05-12-2010 08:30 PM
Recently I read an article about Hiawatha and its oral presentation. The article made the following points:
- Longfellow seemed to wish to hearken back to a time when poetry was a communal event, delivered orally and summoning up in the audience common values. Poetry was not just an artistic endeavor, but a civic endeavor as well.
- During Longfellow's life, it became quite common for young men (and women even more so) to commit long stretches of "The Song of Hiawatha" to memory and to declaim it. We have diary entries by Longfellow in which he dreads meeting some young society woman because he knows she's going to declaim "Hiawatha" for a while.
- The community of Pipestone in Minnesota has a festival every year in which "The Song of Hiawatha" is performed. At one time, citizens would read the poem and others would act out the scenes in pantomime. Now, they have professional actors read the text and play a recording of it, while the townspeople act out the scenes in pantomime. Of course, this is all done by Euro-Americans and the Native Americans, when they voiced concern in the 1970s about this, were generally not heard.
Dignity, always dignity.