Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko

Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko

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The novel Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko follows a young man, Tayo through his journey beginning when he returns home to the Laguna Pueblo Reservation, from World War Two; and is very ill. During the narrative Silko introduces us to Tayo's life before the war, which gives insight to reasons of why Tayo is ill. Through out his illness Tayo goes through many ceremonies both literally and metaphorically to try to cure his ailment. One of the ceremonies that is performed, is lead by Old Ku'oosh, the medicine man, where he performs a cleansing ceremony for someone who has killed someone in battle, even though Tayo doesn't recall killing anyone. However, he adds that this ceremony, which he has been performing for many of the returning war soldiers, has not worked for all of them. He then recommends another medicine man with the tools to cure and perform ceremonies, for the old ceremonies, since the white man had arrived, have not been able to cure the new diseases. Along with the medicine man ceremonies he also goes to American "white" doctors, which also acts as some what of a cleansing for him. In his case vomiting is can also be used as a ceremony for Tayo because he uses it to cleanse his body of the poisons and evil, both physical illness and mental illness. The ceremonies that Tayo goes through whether traditional through a medicine man or contemporary like visits to the psychiatrist and stays in the hospital, all add to his recovery, either through physical or mental cleansing.
In the beginning of the story, Tayo is in a Veteran's Hospital. In the hospital he felt like smoke, virtually invisible. When the doctor asked him questions he simply responded, " sorry but nobody was allowed to speak to an invisible one." (p.15) However, the doctor kept asking him the same question, "If he had ever been visible." (p.15) Every time the doctor asked the smoke that clouded his vision cleared away. His visits to the doctor can be seen as the very first ceremony. It is there that the doctors are able to get Tayo to communicate with them. First he only speaks of himself in the third person. He sees himself as invisible and separate from his body. As the doctors keep talking to him Tayo starts to realize why he cries and is able to see more clearly.

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" Why does he cry, Tayo?" "He cries because they are dead and everything is dying." "He could see the doctor clearly then, the dark thick hair growing on the back of the doctor's hands as they reached out at him." (p.16) Once Tayo is able to realize why he is crying and vomiting he is able begin to see the world and the changes that he was going through after he came home from the war. It is important to note that the white doctors were the ones that were able to begin Tayo's recovery because it was in fighting their war that he began to be sick. To continue his recovery the doctor thinks that it will be better for Tayo to go home and face his problems there as well.
In Tayo's time at home his grandmother thinks that it is wise for Tayo to see a medicine man. Old Ku'oosh performs a ceremony on Tayo that is supposed to cleanse him because he has killed someone in battle. While Ku'oosh was with Tayo he expressed his concern for the men who had come back from the war. "There are some things that we can't cure like we used to, not since the white people came. The others who had the Scalp Ceremony, some of them are not better either. I am afraid of what will happen to all of us if you and the others don't get well. He said" (p. 38) Old Ku'oosh expressed his concern that the ceremony many not work because it was not a disease that was not from the native land or culture it was something that old cures could not fix.
A personal ceremony for Tayo that he performed regularly was vomiting and crying. "He vomited out everything he had drunk with them, and when that was gone he was still kneeling on the road beside the truck, holding his heaving belly, trying to vomit out everything- all his past, all his life." (p.168) The reasons for Tayo's vomiting can be a result of two ideas. One being that he is physically sick. He came back from Japan with a disease such as malaria where nausea is a common symptom. However his vomiting can be explained as him trying to cleanse himself of the war and the bad things that he saw there. He tried to rid himself of the images of the death and destruction of people and a place that had done nothing to harm him.
As well, Tayo's crying can be seen as a release as well as an attempt to restore the life of the land. "He cries because they are dead and everything is dying." (p.16) This can be seen as Tayo crying for the earth. He maybe was trying to find a solution to the drought that he felt like he created by going to war. His tears were possibly an attempt to cry the rain back to the reservation and bring back life to the land or to perhaps use his tears to water the land.
When Tayo goes to see Old Ku'oosh again, Old Ku'oosh tells Tayo of another medicine man that may be able to help him better. Ku'oosh sends him to Betonie, a medicine man that lives in Gallup, an old ceremonial ground that had become populated by the white culture and industrialized by the people that invaded it. When Tayo arrived there he felt ill again. When he first met Betonie he realized that he had light colored eyes, much like his own. Betonie, like Tayo was a "half breed" as well. Tayo did not trust Betonie in the beginning. Betonie acknowledges his mistrust. "Go ahead…most of the Navajo's feel the same way about me. You won't be the first one to run away." (p.118). After looking around Betonie's Hogan (home) he comes to realize that Betonie is different. He not only sees the Native American culture but also is able to incorporate the white culture that surrounds them. As Tayo began to feel more comfortable he opens up to Betonie. He tells him of the war and of his family like his mother, Rocky, and Josiah. Betonie begins to speak about the ceremonies and why his are different and have a different effect. "At one time, the ceremonies as they had been performed were enough for the way the world was then. But after the white people came, elements in this world began to shift; and it became necessary to create new ceremonies. I have made changes in the rituals. The people mistrust this greatly, but only this growth keeps the ceremonies strong."(p.126) For Tayo, talking to Betonie and releasing the feelings that he had been keeping for so long was pre-ceremonial for him. With Betonies help and guidance he was able to see and realize things that before were clouded or unclear to him.
Betonie, Tayo, and Shush all leave the Hogan to go to Chuska Mountain where Betonie would perform the first part of the ceremony. Tayo sat in the center of the sand paintings. Betonie performs the same ceremony that was performed for a man that was captured by Coyote and completely transformed to be like him. As Betonie and Shush perform the ceremony they cut his scalp. "In the dangerous places you have traveled/ in danger you traveled/ to a dangerous place you have traveled/ in danger e-hey-ya-ah-na." (p.143) Betonie is chanting to the Gods about Tayo's journey that he made to Japan to fight in the war. Later in the ceremony he asks that Tayo be brought back home and to happiness and long life. After the ceremony Tayo begins to feel better, almost cured. However, Betonie warns Tayo "The ceremony isn't finished yet… This has been going on for a long long time now. It's up to you. Don't let them finish off this world." (p. 152) Although the ceremony seems to have helped Tayo, it does not completely cure him. Tayo is still haunted by his past life as well as the inability to separate good and evil as is seen when he goes back to his old ways of using alcohol to temporarily rid himself of his problems.
Tayo realizes that he is not on the right path and attempts to get back on it by looking for Josiah's cattle that had been lost for a very long time. He encounters a mountain lion and sings to him the way that the Laguna hunters did and covers its tracks with pollen the traditional way. It is after he comes to terms that he is part of the Laguna tradition as well as the new white culture that he truly beings to feel cured. "The Scalp Ceremony lay to rest the Japanese souls in the green humid jungles, and it satisfied the female giant who fed on the dreams of warriors." (p. 169)
Through out the novel the ceremonies that Tayo has gone through whether traditional like the one performed by Old Ku'oosh, personal like vomiting or crying, contemporary ceremonies like the Scalp Ceremony performed by Betonie, or his stay in the veteran's hospital, all played a role in the revival of Tayo's body as well as soul. The ceremonies allowed Tayo to see that he was not alone and though he did go to war and began to mix with the white culture he did not abandon his people. Because it is the people that you love that you can never abandon because they will always be there for you no matter what.
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