The Way to Rainy Mountain

by N. Scott Momaday

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In "The Way to Rainy Mountain," what significance and representation does Momaday's grandmother hold for him?

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The Way to Rainy Mountain is centered around Momaday's memories of his grandmother Aho, his reactions to her death, and his memories of her. It is clear that Aho was not only personally important to Momaday but also was crucial in her ability to carry on oral traditions. Given her age, she had firs hand experience of cultural traditions, such as the Kiowa Sun Dance, that Momaday was unable to experience firsthand, in addition to experiences of the oppression that led to the end of the Kiowa Sun Dance.

It is clear that Aho was deeply connected to Kiowa practices that had been stamped out by the time Momaday came of age. This allows her to be a link to Momaday's heritage, and it is clear that Momaday recognizes the significance of this, and it is part of what makes mourning her so important to him.

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The Way to Rainy Mountain is a book by Native American author N. Scott Momaday that reflects on his Kiowa heritage. Momaday’s grandmother, Aho, is a key link between Momaday and that heritage, preserving much of the tribal oral traditions and language in her stories. Momaday has stated the he was motivated to write the work by her death. He does, in fact, return to Rainy Mountain to visit her grave, something that represents for him a return to his cultural roots.

Momaday’s grandmother witnessed the last Kiowa Sun Dance in 1887 and many other important parts of Kiowa history. She is devoted to the religious and cultural traditions of the tribe and passes them down to a younger generation. Grandmothers represent tribal harmony as well as the redemptive power of the Kiowa language and beliefs. She is a strong and loving figure who is portrayed with great affection and respect and represents the wisdom, strength, and continuity of the tribal culture.

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Momaday's grandmother is a very significant presence in his personal narrative, even though she has died. It is her death that brings him home again, prompting the story itself. His memories of her are strong, and his love for her is deep. As he writes, "I wanted to be at her grave."

During his story, Momaday remembers her (Aho) vividly:

Now that I can have her only in memory, I see my grandmother in the several postures that were peculiar to her: standing at the wood stove on a winter morning . . . sitting at the south window, bent above her beadwork . . . going out upon a cane, very slowly as she did when the weight of age came upon her; praying. I remember her most often at prayer.

He also remembers growing up in Aho's house, filled with "coming and going, feasting and talk."

Momaday's grandmother was his link to his own Kiowa culture. It was through her that he learned the history of his people and the legends that had survived over centuries. He noted:"

. . . she belonged to the last culture to evolve in North America. Her forebears came down from the high country in Western Montana nearly three centuries ago.

Having lived a very long time, Aho's life had intersected with Kiowa history; she had participated as a child in the last Kiowa Sun Dance (1887), a religious rite, and had been present July 20, 1890, when the Kiowas had been dispersed by soldiers, preventing them forever from practicing "the essential act of their faith." She had experienced, according to Momaday, "a vision of deicide."

In returning to Rainy Mountain to visit Aho's grave, Momaday paid tribute to her and reconnected with his identity as a Kiowa:

. . . I awoke at dawn and went out on the dirt road to Rainy Mountain . . . . There, where it ought to be, at the end of a long and legendary way, was my grandmother's grave. Here and there on the dark stones were ancestral names. Looking back once, I saw the mountain and came away.

Having completed his pilgrimage, Momaday returned to his own life with a greater sense of his own identity.

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