Interesting title, huh? Did you know that the American Indian of the long ago had a different way, different style of speaking than his European counterpart? Of course there were different languages, and the language of sign, but there were other differences, and I thought we might explore some of those differences today.
By the way I blew this picture up so that you might more clearly see the fellow in the middle. Recognize him? Clark Gable? A very young and handsome Clark Gable. Okay, back to our topic of discussion today. To speak like an Indian of the long ago, it’s necessary to think of things in terms of images, rather than the real thing. In order to make his point, the American Indian might speak of something similar or compare some happening now to something in nature. For instance: “My heart is as happy as the sun shining happily upon a field of spring flowers.”
Long ago, when living in harmony with nature, the American Indian studied the wonders of the earth as a carpenter might study his tools. There was much to observe. The rhythm of the clouds, the shadows of evening, the light of day, the paths of the animals and birds. To survive well out in the open, it was necessary to know the changes of nature so well — and to know how to compensate for quick changes in weather or in temperature — one had to be well schooled in the lay of the land. And so the American Indian was.
Here is a casual speach that was said by Chief Cornplanter: “I think one way, — my way, but when I talk my thoughts in English, it is like passing a flower over the fire to you. What I think wilts, and the flower has lost its perfume.”
One comes away really understanding not only that Cornplanter couldn’t use the English language to communicate his thoughts as well as he would have liked, but one comes away with imagery as well as a certain logic.
Often there was rhythm to the Indian way of speaking — but not the sort of rhythm of a poem. Instead it follows its own path, much like the Native American songs. And the American Indian had songs for everything. He had a song of thanksgiving, a song of planting, a song of the warpath, a song of birth, a song of death, a song to go a-courting.
The European liked to think and talk about the American Indian as though he were a pagan, which I consider almost ludricous. Consider this speech by Red Jacket to Rev. Alexander: “Brother: We do not worship the Great Spirit as the white men do, but we believe that forms of worship are indifferent to the Great Spirit, — it is the offering of a sincere heart that please him, and we worship him in this manner.” Note the certain and cold logic of these words. This was a common trait in the speech patterns of the American Indian of the past.
Note also that there was no flowery words, nor anything complex in the speach of the American Indian of the past. Images that conveyed certain and exact logic, metaphors and comparisons, combined with a rhythm that was as free as the wind itself filled the speech of the American Indian.
So tell me, do you have any favorite American Indian speaches? I must admit that one of my favorites is Chief Joseph’s speach as he spoke to the military about his people and their complaints. His speach as he surrendered to the military was also beautiful, but sad. I’m not certain I agree with “I will fight no more forever,” because there are things that must be fought for. However, one can certainly understand and admire the beautiful surrender speach, which was filled with the sting of exact, almost cold logic and many, many metaphors. And yet it was poetic in nature at the same time.
So come on in and let’s talk. Oh, and I forgot to mention — it’s almost become a habit with me now — I’ll be giving away a book to some lucky blogger today.