Ningwakwe Learning Press created this collection of stories to highlight the joys and pain of love and how it influences every aspect of our lives – including lifelong learning. We asked the writers to be creative, humorous, passionate and most of all real. All the stories come from Aboriginal writers – some award-winning authors and for others, this is their first publication.
We call it an emotion, yet love is much more than a feeling. Everywhere we look – nature, human society, learning, relationships – love affects all aspects of our lives.
Over the next few blog posts we will bring you some of those individual stories from the anthology “Zaagidiwin Is A Many Splendoured Thing.”
Zaagidiwin Is A Many Splendoured Thing | by Drew Hayden Taylor
“Love can make you do things you wouldn’t normally do. Love can also stop you from doing things that you might want to do.”
Somebody told me that in a bar fight once.
I recently did a lot of research into the topic of Native humour. Even wrote a book and completed a documentary about it. Stay with me, there’s a connection. Part of what I was exploring was whether or not there was indeed something different and unique, as a people, about what makes us laugh. Was there specifically an Aboriginal funny bone or Indigenous sense of humour? And here I am once more, pondering similar ideas, this time about the emotion of love. For this is a book of Aboriginal writings about that amorphous, yet unique emotion known as – “love.”
It’s the first emotion we feel as infants. Sitting on somebody’s lap, we instinctively stretch our arms out. It’s certainly not for the sparkling conversation. Babies can’t hate. They can’t feel anger (short of an unchanged dirty diaper). It is truly the first emotion we experience. And usually, when we’re about to die, either on our death bed or in a plane about to crash, its usually customary to tell somebody you love them. It’s the first and last thing we feel.
Native people know a thing or two about love. Go to any pow wow for instance. There you’ll find many different kinds of love; love of good (and bad) food for instance. You also find a love of dancing, of shopping, of the land, of one’s own culture. Those are just a few of some of the many forms of love that can be demonstrated at events like that, not to mention the more interesting expressions of love including those of a more carnal nature that can occur after the drums have been silenced and the sleeping bags are opened. And the monkeys and typewriters have been put away.
But what is love? Geez, if I had the answer to that, life would be a lot more simple and I’d have my own talk show. Granted, there are many different types of love and just as many different ways of expressing it. Some love is hard to understand. Some love is love in name only. It’s been argued by some that life itself, either on a personal or biological level, is nothing but a multi-decade search for love. From the cradle to the grave. That’s romantic yet bleak at the same time.
In Anishnaabe, love is translated as “zaagidiwin.” In Cree I’m told it’s “sakihiowin.” And in the annals of world literature, there has been an incalculable amount written about the word. In fact, many would say that half, if not more, of everything ever written in any language in any culture in all collective histories has been generated by the emotion of love, including its by-products like, jealously, lust, hate, etc. Literature sure would be boring without it. Boy meets girl – and nothing happens. Boy leaves girl – and still nothing happens.
And if love were ever eliminated from our lives, what would happen to the music industry? Just imagine it! Without love, rock and roll would not be nearly as interesting. Just a lot of mad thrashing around on stage. We’ve all dated a person who “gives love a bad name.” Sometimes, “love hurts” and so on. Jazz – a mere non-emotional memory.
Without broken hearts from misplaced love, think about how anemic country music would be. Nashville would be a wasteland without all that cheatin’ and hurtin’. Rez dances would be mostly instrumental fiddle music probably. The Blues just wouldn’t be blue anymore. It would probably be more of a taupe.
Kings have given up their kingdoms for love. Pocahontas left her people for a person-of-pallor with the dubious and questionable name of John Smith. Running Bear jumped into a raging river to his death just to be with his one true love: “Little White Dove.” Personally, I don’t advocate such goals but that’s just me. Sometimes one can take love just a little too far.
On a more positive note, it’s been reported that mothers have lifted cars off of their trapped children, showing remarkable strength and endangering their own lives; for love. Small dogs have fought grizzly bears for their beloved masters. Body organs have been offered free of guilt to be transplanted to those who share love. To the logical mind, these instances seem ridiculous and downright suicidal. But to the romantic, nothing less would be acceptable.
Love – the most irrational and fabulous emotion on the books. Including this book. If memory serves me correctly, it’s also listed as one of the Seven Grandfather Teachings, right up there with humility, bravery, honesty, truth, wisdom and respect. Which is the most important? Hard to say. In fact, I would argue they are all variations of the same concept. Can you have respect or even humility without love? Very difficult to distinguish I would say.
On a related topic, I find it interesting that the Bible has the seven deadly sins, while we have the Seven Grandfather Teachings. I guess it’s all a matter of priority. I also know that somewhere in the Bible there is a mention of the four virtues. So it begs another question: Do we have our own Aboriginal version of deadly sins? Though I’m not sure how many there might be. They probably have something to do with Tim Horton’s and casinos. But perhaps that kind of pondering might be left for a later book.
I love my girlfriend. I love my mother. I love my friends. I love my work. I also love kittens and warm apple turnovers. Now before this turns into some maudlin song, I feel it’s necessary to point out that First Nation’s literature, overall, is surprisingly lean on the topic. Most of the great pieces of Canadian Aboriginal literature that are familiar to most of us have not completely embraced the traditional (and I use that term lightly) romantic love story. Think about it for yourself: The Rez Sisters has sibling love, and a love for bingo, but it’s hardly a love story. Ravensong by Lee Maracle has characters in the main storyline that fall in love but that is not what the story is about. Kateri Akewenzie-Damm’s collection of Native erotica, Without Reservation, dealt with what could be considered a unique
by-product of love. Yet others would argue that erotica deals with only one particular form of love, while others would argue that erotica has actually nothing to do with real love. It does get a bit confusing.
All things considered, there are aspects of love explored in many Native books but they are almost always complicated by elements of colonialism, thus rendering that same love somewhat darker, problematic and therefore less successful. Briefly put, the great Aboriginal love story has yet to be written in novel form.
Thus, what you have here, in your hands, is groundbreaking work: part anthropological (though don’t tell anyone), definitely literary, exploratory, innovative, and just downright romantic. Sounds like the making of a good date doesn’t it? These are some of Canada’s best Native writers, known and unknown, writing about a topic we all know about. At the very least, we all have an opinion about love.
Now back to my earlier questions of “do the Icelandic know how to hug better than the Haida? Or do the Spanish kiss better than the Cree? Do Brazilians raise their children better than the Inuit?” And all those other deep, introspective questions. Well, dear reader, the answers just might be deep within this book. And only you will be able to judge. Let us know what you think.
Oh, I should mention I once wanted to write the great Canadian Aboriginal love story, but I never got around to it. I was having too much fun doing the research.