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Returning home to the Laguna Pueblo reservation from World
War II, via a Veteran's Hospital, Tayo must find a way to cure himself
of his mental anguish, and to bring the rain back to his community. Combining
prose and poetry, Ceremony interweaves the individual story
of Tayo and the collective story of his people. As Tayo's journey
unfolds, it is paralleled by poems telling old stories.
The trauma of thinking he saw his uncle Josiah's face
among a crowd of Japanese soldiers he was ordered to shoot, and
then of watching his cousin Rocky die, drove Tayo out of his mind.
A period of time in a Veterans' Hospital gets him well enough to
return to his home, with his Grandmother, his Auntie, and her husband
Robert. This is the family unit that raised him after his mother,
who had conceived him with an unknown white man, left him for good
at the age of four. In his family's home Tayo faces not only their
disappointment at the loss of Rocky, but also his continued grieving
over his favorite uncle Josiah's death. He also contends with his
guilt over a prayer against the rain he uttered in the forests of
the Philippines, which he thinks is responsible for the six-year
drought on the reservation.
As he slowly recuperates, Tayo realizes that he is not
alone. His childhood friends Harley, Leroy, Emo, and Pinkie who
also fought in the war contend with similar post-traumatic stress,
self-medicating with alcohol. The company is little comfort. His
old friends spend their drunken hours reminiscing about how great
the war was and how much respect they got while they were in uniform.
These stories only make Tayo think about the tremendous discrimination the
Native Americans face at the hands of the whites, whom they nonetheless
seem to admire, and he is even more saddened and infuriated. Just
as Tayo begins to give up hope and to wish he could return to the
VA hospital, his grandmother calls in the medicine man, Ku'oosh.
Ku'oosh performs for Tayo a ceremony for warriors who have killed
in battle, but both Ku'oosh and Tayo fear that the ancient ceremonies
are not applicable to this new situation.
Tayo is helped but not cured by Ku'oosh's ceremony. It
prompts him to consider his childhood, especially the summer before
he left for the army. Although Auntie did her best to keep the two
boys separate, Tayo and Rocky became close friends, and the summer
after they graduated from high school, they enlisted in the army
together. That summer, Josiah fell in love with Night Swan, a Mexican woman
who lived just outside the reservation. At her urging, he invested
in a herd of Mexican cattle, which Tayo helped him to care for.
As so often happens, there is a drought that summer. Having heard
the old stories of how droughts are ended, Tayo goes to a spring
and invents a rain ceremony. The following day it rains. In addition
to helping the crops and the cattle, the rain keeps Josiah from
visiting Night Swan. He asks Tayo to bring her a note. Tayo delivers
the note, and in the process is seduced by Night Swan.
Realizing that his ceremony has not been enough for Tayo, Ku'oosh
sends him to the nearby town of Gallup to see another medicine man,
Betonie, who knows more about the problems incurred by the contact
between Native American and white cultures. Although he is skeptical
of Betonie's strange ways and especially high connection with the
white world, Tayo tells him of his what is troubling him. Betonie
listens and explains that they must invent and complete a new ceremony.
Tayo accepts. Betonie tells Tayo stores of the old ceremonies as
he performs them. Then Betonie tells Tayo stories of his grandfather,
Descheeny, and the beginning of the creation of a new ceremony to
stop the destruction the whites, an invention of Native American
witchery, are wreaking on the world.
Betonie sends Tayo back home, reminding him that the ceremony
is still far from complete. When he meets Harley and Leroy on the
way home, Tayo slips back into their lifestyle for a moment, but soon
moves on, heeding the signs Betonie told him of as he searches for
Josiah's cattle. Tayo follows the stars to a woman's house. After spending
a night with the woman, Ts'eh, Tayo heads up into the mountains.
He finds Josiah's cattle fenced into a white man's pasture. While
Tayo breaks into the pasture, the cattle run off to its far reaches,
and Tayo spends all night looking for them. As dawn approaches,
Tayo is about to give up when a mountain lion comes up to him. Tayo
honors the mountain lion, and follows its tracks to the cattle.
Just as he herds the cattle out of the pasture, two white patrolmen
find Tayo. Not realizing that the cattle are missing, but knowing
Tayo has trespassed, the patrolmen arrest Tayo. Before they can
bring him to town, however, they notice the mountain lion tracks
and let Tayo go in order to hunt it. As Tayo heads out, it begins
to snow. Tayo knows this will cover the tracks of his cattle and
of the mountain lion, making the patrolmens' efforts fruitless. On
the way down the mountain, Tayo meets a hunter, who lives with Ts'eh.
When they arrive back at her house, she has corralled Tayo's cattle,
which she keeps until Tayo and Robert return with a cattle truck
to gather them up.
Returning home with Josiah's cattle, Tayo feels cured.
However, the drought persists, and Tayo knows the ceremony is not
complete. He goes to the family's ranch with the cattle, where he
finds Ts'eh . They spend the summer together, but as it draws to
an end Robert visits and warns Tayo that Emo has been spreading
rumors about him. Shortly thereafter, Ts'eh tells Tayo that Emo
and the white police are coming after him. Before she leaves, she
tells Tayo how to avoid capture.
Following Ts'eh's instructions, Tayo easily evades the
white police. Still running from Emo, he meets Harley and Leroy.
Almost too late, Tayo realizes that Harley and Leroy have joined
forces with Emo. Running again, Tayo finds himself in an abandoned
uranium mine. As he looks at the gaping hole left in the earth,
Tayo realizes that this is the last station of his ceremony, the
one where he incorporates an element of white culture, the mine.
All he has to do is to spend the night there and the ceremony will
be complete. Soon Emo and Pinkie arrive. From a hiding place, Tayo
must watch them torture Harley to death, and restrain himself from
killing Emo in order to save Harley. With the help of the wind,
Tayo survives the night. He returns home and goes back to Ku'oosh.
After hearing all about Tayo's ceremony, Ku'oosh pronounces that
Ts'eh was in fact A'moo'ooh, who has given her blessings to Tayo
and his ceremony; the drought is ended and the destruction of the
whites is stopped. Tayo spends one last night in Ku'oosh's house
to finish off the ceremony, and then he returns home.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Ceremony!