Ceremony

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Bellies (Stomachs) Symbol Icon

One of the poems at the beginning of Ceremony explains that stories are kept in the stomach, setting up a framework in which characters’ stomachs are the site of cultural identity and history. Tayo’s stomach, especially, is a symbol of how connected or disconnected he feels from the stories of his Native heritage and, therefore, his own Native identity. Just as the stomach digests food to nourish a person’s body, it also symbolically digests stories in order to nourish a person’s soul. At war, Tayo stopped believing in the power of the traditional stories and begins to wonder if he should give up his native identity in order to fit in the modern white world, causing his stomach to stop working properly. When Tayo returns to the New Laguna reservation, he is still estranged from his native heritage and cannot keep any food down. Ku’oosh’s healing ceremony allows Tayo to eat again, but it does not work completely. Tayo still vomits at many moments of the novel when he questions or is ashamed of his native heritage, symbolically distancing himself from the power of the Native American community and stories.

During a fight with Emo, a fellow veteran, Tayo stabs Emo in the stomach, symbolizing how far Emo has gone from his own Native American heritage. Emo became an instrument of death and destruction during the war and has no interest in returning to balance once the war is over. Emo seemingly rejects the native philosophies on balance and respect for life, and is interested only in dominating as many other people as possible and achieving vengeance against white people and half-breeds like Tayo. Tayo’s attack on Emo’s stomach symbolizes Emo’s permanent disconnection from the Native American philosophy and stories. Unlike Emo, Tayo searches for healing and eventually starts to believe in the power of the Native American stories once more. As Tayo gradually recovers, he can feel in his belly when things are right with the world, and when he is fulfilling his part in a new Native American story that describes the ceremony for returning to balance and healing trauma in the world.

Bellies (Stomachs) Quotes in Ceremony

The Ceremony quotes below all refer to the symbol of Bellies (Stomachs). For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Interconnected World Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Books edition of Ceremony published in 2006.
Section 1 Quotes

I will tell you something about stories,
[he said]
They aren't just entertainment. Don't be fooled.
They are all we have, you see,
all we have to fight off
illness and death.

He rubbed his belly.
I keep them here
[he said]

Related Symbols: Bellies (Stomachs)
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:

Ceremony starts with three poems, one of which describes a man telling this story. The man is unspecified – he doesn’t function as a character but rather sets up the framework for storytelling within the novel. As the man says, stories are not just entertainment in this Native American culture. For many Native Americans tribes, including the Laguna Pueblo community that Silko focuses on in the novel, stories are vital as repositories of knowledge and moral lessons, and also as links to a a centuries old oral tradition that keeps Native peoples in communication with their past and their ancestors. Put another way, for Native Americans stories are the means of building and preserving their culture. Using stories to “fight off illness and death” implies that stories are the primary tool in the life or death issue of teaching people how to live healthy, happy lives. By following the lessons of the stories, people like Tayo can achieve a far better life than the selfishness, greed, and disrespect practiced by those who do not have the stories to guide them.

The man also says that he keeps the stories in his belly, introducing the symbolism of stomachs in the novel and establishing the stomach as the site of a person’s connection to Native heritage. The health of the stomach then becomes a barometer for how well a person is following the messages of the stories in his or her life. When Tayo is sick to his stomach, he is not in line with the lessons of the stories. Directing this symbolism through the stomach reinforces the ties between stories and health, and makes concrete the idea that stories serve as a kind of nourishment and are a tangible part of people’s physical lives. Those who hear the stories are not meant to simply listen and think idly about them, they are meant to actively engage with the stories and only in that way can they ensure that illness and death are kept at bay.

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Section 5 Quotes

It was a cure for that, and maybe for other things too. The spotted cattle wouldn't be lost any more, scattered through his dreams, driven by his hesitation to admit they had been stolen, that the land - all of it - had been stolen from them. The anticipation of what he might find was strung tight in his belly…

Related Characters: Tayo, Josiah
Related Symbols: Hybrid Spotted Cattle, Bellies (Stomachs)
Page Number: 178
Explanation and Analysis:

After seeing the medicine man Betonie, Tayo leaves on a quest to find his Uncle Josiah’s spotted cattle. These cattle were Josiah’s greatest dream, as the cows were bred with both Mexican breeds and the northern Hereford breed to create a stronger animal that Josiah believed would be better able to survive drought years in New Mexico. While Tayo is at war, Josiah dies and these cattle are stolen by a white man. Wracked with guilt for his failure to help his uncle, Tayo cannot properly return home from the war in spirit as long as the cattle are missing. Tayo faced many different traumas during his time at war, mostly centered around the white man’s greed, selfishness and disrespect for life. Getting the cattle back from a white rancher is one way for Tayo to find closure on the emotional turmoil about serving as a tool of violence for white culture, and also a way to reconnect with his family legacy. Only then can Tayo fully return home, no longer lost.

The cattle are also a symbol of the triumph of Native wisdom over the dominating ideals of white culture. Josiah knew that his idea to breed hybrid cattle would work out, despite the white scientists who argued in favor of pure-bred animals. Tayo was not sure about the hybrids’ strength at the time, but he is now positive that the cattle are indeed everything Josiah hoped they would be. Tayo feels this in his stomach, the physical location of Native stories and wisdom according to Pueblo tradition. Even if Tayo’s quest for these cattle looks insane to members of white culture, Tayo’s stomach alerts him to the proper path of living according to Pueblo traditions and his gut approves of bringing the hybrid cattle home. Living in peace with his identity is now more important to Tayo than futilely searching for the approval of oppressive white culture.

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Bellies (Stomachs) Symbol Timeline in Ceremony

The timeline below shows where the symbol Bellies (Stomachs) appears in Ceremony. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Section 1
The Interconnected World Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
Ceremony, Tradition and Adaptation Theme Icon
...to fight off illness and death, and stand up to evil. Stories grow in man’s belly and offer life, rituals, and ceremonies to humankind. Ceremonies are the only cure. The third... (full context)
The Interconnected World Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
...with people through the fog that constantly surrounded him. He is unable to eat without throwing up and the entire world seems white to him. The doctors tell Tayo they are sending... (full context)
The Interconnected World Theme Icon
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
...of the smiling face of the Japanese boy from the family and of Rocky’s smile, throws up into a trash can. (full context)
The Interconnected World Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
...from sunstroke. Tayo blames his fall on the wind, then turns to the side and vomits. (full context)
Section 2
The Interconnected World Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
...in Rocky’s bed makes Tayo vomit. Old Grandma comes in and Tayo blames his upset stomach on the light coming in from the window. Old Grandma shuts the blinds, and Tayo... (full context)
Storytelling Theme Icon
Ceremony, Tradition and Adaptation Theme Icon
...at all, he is finally able to eat the cornmeal and keep it in his stomach. Gradually, Tayo begins to gain strength and eat again. (full context)
The Interconnected World Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
...on the table, calling Emo, “Killer!” and then rams the broken beer bottle into Emo’s stomach. The cops come and drag Tayo off Emo. Tayo’s hand is cut badly from the... (full context)
Section 3
Storytelling Theme Icon
Ceremony, Tradition and Adaptation Theme Icon
...old stories after his white education, but he still feels the stories’ truth in his gut. (full context)
Section 5
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
...drinking. Tayo stops the car at a rock formation along route 66 called Mesita, then vomits out everything in his stomach, trying to vomit out his past. (full context)
Section 6
Native Americans in the Modern World Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
...Tayo to stand up and mount the Texan’s horse. Tayo manages to sit up, then vomits all over the side of the horse. Tayo hopes that chasing an Indian will prove... (full context)
Section 7
Native Americans in the Modern World Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
...up the hill and follows them, but stops halfway up. Tayo suddenly knows in his belly that Harley and Leroy are betraying him. Tayo goes back to the truck and finds... (full context)