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.
Mixing of Cultures ThemeTracker
Mixing of Cultures Quotes in The Way to Rainy Mountain
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.