Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit: An Analysis
How The West Was One
Leslie Marmon Silko is a Native American of the Laguna Pueblo people. In her book, Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit, she speaks about her people’s interactions with the antelope, or as she calls them, The Antelope People, and the way her people hunted them. A reader takes away not only a feeling of deep respect, which the Laguna Pueblo people had for their fellow Earth inhabitants, but also a feeling of unity like there really was or is no difference between the hunter and the hunted, just their roles, given to them by chance and instinct. This reverence for animal life reflects a much deeper world view held by Leslie Marmon Silko, an outlook of respect for the Earth itself. In her book, Silko goes on to tell her people’s tale of the Earth’s origin. The Laguna Pueblo people have a more personal relationship with their planet than most. Perhaps it is the fantastic nature of their origin, or the way the myth was kept through word of mouth, from trusted elder to younger generations, whatever the reason, it is clear that Silko has inherited this unity with the earth and is hurt by the way it and it’s inhabitants are treated both man and animal.
In the section of Silko’s book titled: Interior and Exterior Landscapes: The Pueblo Migration Stories, the author describes the Laguna Pueblo people’s relationship with the hunted but more than that, without obviously doing so, she compares the hunting of the animals to the plight of her own people in the modern world. The native people of the Laguna Pueblo used resources sustainably and did so by maintaing a respect for all things, living and dead. Early in the section Leslie Marmon Silko speaks of her people’s burial traditions; she writes “Archaeologists have remarked over formal burials complete with elaborate funerary objects excavated in trash middens of abandoned rooms." (Silko 26) The Laguna Pueblo people buried their dead with possessions and often laid them to rest under rooms in their own houses. The Laguna Pueblo had a respect for the dead like many other cultures, but unlike many cultures the passing of a tribe member did not mean a total absence from life, the person was and is still very much present and a member of the tribe. The departed become the world, as they always have been and their body becomes the soil and the plant, so in some respect, the dead are much more present than the living. This failure to differentiate between who is with us and who is not ends up doing a lot for the tribes spirituality. It means that respecting the earth also means respecting one’s ancestors, and to have the dead all around you, in the Earth’s teeming life, allows the tribe to take and give with the Earth in equal amounts.
Likewise, the people of the Laguna Pueblo show animals a similar respect that they give to their dead. Silko explains that “Waste of meat or even the thoughtless handling of bones cooked bare will offend the antelope spirits." (Silko 29). This goes back to Silko’s sense of earthly and heavenly unity, a true mutual respect for earth, man, and animal requires equality or oneness with everything. This achievement, preached in many religions, most of all Buddhism, is the product of realizing how much we as humans depend on the Earth. Forgetting that everything we have and all that we consume comes from one planet can cause the degradation of resources and disrespect for populations, be them man or animal. Being constantly reminded, through word of mouth and total interaction with nature, gave the native people an outlook on life rarely mimicked, but in constant need.
Silko tells us on page 27 that the Laguna Pueblo people called the earth the “Mother Creator”, these two titles mother and creator give the Earth a godlike identity. Being both the mother and the father, the Earth is to be respected as one would honor their own parents. Making the Earth your God seems logical considering it contains us and provides for us all, encompassing every need we may have. The ironic thing is the Laguna Pueblo people gave the Earth such huge properties without actually exploring all the territories and oceans the world had. Just by observing the grandeur of nature and its beauty the people knew just how big the world is. By giving the world so much esteem the Laguna Pueblo elders lay the road ahead towards peaceful and respectful livelihoods that could last lifetimes if not corrupted.
When one reviews all these ideas and traditions separately they may seem unique but not really an outlook on life. Upon combining these we see a people with a deep reverence for everything natural. The respect for dead lets an outsider know that the people believe in more than they can see and therefore have the philosophical thought to apply meaning to otherwise common objects like animals and plants. It signifies an understanding that the world is more than just what we can see. The respect for animals allows the foreigner to understand the lack of hierarchy that exists for these people. Silko makes it clear that the Laguna Pueblo people do not consider themselves better than the antelope they hunt, only that they have needs that can be met by nature and those that reside in it, and it is only natural for being to take from another in order to survive. In taking though, they remember to always give back to the Mother Creator, with prayer, and to always be grateful, with a constant observation of natural order and the way things ought to be.