Unit Overview: Glossary
bicultural production - A text or object that retains the nature of the creator's original culture as well as influences from other cultures.
creation stories - American Indian narratives of how the world or the tribe began. The biblical book of Genesis also contains two creation stories, but Native American creation stories tend to emphasize the number four, the humanlike nature of the original gods, a race of proto-humans, the essential connectedness of all creation, and the centrality of the tribe in question to the cosmic order.
cultural hero stories - Stories involving a hero who is human or has human characteristics and works on behalf of a community. These stories help dramatize the native people's belief about how the original world was altered to its current form.
emergence stories - Stories that describe how the people originated in the womb of the Earth Mother and were called to the surface by Sun Father. Despite the many differences among various tribes' versions of these stories, they generally establish how the world was created; how people developed out of ambiguously formed beings (who often had both animal and human characteristics); what each tribe took to be the basic relationships among people and between people and nature; and the origins of important tribal customs and structures.
emergent religion - A religion in which new spiritual practices are added to an existing framework.
gynocratic - Governed by women, as opposed to patriarchal, meaning governed by men. American Indian communities such as the Pueblos were matrilineal (i.e., traced their descent through the maternal line) and/or matrifocal (female-centered).
hózhó - A Navajo term meaning holiness, harmony, or beauty. This term is used to describe Navajo art, song, and ritual that seeks balance and harmony.
manitos - Extremely powerful beings in the Chippewa cosmology who could be characterized as "spirits" or gods. Manitos provided people with food (through hunting) and good health. They include Pau-Puk-Keewis, the Chippewa gambler, windigos, Nanabozho (the Chippewa cultural hero/trickster), and the underwater manito.
oral tradition - The tradition of songs, stories, chants, and performances that comprised pre-Columbian Native American literature (actually "traditions," for each community had its own set of traditions). "Literature" is problematic here, however, insofar as these cultural events were never written down, frequently sacred, and always community building. Many contemporary Native American writers employ themes and structures from the oral tradition in order to keep those traditions alive.
performative - One or more words that have immediate, concrete effects in the world. In the West, phrases such as "I now pronounce you husband and wife" or "Case dismissed" are examples of performative utterances. For many Indian cultures, much of the oral tradition was inherently performative—for example, it was used to cure or to invoke the spirits.
tale-types - Groups of stories that tend to focus on particular characters and include standard events and elements. Some of the most common tale-types include Gambler, Trickster, Creation, Abduction, Migration, and Women's stories. Contemporary authors can use these tale-types in their works: for example, Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony retells Yellow Woman stories—a Pueblo Abduction cycle.
trickster - A common Native American legendary figure, usually male, but occasionally female or disguised in female form, and notorious for exaggerated biological drives and well-endowed physique. Partly divine, partly human, and partly animal, he is an often amoral and a comic troublemaker. Because stories about Trickster often represent him as transgressing cultural mores, they serve to explain and investigate the origins and values of those mores.
Yellow Woman stories - Told by the Pueblo peoples of the Southwest, these stories dramatize how humans interact with spirits in the world once it has been created. Although there is always variation, Yellow Woman stories often involve a young married woman who wanders beyond her village and has a sexual encounter with a spirit-man; sometimes she is killed, but usually she returns to her family and tribe having grown spiritually, and therefore exerts an empowering influence on the people in general.
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