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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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1. Native Voices   

1. Native Voices

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Activities: Author Activities

Ghost Dance Songs - Author Questions

Back Back to Ghost Dance Songs Activities
  1. Comprehension: What is the purpose of the Ghost Dance songs? How did they aim to accomplish this goal? In what context were they first performed?

  2. Comprehension: According to the songs, what exactly is "approaching" or "coming"?

  3. Context: Repetition is an important part of most Native American rituals. It can, for example, emphasize ideas and strengthen the bonds of the community. What is the effect of the repetition in these songs? Given that the "message" of the words could be conveyed without the repetition, how would the songs be different without it?

  4. Context: Why do the songs evoke both imminent change in North American power structures and the details of traditional tribal ways of life (for example, the processing of meat)?

  5. Exploration: Mixed-blood critic Hertha Wong has argued that the pictographic writings of the Sioux and other Plains tribes tended, like works in the oral tradition, to tell stories about the self which might be more accurately described as "communo-bio-oratory" (community-life-speaking) rather than "auto-bio-graphical" (self-life-writing). In other words, they were about the person's life in the context of his or her human, spiritual, and natural communities and the writings were intended to be part of an oral recitation, rather than stand on their own. How is Black Elk's narrative "communo-bio-oratory"? Is Black Elk's story community-centered? If so, how and who is his community? What is the role of the spoken word in his text?

  6. Exploration: Compare these songs with both Black Elk's vision and the Book of Revelation. Keeping in mind that "apocalypse" is a transliteration of the Greek word for "revelation," consider how the Ghost Dance's vision of apocalypse compares to that in other works.

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