Uncle Josiah buys spotted cattle that come from Mexican breeds crossed with the prestigious Hereford breed of northern America. These cattle are meant to be stronger, tougher, and smarter than any pure-bred cattle, making them more likely to survive drought years in the Southwest. With the athletic frame of the Mexican cattle and the stocky shoulders of the Hereford breed, these cows symbolize the advantages of cultural hybridity and are able to survive through extreme conditions, symbolizing how humans should also look to the many cultural influences in the Southwest to build a better future for the region. The cows’ coats, brown with white spots, pays homage to both the “brown” (that is, Mexican and Native American) and “white” (that is, Anglo-American or European) cultures of the Americas. The spotted cows, unlike the pure Herefords, also have the intelligence to look for water even if their farmer does not herd them in that direction. This shows how Native wisdom about how to live off the land is often more useful for human survival than the structure of Anglo-American farming techniques.
More than symbolizing the strength and survival advantage of cultural hybridity, the cows also symbolize Tayo’s connection to his family history and his homeland. Tayo was supposed to help his Uncle Josiah with the cattle before he left to enlist in the army, an act which forced Uncle Josiah to care for the cattle alone. While Tayo is overseas, Uncle Josiah dies and the cattle are stolen, symbolizing how Tayo has forsaken his duty to his family and the land where he was born. Tayo returns physically from the war, but is unable to return mentally and emotionally as long as the cattle are still gone from his late uncle’s ranch. Tayo’s search for the cattle mirrors his search for mental and emotional peace with his family after the traumas of the war and the drought. When Tayo finds the cattle and returns them back to the pastures of his family’s ranch, Tayo is able to restore his health and reconnect with the community of Pueblo Native Americans at New Laguna. By taking care of the cattle, Tayo both continues his uncle’s legacy and adds his own contribution of cultural hybridity to this heritage.
Hybrid Spotted Cattle Quotes in Ceremony
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…
…occasionally a calf bolted away bucking and leaping in a wide arc, returning finally to its mother when it tired of playing. Tayo's heart beat fast; he could see Josiah's vision emerging, he could see the story taking form in bone and muscle.