Describe the function and significance of Nanabush in the world of Highway's plays The Rez Sisters and Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing. (Dry Lips Oughta Move To Kapuskasing by Tomson Highway)

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Rez Sisters and Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing are based on the Native story-telling tradition, steeped in cultural memories and interpretations.  Nanabush is a mythical, spiritual creature of vast importance in the Native American  culture and he or she is not unique to these plays nor created by Tomson Highway. Nanabush possesses male characteristics in The Rez Sisters and female characteristics in Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing.

Nanabush is a symbolic character and, as the only male presence in The Rez Sisters  he reveals that , in the long run, things do actually remain the same, despite apparent happiness or intense sadness. The characters themselves sometimes speak in Cree, the native language and it is significant that these are the characters that can relate to Nanabush as they have an understanding of the spiritual link.

Whilst essentially described as a "trickster," Nanabush adds an essence to the native people which is otherwise, seemingly, lacking in"Westerners." He / she is not a character or "hero" that, in western culture, people would strive to model themselves on, as Nanabush can represent anything and Tomson is able to use the character for his own purposes, depending on which play or circumstance he is describing.  

In The Rez Sisters, the characters that Nanabush represents are somewhat innocuous whereas in Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing, the female characters that Nanabush represents are some of the worst sort and, mostly offensive revealing that Tomson sees this as a combination of the secular western world and the, perhaps overly-idealized world of the spirits in Native culture. The result is unpleasant and maybe even serves as a warning.

Spirituality, originally, was not just an art form but in the modern day, we tend to refer to it as such and treat it as perhaps a series of pictures, drawings, clothing and other tangible objects that actually contribute to the loss of the myth itself. Tomson wants to reveal the two different Nanabush characters - spiritual - and materialistic which enables Nanabush to contribute to the plot development.

In Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing, Nanabush helps to expose the wickedness as there can be no transformation without first exposing evil. In both plays, Nanabush is able to transcend gender and the restrictions and expectations of a westernized culture.    

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The Rez Sisters

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