The Man to Send Rainclouds

by Leslie Marmon Silko

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How did the natives bury Teofilo's body in The Man to Send Rainclouds and why?

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According to the text, Leon and Ken prepare Teofilo's body for burial as soon as they find him propped up against the cottonwood tree.

The two follow native traditions in preparing the body. First, Leon ties a gray feather to Teofilo's long, white hair. Next, he dabs white paint on Teofilo's forehead and blue paint on Teofilo's cheekbones. Then, Leon pauses, while Ken throws corn meal and pollen into the air near the body. Leon finishes up by dabbing yellow paint under Teofilo's nose and green paint across Teofilo's chin.

The two men then wrap Teofilo's body in a red blanket. Before the burial, Ken and Leon dress Teofilo in a new brown flannel shirt and new Levis. They also put new moccasins on Teofilo's feet. After the corpse is dressed, Ken and Leon wrap Teofilo in the red blanket once again. They finish by tying the ends of the red blanket with new rope.

During the burial, Teofilo's blanket-wrapped body is lowered into the ground. Corn meal and pollen are sprinkled onto the blanket. The burial does not end, however, until the priest sprinkles holy water onto the blanket and open grave.

Both pollen and corn meal are used to represent longevity in the next life. In Navajo culture, especially, the sprinkling of pollen and corn meal always accompany ritual prayers. The Navajo believe that divine power is encapsulated and communicated through corn and pollen, which they believe are gifts from the gods. Pollen, in particular, symbolizes life, fertility, and bounty.

Strewing pollen is also seen as an act of worship.

Source: The Ritual Meaning of Corn Pollen among the Navajo Indians by Thomas M. Raitt, Religious Studies, Vol. 23, No. 4 (Dec., 1987), pp. 523-530 (8 pages)

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I don't think there's anything necessarily wrong with it, unless you're looking at the point of view of the priest in the story.  Catholic missionaries had established missions in the area, and were attempting to train the natives in their way of thinking and believing.  When the natives wished to bury Teofilo without a proper Catholic funeral mass, it made the priest very upset.

However, the natives were following their own culture.  In their system of belief, should a deceased member of the tribe enter the next world with holy water, they could send much needed rain.  For this reason, the natives wished to have the priest give them holy water for their own, cultural rite.  It makes sense when considering their way of life and their unique system of beliefs. 

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