The tribal voice tells a story of a woman pounding meat. Her child kept bringing balls of the meat outside and returning to ask for more. Finally the child came inside with an enemy, who said he would harm the family if they did not feed him and his people. While the woman cooked, her husband snuck outside and led the enemies’ horses upstream. He then birdcalled to the woman, who set fire to the fat and threw it at the enemies before escaping with the child. The voice of history describes a decorated tipi that was destroyed by fire in the late nineteenth century. Momaday’s personal memory is of walking through the Rainy Mountain cemetery and the earth seeming to glow dark red in the sunset. He remembers the world seeming to stop while the sun disappeared.
While this second section of the book maps onto the historical period of the Kiowa golden age, Momaday chooses to open with a story that fits better with the period of Kiowa decline (marked by their defeat at the hands of the U.S. military, and mirrored by the opening section’s depiction of enemies at the gates). While the tribal voice tells a story that ends in optimism, the historical voice tells a pessimistic story of destruction, and Momaday’s own reflection implicitly compares fire to a beautiful sunset, making catastrophe seem almost spiritual. Momaday has insisted that, while the Kiowa fate has been a difficult one, the story of his people should not be understood as a tragedy. His storytelling choices in this opening section symbolically reflect that.
Well-made arrows have tooth marks on them, says the tribal voice, because Kiowas straighten arrows with their teeth. Once a man was making arrows at night and he saw an enemy through the flap of his tipi. He told his wife not to be afraid, that if the person were Kiowa they would understand his words and say so. As he spoke he drew his bow and aimed it all around. When there was no answer, he shot the man through the flap. The voice of history interjects that old men were the best arrowmakers because they were experienced and patient. Momaday then remembers his father telling of an old arrowmaker who used to visit him when he was a child.
This passage, like the last, also builds on the theme of enemies infiltrating Kiowa life. The emphasis on the power of language is significant here. The Kiowa arrowmaker uses his language as a code to determine if the lurking person is an enemy, and in this way, language saves his life. To abstract this lesson, the preservation of Kiowa language and culture is shown to be an important way to resist those who would try to destroy the Kiowa way of life. The passage also returns to the importance of elders. Typically in the book, elders have been lauded for their stories and knowledge of the past—here, though, they are lauded for the skills they have acquired over their long lives. This draws a fruitful comparison between a skill/trade and the knowledge of history—the Kiowas saw both as useful and essential.
The tribal voice says that Kiowa is a hard language to understand, but the storm spirit understands it. Once the Kiowas tried to make a horse from clay, but it became a terrible force that terrified the tribe. When storms come, it is that animal roaming the sky. They are not afraid, though, because it speaks Kiowa and they can tell it to pass them over. The voice of history simply states that the plains can be serene sometimes and wracked by violent weather at others. Momaday then remembers the storm cellar by his grandmother’s house. He says he has seen it storm so hard that a grown man couldn’t open the door to a storm cellar against the wind.
The story that the tribal voice tells is another emphasis of the power of the Kiowa language. Though the storm spirit is frightening and destructive, the Kiowas can control it by speaking a common language. That this language extends across the boundary between what is human and what is animal/beast/supernatural shows, again, the porousness of the Kiowa conception of boundaries between humans and the rest of the world. Language is not just a tool for people—it’s one that wields power also over animals and nature.
Quoetotai, a young warrior, fell in love with Many Bears’ wife, the tribal voice says. One day Many Bears shot him with an arrow and ran away. Quoetotai survived and decided to take Many Bears’ wife. The two of them left to be with the Comanches for fifteen years, and when they returned Many Bears welcomed them back, giving them six horses and declaring himself and Quoetotai brothers. The voice of history reflects that the artist George Catlin, who spent a lot of time with Indians, thought that the Kiowas were better looking than the Comanches and Wichitas. The voice of Momaday’s memory describes Catlin’s portrait of a Kiowa man, reflecting that he looks strong, at ease, and tolerant. Momaday says he would have liked to see the man as Catlin did.
The focus of this passage is shifting—the tribal voice tells a story that seems to emphasize the tolerance and forgiveness of the Kiowas, as well as the strong bond they had with the Comanches. However, the voice of history then reflects on the relative appearances of Kiowas and other tribes. Momaday’s reflection loosely ties the two together by describing the Kiowa man in the portrait as looking “tolerant.” This is an example of the non-linearity and thematic looseness of Momaday’s storytelling. This passage is also an example of cultural mixing. The tribal voice describes Kiowas going to live with Comanches for fifteen years, and Momaday’s voice and the voice of history both take seriously George Catlin’s (a white painter) observations about Kiowas.
Once a man came upon a buffalo with steel horns, the tribal voice says. The buffalo killed his horse and the man climbed a tree to escape. The buffalo began attacking the tree, and the man shot arrows at the buffalo that merely bounced off, leading the man to think he would die. Before firing his last arrow, something spoke to the man telling him to shoot the cleft of the buffalo’s hoof. The man did, and he felled the buffalo. The voice of history then tells of a buffalo hunt, presumably in the 1920s or 30s, in which two Kiowas set loose a demoralized buffalo—one that did not at all resemble the wild ones of the past—so that they could hunt it. Momaday then remembers that once while walking by a herd of calving buffalo a mother buffalo charged him. She didn’t hurt him, but in that moment he knew what it was to be alive.
The tribal voice’s story here shows another difference between linear Western storytelling and Kiowa storytelling. While in linear Western stories events tend to follow one another based on cause and effect, the story of the buffalo is different, because the driving event is a mysterious intuition that tells the man how to kill the buffalo. This is not inherited wisdom, learned knowledge, or astute observation: like other stories in the book, this one is defined by something irrational—intuition in this case, and mishap in others (like the pregnant woman getting stuck in the log). This passage also emphasizes the importance of the buffalo to Kiowa life.
The next section concerns women. The tribal voice says that bad women “are thrown away,” and then describes the wife of a newly-blinded man betraying him by leaving him to starve. He was rescued by a band of Kiowas who brought him back to the camp, and they threw his wife away the next morning because she was bad. The voice of history then notes that Kiowa calendars provide evidence that life was hard for both “good” and “bad” Kiowa women. They had low status, and were subject to all kinds of physical punishments. Momaday then remembers that Mammedaty’s grandmother was a Mexican captive who would not submit to the Kiowa role for women, and consequently she rose to great respect in the tribe.
All three voices in this chapter emphasize the hardships that Kiowa women faced, but there is a significant difference in tone between the first voice and the others. While the voice of the tribe seems to be telling a story that justifies the mistreatment of women, the second two are more critical of the Kiowa treatment of women. This is directly related to the influence of cultural mixing—for instance, Mammedaty’s grandmother’s Mexican background meant that she knew to advocate for more rights than the other Kiowa women. This passage seems to imply that the influence of other cultures led to a better life for Kiowa women.
The tribal voice tells a story of a group of young men deciding to follow the sun to see where it goes in winter. They rode after the sun farther south than any other Kiowas had been before, and one night after setting up camp they saw men with tails jumping from branch to branch in the trees over their heads. They turned back home after that, longing for the familiarity of their homeland. The voice of history quotes James Mooney again, who describes the vital importance of the horse to Kiowa life. Before the horse, travel was impossible and hunting arduous. Horses transformed Kiowas into nomadic warriors and buffalo hunters. Momaday then remembers how cherished summers were at Rainy Mountain, and how during the summer he would live in an open arbor at his grandmother’s house. When winter would come and he would return to the house, he would feel confined and depressed.
This section communicates great passion for Kiowa culture. The voice of the tribe tells a story of homesickness, the voice of history considers the importance of the horse (a symbol of the best qualities of the Kiowa people), and Momaday’s personal memory is of Rainy Mountain (which serves as a shorthand for home to the Kiowas)—this chapter is almost a love letter to Kiowa culture. In particular, this section emphasizes the Kiowa relationship to nature. Momaday suggests that Rainy Mountain (already a symbol of home) felt most like home during the summers when he could sleep outdoors. This underscores the Kiowa notion of a porous boundary between humans and nature—in winter when the boundary was enforced (by having to sleep inside) his life felt depressing and strange.