Richard H. Peterson, Book Review Editor
The Remembered Earth. Edited by Geary Hobson. Albuquerque, New Mexico: University of New Mexico Press, 1981. Contributors. Illustrations. 410 pages. $14.95.
Reviewed by Frank R. LaPena, Director Native American Studies, Associate Professor of Art, California State University at Sacramento; Author of “Wintu Ethnography” for the Smithsonian publication of The Handbook of North American Indians, The Gift of Singing, Chalatien Press, 1976, Sunusa Stopped the Rain, Chalatien Press, 1981 and Editor of Legends of the Yosemite Indians, Yosemite Natural History Association, 1981.
The Remembered Earth is an anthology of poetry, essays, short stories, and art work by 75 Native American writers and artists. To remember the earth is to become aware of traditional and cultural stories that pay respect to the earth; this gives one an understanding of his relationship to the universe, and why it is important to protect and maintain tribal history. In N. Scott Momaday’s essay, the link between language and literature is explained by the use of oral tradition. Words are chosen precisely to make clear and meaningful statements. As Momaday would say, oral tradition has given the Native American an understanding and appreciation of the power and interpretive symbolism of words; it is one’s understanding of that power that makes of the Native American, a man made of words.
Writing by the Native American is an extension of communication, a way to explain, to share, to document and continue to protect a living earth. The writings speak of this awareness of earth and show how this symbiotic relationship is built on love and respect. We are taught something in Bruchac’s “Birdsfoot’s Grampa” about this relationship to living things when the old man has the car stopped in a pouring rain. While those inside are impatient to continue, the old man removes toads from the road because, “They have places to go to too.”
Remembering the earth also recalls past events whether they be injustices to a culture, an individual or a destruction of plants, stones, or other elements that are all part of the sacred earth. Examples of the history and circumstances of social ostracism and racial prejudice which happened with white contact are found here, as well as how differences come about within the Indian community itself. The writings are a reminder to those who have forgotten their relationship to the earth and sacred things that the past, present, and future are all part of the unitive vision. This presents a way of thinking that is different from the non-Indian view of things and yet, as individuals, the writers speak to contemporary society because they are also part of that society. Hobson has organized the book into regional areas which helps in identifying some of the locations of historical events. However, it is clear the situations, the concerns, and the teachings of the earth are universal to Native Americans.
Hobson’s introduction identifies American Indian writers of the past, and places in perspective some of the diversity and importance of their writings. He is interested in the continued efforts of Native American writers and dedicates the book… “to all other Native American writers, unpublished and striving, whose work will come after this book.”
The assumption of Indian themes and concepts by non-Indian writers is discussed by Hobson, Silko and Allen in “Imitation Indian Poems,” the “Rise of the White Shaman,” and “The Sacred Hoop: A Contemporary Indian Perspective On American Indian Literature.” These are well written and need to be given a greater exposure to anyone interested in what is happening in Indian America. These essays point out how false impressions of the Native American are perpetuated through stereotypic images which adversely affect the Native American community as well as American Indian literary efforts.
All of the writers give a view of the earth which is often taken for granted. Sounds of birds, the conditions of weather, the movement of water, voices of singers, and storytellers are all presented. The attention to colors, whether used in a symbolic way or as found in nature as part of objects, is part of the writings. Texture and other elements are looked at with a sensitivity and an awareness that many non-Indians do not pay as much attention to, and cannot relate to, as the Native American writer does.
Material in the book covers a broad range of emotion and expression of a living people. Often a people’s story can best be told by the people themselves. Writers such as Silko, Allen, Momaday, Bruchac, Harjo, Rose, Young Bear, Ortiz and others are masters and have continued to produce fine work. The inclusion of the younger, newer writers in the anthology should encourage them to continue to develop and refine their craft.
The situations and circumstances found in the writings will be familiar to American Indians and people who have read other Indian material. Perhaps new readers will gain a better understanding of the Native American people and also realize the need to protect and maintain all parts of the earth; we are all one, part of the same living earth. If it dies we also die.