The greatest insight Momaday gained on the pilgrimage to his grandmother's grave was how sharply the tribal identity had declined. He realizes this through reflecting on the changes that took place during his grandmother's lifetime. When she was born, he says, "The Kiowas were living the last great moment of...
The greatest insight Momaday gained on the pilgrimage to his grandmother's grave was how sharply the tribal identity had declined. He realizes this through reflecting on the changes that took place during his grandmother's lifetime. When she was born, he says, "The Kiowas were living the last great moment of their history." Alongside their allies, the Comanches, they controlled the entire expanse of the southern Plains. The Kiowas were magnificent horsemen and engaged in war as a matter of honor and ritual rather than for survival. They had a rich culture of tribal history and legends, passed down from generation to generation.
Aho, Momaday's grandmother, "belonged to the last culture to evolve in North America." Her ancestors had come to Rainy Mountain from western Montana almost three hundred years ago. However, her sense of tribal identity was so strong that she carried the Montana landscape, which she had never seen, "like memory in her blood." Although Momaday actually visits the places his grandmother knew only through the tribal collective memory, he believes that she had experienced them "more perfectly in the mind's eye." By the time of her death, the tribe had been deracinated to such an extent that its members no longer had any meaningful connection with the land on which they actually lived, let alone a vivid collective memory of their former home, stretching back three centuries.
As the other educator points out, the author never explicitly states an answer to your question. However, we can make an informed guess as to the most important insight Momaday gained about his heritage during his pilgrimage to Yellowstone and his grandmother's grave.
In the prologue, Momoday highlights the importance of his journey to Rainy Mountain. He points out the beauty of the landscape before him and draws attention to a passing era in history, one which so clearly captured the essence of the human spirit. For Momoday, the migration of the Kiowas from the Great Plains toward the southern portions of Yellowstone is a testament to the endurance of the human spirit.
The Kiowas befriended the Crows along their journey, and they also acquired horses. These horses transformed the Kiowas from a nomadic people into a formidable race of hunters. Momoday tells us that of all the tribes on the Plains, the Kiowas owned the greatest number of horses per person. The horse allowed the average Kiowa warrior to excel in tracking down and hunting buffalo and deer.
Throughout his story, Momoday pays tribute to the adaptive nature of the Kiowas. His people adopted the sun religion of Tai-me and learned to participate in Sun Dances as they moved south. So deep was their religious conversion that, even when the buffalo died out, the Kiowas stubbornly clung to their new religious traditions by substituting old buffalo hides or even horses in their rituals. The Kiowas celebrated their Sun Dances until the last of the dances were dispersed by United States Cavalry soldiers. Momoday reiterates that his grandmother never demonstrated bitterness regarding the fate of her tribe. She lived on, adopted Christianity as her new religion, and adapted to new ways, just as her tribe had always done.
Momoday recounts the Kiowa history with awe as he journeys to Yellowstone and his grandmother's grave. Essentially, the most important insight Momoday gains about his heritage is that the Kiowa spirit is eternal in nature: the human capacity to survive and to thrive continues even though the tribe is no more.
Momaday never names any one particular insight as the "most important." Momaday's most important insight, then, is simply implied. In my opinion, Momaday's most important insight is that his tribe, the Kiowa tribe of Native Americans, is important in regards to its myth, its history, and its connection to the author.
This important insight is connected to the significance of the title, The Way to Rainy Mountain:
A single knoll rises out of the plain in Oklahoma, north and west of the Wichita Range. For my people, the Kiowas, it is an old landmark, and they gave it the name Rainy Mountain. ... I returned to Rainy Mountain in July. My grandmother had died in the spring, and I wanted to be at her grave.
This quotation explains two important things: that Rainy Mountain is important to the Kiowa tribe of Native Americans and that Momaday's own grandmother is buried there. By using his work to explain this quotation, Momaday shows how his own personal history, as well at the history and myth of the Kiowa tribe, is important. In fact, each of the numbered sections is divided into three different voices: one mythological, one historical, and one personal. Through this method, Momaday gives the entire story of the Kiowa tribe. It is also important to note that Kiowa history is most important through one particular medium: language.
A word has power in and of itself. It comes from nothing into sound and meaning; it gives origin to all things.