Native American Identity in Literature Historical Background

Historical Background

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Early encounters by Westerners with Indian cultures led to numerous misconceptions about Native American oral traditions. Most Native American literatures, before European contact, belonged to the oral tradition. Works were originally conceived for dramatic presentation, often with music and dance, and as lyrics to songs, rather than as texts for the printed page. Some tribes made pictographic records, but this was not typical. Western readers, with the expectations of readers of printed works, erroneously concluded that Indian literature, which featured the repetition and strong parallelism of song and oratory, was primitive. Native American literature was also, understandably, pagan. Beginning with Spanish explorers, Europeans suppressed and destroyed Indian cultural creations. The great variety of Native American cultural life was largely replaced with European languages and culture and with a few stereotypes. Stereotypes about Indians have proved remarkably durable.