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Summary of N. Scott Momaday's 'The Way to Rainy Mountain'

Priyanka Athavale Aug 18, 2020
Tracing back his heritage to its roots, N. Scott Momaday provides a thought-provoking account of the history of the Kiowa tribe in his book, 'The Way to Rainy Mountain'. This story provides a summary of this piece of literary work.
"I want to see in the reality what [my grandmother] had seen more perfectly in the mind's eye, and traveled fifteen hundred miles to begin my pilgrimage."
- The author, on his reason for making the journey to Rainy Mountain.
Written by Pulitzer prize winner Navarre Scott Momaday, 'The Way to Rainy Mountain' is an account of the entire history of the Kiowa tribe, to which the author belongs. He grew up with many stories about the Kiowa, which his grandmother would tell him.
On her death, he decided to pay a visit to Rainy Mountain in Oklahoma, where she is laid to rest. He also had a sudden urge to know more about his ancestors and their timeline. This was the main reason for him to take up this journey.
This book became a big success, and is even used in some high schools as a part of the curriculum. The following paragraphs provide the summary, analysis, and the themes that form a part of this popular book.
Plot Summary

'The Way to Rainy Mountain' is an account of the history of the Kiowa tribe of Native Indians. The author's father was a Kiowa, and hence, the author grew up listening to many stories about the tribe from his grandmother, Aho.
When she died, he set out on a long journey to Rainy Mountain, to trace the history of his tribe back to the first ancestors.
He read up on all the Kiowa stories and legends, thereby increasing his knowledge of his own heritage. He learned how the tribe first came into existence by arriving on the earth through a hollow log - suggesting that they were quite attached to the soil.
The story is also an account of the tribe's migration from the northern Plains to the southern Plains, and then settling in Oklahoma, on Rainy Mountain.
The stories and legends in the book provide an account of the entire span of the Kiowa existence. The stories are followed by the actual events that they depict. The Kiowa tribe consisted of horsemen, hunters, and warriors; they were not inclined much towards agriculture.
They were primarily buffalo hunters, and suffered a severe setback, when many buffaloes died; they had to bring about a drastic change in their way of life.
The book also describes some of the ancient Kiowa traditions such as the Sun Dance, the Ghost Dance, their association with the God Tai-Me, etc. In short, the book is a complete account of the history of the Kiowa tribe.

The book contains twenty four sections, each of which are further divided into three paragraphs. The first paragraph is a simplified version of the various Kiowa myths; the translation is for the better understanding of readers.

The second part deals with the tribe's history, while the final part is the author's personal experiences.

There are three major sections dividing the book, named, "The Setting Out", "The Going On", and "The Closing In".
The first section talks about the origins of the Kiowa; the second talks about their life on earth during those hard times when Indians had to fight for their rights; the final section follows their eventual defeat, and disappearance from the earth. The beginning and ending of the book is made up of a poem each.
Many readers have claimed to find it difficult to understand the book because of the writing style of the paragraphs; it keeps shifting from myth to history to the author's perception, thereby making it a little confusing.
Some readers say that completing all the similar paragraphs together makes it easier to connect to the flow of the book. The story is very interesting and makes for a good read, but some readers also felt that the personal touch was lacking in some places and the events were too factual.

Themes and Symbols

Sun Dance

The sun dance was more of a ceremony, that held great importance to the Kiowa. The story includes a description of the last sun dance performed by the tribe more than a century ago, as told by a very old woman of the tribe. This dance is considered as a religious ritual in many Indian tribes.
It is performed around the time of the summer solstice, wherein young men pierce their skin with a hook; this hook is tied to a pole by a rope. They then dance around the pole, looking at the sun, until the hook breaks their skin. This dance is a symbol of peace and harmony in the world, and the intertwining of life and death.
Ghost Dance

The ghost dance was started by an Indian named Jack Wilson, or Wovoka. The dance symbolized the total annihilation of the whites, and freedom to the Indians. It caught up greatly and became immensely popular among the tribes, much to the displeasure of the white settlers, and even the American government.
This movement was put to a stop when American soldiers massacred hundreds of Lakota Indians at the Wounded Knee settlement in the 1890s.

The migration and eventual settlement of the Kiowa tribe from the northern Plains to the southern Plains is one of the main themes of the story. It talks about their journey, and all the good and bad times that they encountered.

There are many grandmothers mentioned in the story. The author's own granny, Aho, his father's, and even his grandfather's grandmother are mentioned. These women represent wisdom, tradition, and courage in the face of hardship.

The Kiowas greatly respected and loved nature; they conserved it and treated it nicely, because they did not want to lose it. They were also very dependent on nature, and this shows when the buffalo herd was totally wiped out, as it brought about a complete alteration in their way of living; they were forced to find another means to survive.
However, they were unable to adjust to a new way of life, and gradually vanished.

The narrator is the only character in the book. The sections where the author has penned his experiences is taken to be the narrator in the book.
This was a brief analysis and summary of 'The Way to Rainy Mountain'. It is used as a popular example in schools for its writing style, to teach children the different ways of expressing in words.