Oral Tradition In Nez Perce's Red Willow

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Oral tradition in Native American culture illustrates the physical history of each tribe, connects origins of the natural world to a contemporary setting, and reinforces generations of societal values. In particular, the Nez Perce tale, “Red Willow,” encapsulates and preserves many elements of tradition within its narrative. Spirituality, death rituals, social roles, and analysis of their people’s surrounding environment are all essential themes compacted into the brief narrative. The story’s pacing is rapid and simple in order to entrance and educate a young audience while reinforcing the tribe’s traditions and introducing creation tales. Origin stories structured similarly to “Red Willow” have been used throughout Native American cultures…show more content…
Altogether, a variety of evidence including the young man clutching locks of hair and weeping and that “he would often go away for ten-day periods,” culminates in his apparent guilt in respect to his fiancée’s disappearance (2). Yet the young man is never punished for his fiancée’s murder. The community searches for the arrow that killed the young woman in order to distinguish which individual the weapon belonged to and deliver just punishment for the crime. In order to complete the origin story, the arrow must stay hidden embedded in the trees’ bark, dye the willow trees red, and give them their color for maiden’s blood. Consequently, the young man is never convicted of the crime. The narrative not only gives reason to the red willow’s pigmentation, but makes transparent the Nez Perce’s view on guilt, or rather their belief in innocence until guilt is proven. Characterization of the young man’s actions after the murder show an additional deep understanding of the human reaction to guilt and grief. “Red Willow” concisely delivers to its audience a reasoning for nature’s behavior (the color of the red…show more content…
“Red Willow” considers all aspects of an origin story’s purpose: the continuation of tradition, education of younger generations on societal rules, and the connection of cultural history to the natural world. The story carefully weaves references to death rituals, marriage customs, the roles of elders, and essential aspects of Nez Perce spirituality into its narrative. In context, these references are made through necessary plot points - the young woman’s death, her relationship to the young man, his subsequent guilt and freedom from punishment, the mother’s shamanic qualities, and the cause of the red willow’s hue – “it came to pass that the willow is red – of the maiden’s blood” (2). Although Nez Perce oral tradition allows for an origin myth such as “Red Willow” to be altered over generations of storytelling, its current form as a recorded and translated work allows for a glimpse into Nez Perce culture, values, and tradition at a specific point in
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