The Life and Traditions of the Red Man by Joseph Nicolar

Annette Kolondy is a scholar of Native American culture. She is the editor of the recently rediscovered Penobscot Tribe manuscript The Life and Traditions of the Red Man by Joseph Nicolar. Previously thought abandoned, with all the copies destroyed in a warehouse fire, the world gave up and forgot about this masterpiece until Annette Kolondy, upon chance when researching for a new book she had been writing, came into possession of an old copy. Determined to bring this treasure back into circulation, she set aside her project and traveled to the Penobscot nation to learn the ways of the aboriginals so as to bring this great story back to life.

                  All great stories begin with a stellar beginning. And so it is true with Joseph Nicolar’s The Life and Traditions of the Red Man. The first chapter reveals a grand narrative of creation which classifies it under the label of “Origin and Emergence” stories, as according to Andrew O. Wiget. Specifically speaking, this chapter is an emergence story as it clearly describes the passage of Klose-Kur-Beh (“The Man From Nothing”) from nothingness to life; when the author describes this protagonist as being “without mind, and [his] flesh without feeling (97)” he is setting up the transition from the abstract to the concrete when he writes, “Nearer and nearer came the brightness towards his body… and a feeling came into his flesh.” Believing that another entity was responsible for this great whirlwind of lights, his faith is rewarded when the Great Spirit talks to him.

An introduction of this kind firmly places this narrative into an emergence narrative. This is further reinforced when other aspects, such as familial relations, the Great Spirit creates brothers and sisters for the protagonist (104), emerge and sexual dichotomies are mandated (108). However, though these narrative aspects confine this chapter to the emergence category of folklore, there are deviations which mark it as unique within Native American mythos. Sketching out these differences reveal the belief in a single great spirit (102), as opposed to numerous variations, the aforementioned mimicking of the Adam and Eve legend (108). Additional revisions, as illustrated in Annette Kolodny’s introduction, reveal allusions to Noah’s flood, Cain and Able, as well as the crucifixion. Such differences are a result of Christian infusion, of transculturation between Euroamerican and Native American communities.

A piece of scholarship such as this is a welcome addition to any scholar of Native American culture and history. Rich with supporting documents and filled with allusions to the fusion of European and Native traditions, The Life and Traditions of the Red man is a manuscript from the past not to be overlooked. Fascinating mythos aside, this book details what it means to be dedicate to the expansion of knowledge.

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