January 22, 2010

Momaday on common denominators

Writing His World

Literary pioneer N Scott Momaday discusses culture, history and the writing life

By Charlotte Jusinski
You call yourself Kiowa, which is a nomadic culture of the Great Plains, but you call the Southwest your home, having grown up among the more stationary tribes.

I grew up in the Southwest. I lived among the Apaches, the Navajos and the Pueblos, and not so much among the Kiowas, but the Kiowas are my blood. So I really identify with that heritage; my father was a full-blood Kiowa. He told me a lot of stories out of the Kiowa oral tradition while I was growing up, so I identify with that very easily. Yet I have the practical experience of having lived outside that world. I was aware of the differences, and of the common denominators.

What are those common denominators?

Being Indian. Having blood that existed on this continent for 30,000 years. Having a way of looking at nature, an aesthetic that is peculiar to Indian people. A sense of humor. You could construct a whole catalog. There are many things that Indian people have in common, regardless of their tribal affiliation…. The Indian has a regard for nature that Western man doesn’t have. We think of the earth as living, as possessed of Spirit. And that’s foreign to most people in our society and most people around the world, I suppose. That’s just one example. The way that Indian people think of time is peculiar to them. Most Western people think of time as passing…The Indian doesn’t think of time in that way. Time is static. Time is going through the Grand Canyon and looking at the cliffs—they’re there, they’ve been there. We pass through time.
Comment:  For more on Momaday, see Another Award for Momaday and Momaday to Get Medal.

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