The Oral Tradition
N. Scott Momaday (Kiowa), who calls himself a “man made of words,” links the oral tradition with print work by saying “the writer, like the storyteller, I think, is concerned to create himself and his audience in language.” Momaday sees the oral tradition not only as a part of a continuum spanning epochs but also as fundamental to the process of shaping language into meaning. By casting images into words at the moment of immediate response to a visual or aural stimuli, the storyteller (or poet/singer) can be working close to the point where consciousness and perception are linked in language. Simon Ortiz (Acoma Pueblo) connects the oral tradition to what he designates as “lifestyle,” which he describes as the “whole process of that society in terms of its history, its culture, its language, its values, and subsequently its literature.” Ultimately, he feels, “man exists because of language, consciousness comes about through language, or the world comes about through language. Life = language. Language is life, then.”
In addition to the crucial link between written literature and the oral tradition, Ortiz, Momaday, and many other Native American writers have stressed the importance of a historical record which was preserved when the First Nation peoples were almost annihilated during the first two centuries of the American republic. Ortiz recalls his father “trying to express certain views about how important it was for him and for the...
(The entire section is 449 words.)