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
I will tell you something about stories,
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
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…