What insight into the pueblo people does the priest gain during the funeral ceremony in "A Man to Send Rain Clouds" by Leslie Marmon Silko?

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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“The Man to Send Rain Clouds” by Leslie Marmon Silko presents a cultural clash: the Catholic Church versus the Indian traditions.  In the end, a compromise promotes good will between the two factions.

An old man, father, and grandfather—Teofilo dies out in the country watching his sheep.  Found by his grandsons, they prepare his body before bringing him back to the reservation. The face is painted so that he will be recognized in the land of the spirits.  A feather placed in his hair represents a prayer for the smooth passage into the spirit world.

On the way home, the grandsons see the Catholic priest who asks about Teofilo.  They do not tell him that the grandfather has passed away.  The grandsons do not think that he needs to know about their family business.

Little outward grief is shown from the family even during the funeral which stems from the belief that death is just the beginning of another cycle of life. The old man is dressed in his new burial clothes.  The burial will be the same day. 

After the funeral, one of the grandson’s wives tells her husband that she wants the priest to come and place holy water on the old man so that he will not be thirsty. After some thought, the grandson agrees to go see if the priest will come with his holy water. The priest is hurt by the lack of inclusion into the funeral ceremony and asks why he was not asked.  The grandson honestly tells the priest that it was not necessary.

At first, the priest does not agree to come because it does not fit the Catholic funeral rituals.  The grandson tells the priest that he has to go since it is getting so late.  Quickly realizing an opportunity for better communication, the priest agrees to go and bring his holy water. By cooperating with this Indian ritual, the priest might end his struggle to build respect between himself and the Indians.

The two walk to the burial place.  It enters the priest’s’ mind that the Indians were playing a trick and that the old man was still alive. His parishioners stand around the grave waiting for the priest to perform his part of the burial.

Drops of water fell on the red blanket and soaked into dark, icy spots. He sprinkled the grave and the water disappeared almost before it touched the dim, cold sand; it reminded him [the priest] of something— because he thought if he could remember he might understand this.  He shook the container until it was empty. 

At first, the priest put only a few drops on the grave, but then he pours the entire body on the grave. He sees the corn meal and pollen that had been spread around the body.  The men lowered the body into the grave.

The priest returns to the parish.  The grandson is happy because now the grandfather can send thunderclouds with the rain.

Through this occurrence, the priest may have learned that the Indians guard their cultural rituals assertively. The significance of colors may also have caught his eye.  The direction of the body lying east to west towards the sunset is considered as a blessing for the dead person to help in his journey towards the land of the spirits in the west.

The relationship between the Catholic Church and the Indians developed back in the early explorations by the Spanish.  The Church was forced on the Indians who secretly continued to follow their own rituals.  Possibly the priest and the local Indians will have a new beginning.

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