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The proposal for a new model of society through the analysis of tribal cultures and pre-western ones in The Sacred Hoop, by the Native American writer Paula Gunn Allenb by Lorena Carbonara
The cover of the book
by Paula Gunn Allen
(October 24, 1939 - May 29, 2008),
Native American poet, literary critic,
lesbian activist and novelist
In the wake of recent media debates about the international day against homophobia and transphobia, it is with great curiosity that I open a text from 1968 called The Sacred Hoop, by the Native American writer Gunn Allen. Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions, the subtitle of the work, reveals the controversial nature of the text that aims at taking back what has been lost not only in American mass culture. The object of the writer is to reclaim a female vision, a gender perspective that the author herself defines feminist-tribal, while taking up a critical attitude towards her own culture of origin.
Born and raised in the multi-ethnic town of Cubero, in New Mexico, Paula Gunn Allen became one of the founding mothers of U.S. Native American Studies, that is, of those studies that focus on Native American culture and literature. She died in 2008, but left a conspicuous corpus of texts dedicated to the revision of the official American literary canon, to the theory of a tribal discourse, both feminist and lesbian, to female literature and the history of literary criticism.
The Sacred Hoop opens with an interesting verbal image: “Life is a circle and everything has its place in it”, a place in which, Allen explains, we are called to negotiate together with the right to delineate our racial, sexual and gender identity. In order to do this, according to the writer, and to implement responsible, activist practice, we cannot leave out of consideration the comprehension of tribal cultures.
Native American culture has a lot in common with the societies of South-East Asia, Melanesia, Micronesia, Polynesia and Africa, says Allen, who also includes the sacred ancient cultures of the Mediterranean region and Northern Europe in this trans-national mix of pre-Western societies (meaning, by “Western”, the Anglo-Saxon-heterosexual-white model promoted by American culture). These groups share a vision of the world more than the patriarchal societies do, the writer underlines, and she concentrates on the concept of kinship, linking it with a communion of spirit, rather than of blood ties.
This image of the extended “nucleus” containing all those who share a vision of the world, the idea of family detached from the union of father, mother and children, is what carries Allen’s stance from the 80s to the present day. The tribal community, composed of nuclei of a spiritual nature, represents a model of aggregation, which is not defined by mere geographical, cultural or political implications.
The connection with the natural and supernatural world is at the center of the Native American social order, which predicted the autonomy of the individual, co-operation, respect for dignity, freedom, the distribution of goods and services, respect for others, pacifism as a way of dealing with life, the sense of the sacred, and the mystery of existence, harmony and balance.
A re-reading of Paula Gunn Allen nowadays, driven by the everyday necessity of rethinking the diverse declinations of identity and human relationships, offers food for critical thought about the nature of comm-union. Literature urges us to ask questions about our vision of the world on the basis of the culture that has generated that particular work of art and in the case of tribal literatures to abandon our prejudices and expectations, to make room for amazement.
Cultivating wonder as an attitude towards the real, avoiding labelling what we don’t understand as “primitive”, “folk”, “wild” or “pagan”, is the very topical message that emerges from the words of the writer who tries to re-compose the sacred hoop e and does it by re-echoing an ancient song of the native Keres tradition:
I add my breath to your breath
That our days may be long on the Earth
That the days of our people may be long
That we may be one person
That we may finish our roads together
May our mother bless you with life
May our Life Paths be fulfilled