The Way to Rainy Mountain

by N. Scott Momaday

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How does The Way to Rainy Mountain deal with nature and self-identification?

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In The Way to Rainy Mountain, N. Scott Momaday follows the journey of the Kiowa people from the plains of Montana to Rainy Mountain in Oklahoma. Similarly, it follows Momaday’s journey of discovery of the history of the Kiowa people. Momaday was not raised on a Kiowa reservation; instead, his family moved to reservations in Arizona and New Mexico to teach when he was a boy. The novel is about the discovery of culture as much as it is about self-identification and understanding who you are and who you choose to be.

In the larger scheme of the novel, another way that self-identification, one that mirrors Momaday's, is that of the Kiowa people themselves. The Kiowa, a nomadic tribe from Montana, is forced to move to Oklahoma. As they go on their journey, which Momaday tells in three parts, they adopt new elements to their identity through their interactions and reliance on nature.

In particular, the Kiowa were people who through their travels and alliances, adapting some of the practices of the Crow: “They acquired Tai-me, the sacred Sun Dance doll, from that moment the object and symbol of their worship, and so shared in the divinity of the sun.” Their choice to self-identify and adapt the religious and spiritual practices of those tribes they met in their journey south shows the connection they felt to nature. Through their belief in a shared divinity between themselves and the sun, they identify their culture through their connection to nature. Nature becomes an integral part of their identity and deeply influences the way they see themselves, both in relation to their history and the world.

In addition, many of the myths they tell about themselves, the world, and their journey to Rainy Mountain show interactions with nature and the natural world. While some might say religious beliefs aren’t “self-identification,” Momaday makes it clear that these beliefs and myths came as adaptations to new ideas and situations the Kiowa encountered in their journey.

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The book The Way to Rainy Mountain deals with both nature and self-identification by revealing the entire history of the Kiowa tribe (making sure to include both myth and personal experience). Nature is an important theme because of the Kiowa landmark, Rainy Mountain, itself. Further, the members of the Kiowa tribe always worship both Tai-me and the Talyi-da-i bundles, which came directly from the sun in some form. Therefore, the sun is a very important part of nature according to the Kiowa. Other animals, such as the crow, lead the tribe directly to these important religious images from the sun. Another way nature is important to the Kiowa tribe is through the use of three important animals:  the dog (for companionship and hunting), the horse (for hunting and travel), and the buffalo (for sustenance).  Finally, the novel itself is the self-identification of the Kiowa tribe of Native Americans. Even more specifically, it is a self-identification of the author, Momaday, as a member of the Kiowa tribe through his grandmother, Aho, who experienced many of the important tribal events, including the very last Sun Dance ceremony.

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