishers, 2006, p.l.
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1.2. Tosamah or the Priest of the SUD
shape from the word, which is as old as creation. In
this regard, Tosamah asserts at the very outset of
his sermon that: "In principio erat Verbum." (p.SO)
Momaday purposefully entitles the second part of
If this assertion serves as pretext for the preacher to
his book "The Priest of the Sun" in order to show
stress the reliability of oral tradition through the
how significant Reverend John Big BluffTosamah
importance of the word, it also enables the reader
or the Priest of the Sun is in the narrative. His
to perceive the orator's opinion on Genesis. As he
significance probably derives from the fact that he
addresses his believer audience, the Priest of the
is representative ofthe writer's literary and aesthetic
Sun declares: "Think of Genesis. Think of how it
approach. Naturally, the character is not the creator
was before the world was made." (pp.SO-SI)
of the fiction. As Genette argues, the character is
Paradoxical though it may seem, the priest affirms
different from the author; and the person who writes
that he does not draw his inspiration from The Bible
the fiction is not the one who tells the story. Yet, a
when he makes his sermon and theology of the
character may convey his creator's ideology in the
Truth. In support of this, he notes: "There was
same way that a narrator's discourse hides the
nothing The Bible says." (p.SI) For Tosamah, the
writer's message.
Bible does not reveal anything, but it simply
confirms what his ancestors know about the fact
To present Tosamah In House Made of Dawn,
that: "In the beginning was the Word."(p.S2)
heterodiegetic autobiographyI . In fact, the Priest
Though Tosamah's sermon and theology of the
of the Sun is sometimes presented as a narrator and
Truth may appear as a rupture which situates
at other times as a character. As a narrator, he relates
Momaday's narrative within the retrospection
stories, which directly or indirectly concem him or
framework, the priest's objection to the Bible as his
which are about his forbearers and his tribe. As a
source ofinspiration has double meanings. The first
participant in the dynamism of the literary creation,
interpretation may be related to the Pastor 's
he represents an archetype who gives the reader an
intention to value his forbearers' knowledge prior
insight into the author 's intent to save remembrance
to the advent of European explorers with the Bible
ofhis tribal oral stories. In both cases, he stands as
in America. In this connection, the Priest ofthe Sun
a spokesman whose speech for oral culture is in
appears both as the defender ofhis cultural heritage
line with the writer's recalling of the past in the
and the "Sun" which lights the way for his believers
and the young Native generation. The second
explanation may stem from the fact that he intends
If writers create characters and narrators to
to make us see that the word is holy and universally
materialize their visions ofthe world and art, it may
true. With regard to this, he acknowledges the
be important to know the functions and the actions
relationship between human existence and the word
ofthose invented beings. For indeed, according to
in the sense that the former generates the latter from
critics such as Barthes and Hamon, literary creatures
which it also proceeds. Human history may be
have to he analyzed in relation with their acts, but
explained only by means of the word whose origin
. not their mere identity as beingsbecause what
can be ·retraced since creation. The history of the
matters is their meanings as signs. In light ofthis, it
word cannot be dissociated from that ofthe Creator,
may be interesting to have a look at what Tosamah
as Tosamah states: "[... ], and the Word was with
does and says. As a pastor, Reverend John Big Bluff
God, and the Word was God." (p.82) The word is
Tosamah does not only perform special acts of
an instrument of creation in the sense that it gives
religion or serves deity, but he also gives sermons.
birth to language which produces meaning and helps
His sermons are vocally addressed on historical,
people to communicate and get knowledge.
religious and moral subjects. Although, it is based
on stories, myths and legends, oral tradition takes
Oral tradition rests on storytelling and the aesthetic
of reception. In his process of presenting the Priest
1 Gerard Genette, Nouveau discours du récit. Paris, Seuil, 1983, p.72.
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of the Sun, the author returns to the character
As this revelation points up the train of events
childhood experience through flashbacks. In fact,
connected with the people and the culture of the
Tosamah has been influenced by Aho, his
narrator's tribe, it also emphasizes the position of
grandmother. The old woman stands as a model for
Momaday's narrative, which is situated the past. The
her grandson who vehemently asserts:
evocation oftribal memories in the novel constitutes
an important element which enables the writer to
My grandmother was storyteller; she knew
put into practice his analeptic technique of
her way around words. She never learned to read
retrospection. By the same token, the narrative voice
and to write, but somehow she knew the good of
goes back in time to indicate that: "The story ofthe
reading and writing; she had learned how to listen
coming ofTai-me has existed for hundreds ofyears
and delight. She had learned that in words and in
by word of mouth." (p.86) This indication proves
language, and there only, she could have whole and
that the legend is known and transmitted from
consummate being. She told me stories, and she
generation to generation.
taught me how to listen. 1was a child and1listened.
She could neither read nor write [. ..J, but she taught

Momaday uses the character of the Priest ofthe Sun
me how to live among her words, how to listen and
to carry out a duty of memory for his ancestors'
delight. 'Storytelling; to utter and to hear ... 'And
experiences as storytellers and as people who have
the simple act oflistening is crucial to the concept
endured great sufferings since the coming of
oflanguage, more crucial even than reading and
writing. (pp. 83-84)
European colonizers toAmerica. Tosamah's sennon
entitled "The Way to Rainy Mountain" is the most
Through his childhood experience with his
salient example of the Kiowa painful history.
grandmother, Tosamah bas come to learn and realize
Proceeding from his grandmother's recollection,
how human life is controlled by the word. The word
Tosamah's speech retells the Kiowa story of the
is a powerful remedy for mental and moral
origin of Devil's Tower in Wyoming - a place in
sufferings. When he evokes his grandmother's great
connection with the US government's decision to
talent as a storyteller, he remarks: "[ ... ] Her words
prevent the Kiowas from carrying out the ceremony
were medicine; they were magic and invisible."
of sun dance culture, an important act of their faith :
That summer was known to my grandmother
The word is essential in understanding human
as .A' 'poto EtOdà-de K 'ad6, Sun Dance When the
society. It instructs and infonns a particular family,
Forked Poles Were Left Standing, and it is entered
tribal or ethnic group descendants of things which
in the Kiowa calendars as the figure of a tree
have happened more or less before their birth. A
standing outside the unfinished framework of a
striking argument in support of this is indubitably
medicine lodge. Before the dance could begin, a
Tosamah's comprehension ofhis ancestors' stories.
company ofarmed soldiers rode out/rom Fort Still
Thanks to Abo, he has known his history through
orders to disperse the tribe. Forbidden without
the legend of Tai-me and the Kiowas. By way of
cause the essential act of their faith, having seen
illustration, it may be interesting to note what the
the wild herds slaughtered and left to rot upon the
priest reveals:
ground, the Kiowas backed away forever /rom the
tree (p.117).

My grandmother used to tell me the story of
Tai-me, of how Tai-me came to the Kiowas. The
This intervention of American soldiers marks a
Kiowas were a sun dance culture, and Tai-me was
milestone in the Kiowa history. It stands out in folk
their sun dance toll, their most sacred fetish; no
memories as yet a sadly unforgettable experience
'f1iedicine was ever more powerful. There is a story
that was passed orally from generation to generation.
about the coming of Tai-me. This is what my
As the Priest of the Sun previously declares: "For
grandmother told me. (p. 85)
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my people it is an old landmark." (p.ll2) Through
back to mind the memory of the running. It
the voice of Tosamah, Momaday keeps the flame
expresses a state of nostalgia - nostalgia that the
and immortalizes his folk memories.
character wishes to overcome by teaching his
grandson everything he knows of the history ofhis
From aIl this, it convincingly emerges that in House
forbears and of the land around him.
Made of Dawn, writing is a rewriting of what has
been told, heard, seen or read. The novel actually
It is clear that as the oldest man and the male head
demonstrates storytelling as the expression of
ofhis family, Francisco sees Abel as his heir whose
Native American Culture. Through the Priest of the
mission is to keep the cultural memory alive by
Sun's sermons, Momaday retells us the stories and
carrying on their family's beliefs and customs. In
myths of origin of the Kiowa. Beyond the respects
this light, it i~ very significant that towards the end
ofhis ancestors' memory, the author's retellings of
of the novel Abel returns to run the race for good
past events within the fiction vividly show how the
hunting and harvests, as also described in the
practice of retrospection may proceed from oral
prologue: "Abel was running. He was alone and
culture. Another case in point may be perceptible
running, hard at first, heavily, but then easily and
through the writer's exploration of Francisco's
weIl" (p.l). The description of Abel's final act in
the prologue demonstrates that the narrative
structure of House Made of Dawn is circular, and
1.3. Francisco, the Kiowa's patriarch
then the events and scenes happened earlier.
Momaday presents Francisco, Abel 's grandfather as
From this, we can see that Momaday's narrative is
a venerable old man who is very concerned about
essentially built on analepsis. These pervasive
his desire to perpetuate his Kiowa cultural heritage
flashbacks highlight the inextricable connection
through his grandson. This presentation is
between past and present, and underscore the
interesting because it shows that from the character's
recurrence and handing down of events and
preoccupation with safeguarding his ancestral
traditions through the generations. They contribute
cultures, it follows the writer's art of resorting to
in restoring Native culture and identity.
oral tradition to look back at previous events. The
evocation of Francisco's memory of the Kiowa
history is a perfect illustration of it.
Besides, what strikes in observing the author's
One of the characteristics of House Made ofDawn
narrative approach of retrospection is that it
is that it concurrently develops theories of
elucidates the text and yet sometimes marks the
deconstruction and reconstruction. Inspired by
regression of its movement. This is simply due to
Native oral traditions, the text actually offers a
the fact the narrator has to go back in the past to
deconstructive process of èolonial speech-process
explain a present action. One need only take as
by means of which, one may perceive the writer's
example, Francisco's recollection ofthe race he won
conscious or subconscious attempt of re-
when he was young. The narrator relates: "The old
establishing sorne historical truths about Native
man Francisco drove a team of roan mares [....].
Americans. If this comprehension can be justified
When he came to the place called Seytokwa,
through the Momaday's reconsideration ofhistorical
. Francisco remembered the race for good hunting
judgments in the fiction, the author asserts that he
and harvests." (pp.6-7) As deployed in the narrative
never has and never will allow himself to become a
spokèsman for "the Indian," preferring instead to
voice quoted above, "remembered" suggests more
be seen as a mainstream writer with a distinguishing
than the intrusion of the omniscient narrator into
heritage. 1 This assertion poses the
the character's thoughts or the mere fact of calling
problematic of giving systematically credence to
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Sciences sociales et humaines
authors' commentaries on their own works. But, the
The Priest ofthe Sun: Los Angelos, 1952
deconstructive theory aims at showing that 'a text
(p. 77)
can transcend its limitations only by staying within
The Night Chanter: Los Angelos, 1952
them, for as Jacques Derrida writes: "Reading [... ]
(p. 121)
cannot legitimately transgress the text toward
something other than it [.... ] There is nothing
The Dawn Runner: Walatowa, 1952
outside of the text."2 This suggests that our
(p. 167)
comprehension of the novel must be drawn from
the text rather than taking for granted only what the
As we may see at the opening of each sequence, the
writer says. Accordingly, House Made of Dawn,
author specifies the place and the date of the event
beyond portraying the Native cultural history, may
that is going to be presented. These specifications
be read as a constructive subversion that proposes
back up the story. They attest the realistic approach
to restore Indian identity flouted by the intercession
of the author who certainly intends to stick to
of external powers intent on destroying tribal
actuality, even if the literary work is above all, a
reproduction and then, a fiction. The writer's
concern with realness is evidenced by his objective
2.1. Sense and presence of dating
to give credibility to his creative human adventure.
Credibility is important only for a narrative which
The first sign of constructive subversion is
likes to bear witness to history.
indisputably linked to Momaday's use of dates in
the fiction. In his literary and artistic creation, the
A text may be "rooted" in reality when its temporal
writer recurrently makes use of dates to relate,
indications are precise and correspond with our
announce or describe his imaginative human
calendar, or with testified historical facts. In House
adventure. As we know, dates are statements
Made of Dawn, reality is reflected through the
employed to indicate a specific period of time, day,
testimony of dates. The novel gives greater place to
month, year, one or all these, when something
the past so as to tell something about the present in
happened or is to happen. Their functions are
a roundabout way. It is in this sense that Momaday's
manifold. They organize the narration in a
reference to particular period of time, day, month,
chronological order and help the reader to follow
year appears as both a way to subvert White
the progression ofthe story. This remark fits in with
adventurers' judgments and an attempt to restore
House Made ofDawn in that Momaday substantially
the true image ofNative Americans. Thus, from his
employs particular dates to subtitle each of the
technique of re-establishing sorne historical facts,
twelve chapters, which constitute the fiction. The
the author implicitly contradicts, even criticizes
book describes Abel 's persona! experience that lasts
European explorers' contempt for Indians. Native
six years and eight months. It opens on July 20,
Americans are denied their fundamental human
1945 and closes on February 28, 1952. Similarly,
rights. For instance, they are refused their right to
the four sections around which the narrative evolves,
worship, which is, as we know the first Amendment
are successively dated. Announced by a title page,
to the V.S. Constitution. The Kiowas' prevention
the different parts of House Made of Dawn are
from performing their sun dance culture is a perfect
illustration, as the narrative voice makes us known
the specific date, which: "[... ] was July 20, 1890."
The Longhair: Walatowa, Canon de San
(p. II 7)
Diego, 1945 (p.3)
The use of dates responds to the writer's object to
note historic steps of the tribe past and underscore
1 Momaday, interview with Charles Woodard, in An~estral Voice:
the events in the fiction. By the same token, it is an
Conversations with N. Scott Momaday
Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989, p.39.
approachwhich absolutely disproves Western pre-
1 Jacques Derrida, OfGrammatology, trans. G C. Spivak, Baltimore, MD:
conceived ideas, according to which Indians are
Johns Hopkins Unive~, 1976, p.158.
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"savage" to signify the opposite ofD.S. civilization.
acts performed by characters as a sign of respect or
It is in this context that we may regard Momaday's
worship. He also remarks that the social order is
indication of the last celebration of the Kiowa sun
based upon these practices that have long been
dance as not only a means to demolish the frontier
established and observed by the members of the
mythologyJ engendered by these thoughts, but also
community. These normative acts, which give
to show that Indians know their own history and
rhythm to social life, are specifie to tribes. By
culture. The Priest of the Sun reveals his
evoking them in his narrative, the author indubitably
conveys a vision that expresses a cultural identity.
grandmother had a reverence for the sun [....] She
Customs and habits do not only show up the
was about seven years old when the last Kiowa sun
existence and social organization of an ethnie group,
dance was held in 1887." (p. 116)
but they also be~peak the characteristics of a tribe.
At the beginning ofthe novel, we are given a picture
Dating is used to reinforce the discursive material,
ofhow Abel and his folks sit when they have to eat.
situate and confirm the orally transmitted history. It
The writer depicts: "They ate on the ground in
testifies the power of oral tradition and memory in
groups, according to family and clan" (p. Il ). This
narrative. Moreover, because of its accurate use of
image implicitly allows us to see that the Kiowa
dates, House Made ofDawn may be considered as
life is clan-oriented and communal.
a historical work whose purpose is to re-establish
past facts as they have actually happened. Following
By the same token, the careful reader may be struck
the example of dates, Momaday's attempt to recover
by the writer's recurrent allusion to traditions as a
Native American image through the tribal memory
vector that directs and inspires the existence of
is evidenced by significant actions.
Natives. Identification with nature as a source of
goodness is integral to the Kiowas' religious beliefs.
2.2. Symbols: a means for constructive
Francisco firmly believes that a success at the tribal
level foreshadows a good hunting and harvest.
Similarly, Abel becomes a member of the Eagle
Momaday does not always offer clear textual facts
Watchers Society when he has seen an eagle carrying
to explain or reveal his intent ofrestoring the image
a snake across the sky and told it to Patiestewa, the
ofthe Indian. His hidden ideas may be apprehended
chief of the society. In this respect, when the
through the exploration of symbols that he uses. In
protagonist is allowed to go with the society on an
the context of the novel, the analysis of symbols is
eagle hunt, he captures a magnificent bird. In a
the concem of deconstruction, which consists in
different connection, belonging to this particular
proceeding "by the careful teasing out of warring
society is very important in the sense that not only
forces of signification within the text."4 The
does it reveal the history of Abel's tribe, but it also
deconstructive reading leads us to go beyond the
initiates him into the mysteries of life. For indeed,
first layers ofunderstanding literaI images and better
the Eagle Watchers Society· is an ancient ritual
comprehend Momaday's unavowed purpose. The
organization of the Kiowas, who despite the great
description of traditional practices and sorne
suffering they have experienced due to persecution
significant textual facts perfectly illustrate this
and migration, still keeps the basic tenet of their
culture, that is their identity. Its members are
culturally different and individually identifiable:
2.2.1 Customs as the expression of
"They carried four things that should serve thereafter
cultural identity
to signal who they were: a sacred flute; the bull and
horse masks of Pecos; and the little wooden statue
In House Made ofDawn, Momaday evokes certain
oftheir patroness Maria de Los Angeles, whom they
called Porcingula. Now, after the intervening years
l By frontier mythology, 1mean the moral and physical barriers which
and generations, the ancient blood ofthis forgotten
, have kept the White adventurer and the "savage" Indian separate.
tribe still ran in the veins ofmen" (p.15). Momaday
4 Barbara Johnson. The Critical Difference, U.S.A.: Johns Hopkins
University Press, 1980, p.S.
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recalls their origin and presents them as people of
the continuation of this custom after the death of
great virtues:
Francisco reveals Abel's acceptance ofhis position
as the new torchbearer of his grandparents'
The Eagle Watchers Society was the
traditions. The recognition of his new status as the
principal ceremonial organization of the Bahkyush.
keeper of the flame suggests the failure of his total
!ts chief, Patiestewa, and aIl its members were direct
deracination. For, despite his experience as an Indian
descendants ofthose old men and women who had
who has fought under the U.S. flag during the World
made thatjoumey along the edge of oblivion. There
War II , Abel comes back home to keep his family
was a look about these men, even now. It was as if,
traditions alive. This retum to his native heritage
conscious of having come so close to extinction,
means a rebuttal to Western civilization. The
they had got a keener sense of humility than their
Native's rejection of European invasion is subtly
benefactors, and paradoxically a greater sense of
dealt in the text.
pride. Both attributes could be seen in such a man
as old Patiestewa. He was hard, and he appeared to
2.2.2. Abel's killing of the albino
have seen more of life than had other men. In their
uttermost peril long ago, the Bahkyush had been
Abel's murder of Juan Reyes, the albino, is a
fashioned into seers and soothsayers. They had
dynamic narrative principle because it impressively
acquired a magic sense, which gave to them as a
participates in the construction of the story. The
race so much dignity and bearing. They were
writer evokes it as the motif for which the
medicine men; they were rainmakers and eagle
protagonist is sentenced to seven years'
hunters. (p.I5)
imprisonment and later placed under the care of an
Indian Relocation program in Los Angeles. Beyond
Interestingly, the writer's presentation of the Eagle
its consequences, the act of killing is an expression
Watchers Society does not only attest that the pre-
of the "savage" Indian's resistance to the White
colonial Native world has proceeded from human
adventurer's invasion.
values, but it also expresses an admiration for the
people of this ancient tribe. However, behind the
For remembering, let us say that it occurs just after
respect for these folks is hidden a reassertion of the
the performance of the ritual ofthe feast of Santiago
value of Indian traditional society. We note this
when Reyes ceremonially smears Abel with the
implicit intent of reassertion of the value in
blood of a rooster. The protagonist ripostes by
Momaday's evocation ofthe Kiowa as "a living sun
stabbing the albino. Here, the villagers are taken in
dance culture." (p. Il 7)
Momaday's trap of subversion for they perceive
Abel 's act as both his disassociation from the tribal
As a fundamental expression of a tribal cultural
customs and the effect of a drug that causes him
identity, traditions have to be known and perpetuated
hallucination. The significance of the protagonist's
through future generations. In this regard, the
action goes beyond this perception.
narrative voice notifies the reader about Francisco's
preoccupation with the survival of ancestral
In reality, Abel 's killing of Reyes may be construed
practices: "These things [Francisco] told to his
as the Native's retribution for their humiliation by
grandsons carefully, slowly and at length, because
the White man who has treated them with contempt
they were old and true, and they could be lost forever
and destroyed the wealth of their culture. The
as easily as one generation is lost ta the next, as
portrayal of Reyes is relevant to the White
easily as one old man might lose his voice, having
adventurer who has brutalized the Indian. Momaday
spoken not enough or not at al1." (p.173) The act of
writes: "The white man was large and thickset,
Abel's running in the prologue and at the end of the
powerful and deliberate in his movements [... ]
novel comes within this context. For, by this action,
Again and again the white man struck [Abel],
the protagonist fulfils his grandfather's desire of
heavily, brutally, upon the chest and shoulders and
carrying on an ancestral practice. In other respects,
head, and Abel threw up his hands."(pp.38.:.39) He;ë-
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Sciences sociales et humaines
the term "white man" refers to Reyes as to identify
deconstructive process of the colonial discourse on
him with the Western invader. Besides, because of
his culture and contributes to restore the historical
his unnatural whiteness and insatiable cruelty, the
truth about the image ofIndians and their traditional
albino embodies the white culture, characterized by
institutions. Therefore, his artistry lies within the
its brutality and scornfulness towards Indian people.
tradition of constructive subversion.
It is in this sense that Abel sees him as an evil and
fatally reacts to his attack. Abel 's reaction is justified
in connection with the historical relationship of
conflict between Whites and Indians. For, there is
not the slightest compunction when a White man
1. Corpus
kills a Native. In the trial following the murder of
the albino, the narrator reveals Abel 's state of mind:
1. MOMADAY, (N. S.), 1968. Bouse Made of
Dawn. New York: Perennial Classics, 1999.
[Abel} had killed the white man. It was not
a complicated thing, after ail; it was very simple. It
II. Articles and Reference works
was the most natural thing in the world. Surely they
could see that, these men who meant to dispose of
2. BARRY, (P.), 2002. Beginning Theory: An
him in words. They must know that he would kill
Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory
the white man again, ifhe had the chance, that there
(Second Edition). Great Britain, Manchester,
could be no hesitation whatsoever. For he would
University Press.
know what the white man was, and he would kill
him if he could. A man kills such an enemy if he
3. BARTHES, (R.), 1964. Essais Critiques, Paris,
cano (pp. 90-91)
4. DARRIDA, (J.), 1976. OfGrammatology, trans.
G. C. Spivak, Baltimore, MD: Johns
Hopkins University.
At the end ofour analysis, it follows that Momaday
resorts to elements of traditional history to expose
5. GENETTE, (G.), 1983. Nouveau discours du
the realities of his society. His recourse to tribal
récit. P~is, Seuil.
traditions is motivated as oral culture serves him as
a viaticum to reconsider Western historical
6. JOHNSON, (B.), 1980. The Critical Difference,
judgments about the "savage" Indian. The
U.S.A.: Johns Hopkins University Press.
reconsideration is evidenced by the writer's
approach to literary aesthetic. Certainly Momaday
7. MOMADAY, (N.S.) 1997. Postscript to "The
pretends not to be the defender of the Indians, but
Morality of Indian Hating", in The Man
he acknowledges the fact that as long as the Natives
Made of Words: Essays, Stories, Passages.
do not tell their own history, the historical accounts
New York: St. Martin press.
about them will always be in favour ofthe colonists.
That is why he writes: "[I]t is imperative that the
8. MOMADAY, (N.S.) interview with Charles
Indian define himself. .. .that he refuses to let others
define him."l Even if Momaday writes about his
Conversations with N. Scott Momaday.
native oral culture in English, the language of the
Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
oppressor, his narrative is deeply rooted into the
Indian aesthetics. In so doing, he takes part in the
1 Momaday, postscript to "The Morality ofIndian Hating", in The Man
. Made of Words: Essays. Stories. Passages (New York: st. Martin press,
1997), 57.
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9. MOMADAY, (N. S.), 1976. The Names: A
Memoir. D.S.A.: Harper & Row.
10. VANSINA, (l), 2006. Oral Tradition: A Study
in Historical Methodology, trans. H.H
Wright. U.S.A: Transaction Pub1ishers.
Il. VANSPANCKEREN, (K.), 1998. Outline of
American Literature, D.S.A: The United
Information Agency.
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