The Way to Rainy Mountain

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Themes and Colors
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Memory and History Theme Icon
Origins, Linearity, and Circularity Theme Icon
Nature, Landscape, and Animals Theme Icon
Mixing of Cultures Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Way to Rainy Mountain, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Mixing of Cultures Theme Icon

Throughout the book, Momaday emphasizes the extent to which Kiowa culture has been shaped by blending—voluntarily and involuntarily—with other cultures. This cultural blending is mostly celebrated, since many of the pillars of Kiowa culture were learned and inherited from other tribes. From the Crows, for instance, the Kiowas learned their religion and began to do the Sun Dance, a central aspect of Kiowa culture. The migratory Kiowa lifestyle, also a defining part of Kiowa identity, was made possible by their alliances with other plains tribes. Even the name “Kiowa” comes from a Comanche version of the Kiowas’ own name for themselves. Overall, Momaday’s telling of Kiowa history suggests that the Kiowas believe that they were not fully formed before the influence of other tribes turned them into the people they were always meant to be.

However, Kiowa culture has also been blended with white culture over the course of European colonization of Kiowa lands. Sometimes Momaday reserves judgments about this type of cultural blending. For example, he states that his grandmother became a Christian at the end of her life, a fact that he presents as being part of her long spiritual journey that also included being present at Sun Dances, a central part of Kiowa religion. This suggests that, in some ways, he sees white influence as being just another part of the Kiowa story. To bolster this sense, Momaday often quotes from James Mooney, a white anthropologist who studied tribes of the southern plains. That Momaday uses the work of a white scholar to tell aspects of Kiowa history shows that, despite the great violence of white settlers, he sees their histories as being tied together.

This is not to say, though, that the overwhelming sense that Momaday gives of the role of white settlement in Kiowa history is peaceful; Momaday makes clear that there was a systematic white assault on Kiowa people, history, and culture that resulted in the end of the Kiowa golden era. While Kiowa people and traditions still endure, he does not sugarcoat the profound negative effects of white settlement. For instance, the U.S. government prohibited the Kiowa Sun Dance, which led to its discontinuation. Momaday considers this act to have been “deicide,” or the murder of Kiowa religion. He describes the whites taking all the Kiowas’ horses and slaughtering them, which was an act of profound cruelty to a people who so valued their horses. The negative effect of white settlement is apparent in less dramatic moments, too; for example, Momaday doesn’t speak Kiowa, which means that he cannot understand his grandmother’s prayers. This shows the ways in which the prevalence of white culture separates Kiowas from their family and heritage.

Overall, then, the relationship of the Kiowas to cultural mixing is a complicated one. On the one hand, it was the influence of other Indian cultures that gave the Kiowas horses and religion and allowed them to become the rulers of the southern plains. On the other hand, the mixing of white culture and Kiowa culture—which occurred due to the violent subjugation of the Kiowas by the U.S. government—was what ended the Kiowa golden age and caused Kiowa culture to begin to dissolve. Rather than taking an ideological stance on cultural mixing, Momaday treats each instance of cultural influence as unique and deserving of its own analysis. This allows him to make a nuanced commentary on the different eras of Kiowa history.

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Mixing of Cultures ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Mixing of Cultures appears in each Chapter of The Way to Rainy Mountain. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Mixing of Cultures Quotes in The Way to Rainy Mountain

Below you will find the important quotes in The Way to Rainy Mountain related to the theme of Mixing of Cultures.
Introduction Quotes

My grandmother was there. Without bitterness, and for as long as she lived, she bore a vision of deicide.

Related Characters: N. Scott Momaday (speaker), Aho
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Momaday is referring to the last attempt to hold a Kiowa Sun Dance, a ceremony that was central to Kiowa religion. Aho was present when the Kiowas gathered for the Sun Dance for the final time, but the ceremony did not occur because the U.S. government sent soldiers to prevent the Kiowas from practicing their religion. This was an act explicitly meant to undermine Kiowa power and destroy Kiowa culture and religion, which were seen as threats to the white, Christian colonization of the American West. This quote explains the effect that witnessing this act had on Momaday’s grandmother, and it’s particularly significant that Momaday refers to this act as deicide. “Deicide,” a word linguistically related to “homicide” or “suicide,” means to kill a god, and to use the word here is a strong and appropriate condemnation of U.S. violence towards the Kiowas. In light of this, though, it is surprising that Momaday describes his grandmother as having no bitterness towards this horrific part of Kiowa history. Readers can only guess as to why this might be so, but Aho’s sentiment evokes Momaday’s attitude towards the periods of hardship in Kiowa history. Momaday has previously implied that hardship in Kiowa history is worth noting because it happened, but hardship is not worth emphasizing—it is not definitive of the Kiowa people and it is not as important as the periods when the Kiowas flourished.


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The Setting Out Quotes

A hundred years ago the Comanche Ten Bears remarked upon the great number of horses which the Kiowas owned. “When we first knew you,” he said, “you had nothing but dogs and sleds.” It was so; the dog is primordial. Perhaps it was dreamed into being.

Related Characters: The Kiowas , Comanches
Related Symbols: Horses
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote gets at several important themes of the book. First, it underscores the idea of the horse as being an essential component of Kiowa identity—before the introduction of the horse, the Kiowas lived a demeaning and hard life, but the horse allowed them to become who they were meant to be. Since horses signify the golden age of Kiowa history and dogs are symbolic of the hard life the Kiowas lived beforehand, this again emphasizes that Kiowas understood themselves in relation to the natural world. The Kiowas suggest that horses and dogs changed them, rather than implying that they controlled the horses and dogs. This quote is also interesting because the passage about dogs being “dreamed into being” resonates with many of the ideas of origins in the book (the landscape as the catalyst for creation, and language as having the literal power to bring something into being). This is another example of traditional notions of cause and effect not being broadly applicable in the book. A last observation is that throughout the book Momaday is comfortable using observations from people of other cultures as evidence of certain aspects of Kiowa history or identity. Here, he quotes a Comanche, and in other sections he quotes James Mooney, a white anthropologist. This shows, again, that the mixing of cultures was a central part of Kiowa history, and because of that, Momaday believes that other cultures have some meaningful and true knowledge of Kiowas.