Ceremony is a novel written by Leslie Marmon Silko ( Laguna pueblo). The
Laguna Pueblo is a federally recognised tribe of Native American Pueblo people
in west central New Mexico, near the city of Albuquerque, in the United States.
Part of the Laguna territory is included in the Albuquerque metropolitan area.
The name Laguna is Spanish meaning small lake and it derives from the lake on
their reservation. This body of water was formed by an ancient dam that was
constructed by the Laguna people.
The people of Laguna have a long history of residing in and farming the Rio San
Jose in west central Mexico. Laguna history begins long before the advent of
written records in the Southwest. It is a common misconception that the pueblo of
Laguna began in 1699, at the time of construction of the Mission. However,
research of archaeological sites and an anthropological analysis of the Laguna
oral history have firmly proven that the people have inhabited the area ranging
from 6500 B.C. to the present.
The Pueblo of Laguna has a well established Tribal Law system. The Pueblo of
Laguna have participated as a “weed and seed” tribe. This department of Justice
program studied the enforcement of law and effectiveness of social programs on
Native African lands.
Coming to the novel Ceremony, it remains one of the most profound and moving
works of Native American literature, a novel that is itself a ceremony of healing.
Tayo, a second world war veteran of mixed ancestry, returns to the Laguna
Pueblo Reservation. He is deeply scarred by his experience as a prisoner of the
Japanese and further wounded by the rejection he encounters from his people.
His return to the Laguna Pueblo Reservation only increases his feeling of
estrangement and alienation, a kind of post traumatic stress syndrome.While
other returning soldiers find easy refuge in alcohol and senseless violence, Tayo
searches for another kind of comfort and resolution. Tayo’s quest leads him back
to the Indian past. Only by immersing himself in the Indian past, it’s traditions,
beliefs about witchcraft and evil, and to the ancient stories of his people made
him some relief . The search itself becomes a ritual, a curative ceremony that
defeats the most virulent of afflictions despair. Masterfully written, filled with the
somber majesty of Pueblo myth, Ceremony is a work of enduring power.
Importantly for Tayo’s health, he has returned to his homeland, the place of his
birth and upbringing. From the depths of his physical, psychic, and spiritual
disease, Tayo recovers his health throughout the course of the novel in a
ceremony of accretion and remembrance. Tayo re-learns how to interact with the
landscape in healthy and holistic ways. In the novel we can see Tayo’s improving
relationship with nature and demonstrate why that relationship is so important to
Inorder to understand Tayo and his relationship to the landscape in the novel we
should first explore more general Native American perspective on the
environment. Many of the indigenous cultures of North America perceive their
relationship with the natural world. While these Native Americans acknowledge
the uniqueness of each individual, they simultaneously perceive humans as
equal, intimate, and integral parts of the natural world. This perspective contrasts
with the historically predominant Euro American view point of human dominion
and control over the environment, this position asserts that humans are distinct,
separate, and superior to the rest of the natural world. On the other hand, the
dominant Native American attitude towards nature, or mother earth as it is often
termed, strongly supports the conjointment of self with non- self, humans are not
some distinct entity separated from or superior to the organic, physical world.
Many Native Americans, including the Navajo and the pueblo Indians, neither
construct a hierarchy of natural elements or entities, not do they perceive a
“boundary” between humans and the rest of the natural world.
Laguna Relationships with the Land
The Laguna people consider themselves intimately connected to the
environment. In her influential work The Feminine Landscape of Leslie Silko’s
Ceremony, the Laguna critic Paula Gunn Allen contrasts the dominant western
perspective of authority and control with the Laguna Pueblo people’s more
equitable relationship claiming “the earth is being as all creatures are also being :
aware, palpable, intelligent and alive”.
Silko herself collapses any inferred separation between characters and
landscape pointing out that “the land and the sky and all that is within them – the
landscape – includes human beings”. Adding that “interrelationships in the Pueblo
landscape are complex and fragile, ” Silko points to the vagaries of the weather
and the harsh New Mexican desert as primary reasons her Laguna ancestors
had been so aware of, involved with, and curious about their homeland.
“Survival” , Silko claims, “depended upon harmony and corperation not only
among human beings, but also among all things- the animate and less animate,
since rocks and mountains were known on occasion to move”. Because the
Laguna people have lived in the difficult landscape of west- central New Mexico,
they have learned to work together with their surroundings in order to sustain life,
striving to maintain balance and harmony.