Sun Chief is a story of Don C. Talayesva, a Hopi Indian, who has to tear between two different worlds and two different cultures in order to comprehend whom he should be and why. This autobiographical story is devoted to Leo Simmons, who was a white man and the author’s clan brother. Sun Chief is one of the most excellent accounts about the life of a Hopi person during the times of great changes, sever conflicts, and numerous splits in villages.
This is not only a simple story about life, this work may also serve as a reliable document about the life in primitive societies and troubles, which may be on their ways. In order to comprehend better the essence of Sun Chief and get the main idea, which Don Talayesva wanted to introduce, it is necessary to consider the work by Arnold van Gennep, The Rites of Passage, where a certain attention is paid to each important ritual in man’s life.
“Each larger society contains within it several distinctly separate social groupings. As we move from higher to lower levels of civilization, the differences among these groups become accentuated and their autonomy increases.” (Gennep et al. 1) When a person starts reading someone’s autobiography, it is necessary to know a scheme according to which the story may be introduced. Birth, maturity, marriages, and death are considered to be one of the most important stages in the life of each person.
Arnold van Gennep pays special attention to each of these steps, describes their importance, and underlines the major characteristics of each period. He perfectly describes each rite of passage and presents interesting insights in order to use and analyze them in our every day life. This work influences lots of anthropologists as it introduces a captivating theoretical framework that helps to explain numerous cultural beliefs.
Without any doubts, Sun Chief is a book written by an anthropologist for anthropologist. Not every reader is able to get the main idea of what Don Talayesva is going to explain. This is why The Rites of Passage turns out to be rather helpful to explain all those anthropological things to ordinary readers. Sun Chief provides the reader with a chance to learn the life of Indian community from inside.
Each ritual and each step of life in the ordinary Indian tribe has its reason and time. It is quite possible that the author of the story, Don Talayesva, does not concentrate on the importance of each tradition and presents each step as an obligatory one.
Readers, who are not aware of the Indian traditions, will hardly comprehend how significant each step in the life of young Talayesva. With the help of Gennep, the reader can find the thing that is crucially important in order to unite each piece of information, presented in Sun Chief.
The description of salt expedition may serve as a good example of the above-mentioned situation. Is it really important to be a member of salt expedition in our every day life? Hardly! This is why, due to Gennep emphasis, the reader should pay certain attention to this event, as more than three pages are devoted to this event. “Each of us wrapped our feathers in separate paper bags and smoked the mountain tobacco, exchanging kinship terms.” (Talayesva 234)
Is it possible that smoking and wrapping feathers play such a role in the life of a person? In Indian tribes, such things are quite normal. It is also necessary to admit that each ritual implies the other obligations, which have to be followed.
For example, after Don Talayesva wraps his feathers, his mother underlines that he should “stay away from girls tonight.” (Talayesva 234) The analysis of ceremony groups helps us to clear up that admission to certain ceremonies usually depends on gender, age, and even family relations. If you do not reach certain age or you are a female, you do not have the right to be a participant at the salt expedition.
If you are a little boy or girl, you cannot watch childbirth and have to be sent somewhere. For example, when Don Talayesva was born, the author mentions that his sister Tuvamainim and his little brother Namostewa” were sent to a neighbor’s house. Also, his dad decided to help his mother, “which was rather unusual for a Hopi husband.” (Talayesva 26)
Each stage of life has its own rules and peculiarities. Sometimes, people are eager to take into consideration these concepts and follow them. Don Talayesva is one of the most captivating narrators. Of course, not each piece of information he presents is clear, however, the work by Arnold van Gennep helps to clear everything up.
Rites of passages play a very important role. For Hopi, one of such rituals was a slat expedition, and Don Talayesva perfectly described it in his Sun Chief and provided the reader with an opportunity to learn more about the history of Indian tribes.
Gennep, Arnold, Vizedon, Monika B, and Caffee, Gabriel L. The Rites of Passage. Routledge, 2004.
Talayesva, Don, Simmons, Leo W, and Hine, Robert, V. Sun Chief: The Autobiography of a Hopi Indian. Yale University Press, 1963.
The Rites of Passage by Arnold van Gennep
Sun Chief by Don Talayesva
Meaning of Don Talayesva’s Journey and The Rites of Passage