The Communal Identity of Self in Red Eagle’s Oral Coup Tale

One of the things that I most enjoyed about the readings on the oral Native American tales, especially the coup tales, was that their stories “played a vital role in maintaining a sense of identity—individual and tribal” (26).  Like we touched on in class, these early tribes did not distinguish between the self in the same dualistic way as seen in Western European writing and culture.  There is a distinctive “I” in the coup tales, but this “I” is used to tell a grander tale about the trials and successes of the tribe rather than to just reflect the introspective feelings of the individual.  I think one of the reasons I really enjoy this idea so much is because in contemporary culture everyone is so focused on the “I” and has lost that sense of “we.”  There has certainly been a surge in focus on locality as of late; however, we just simply do not have the sense of community and brotherhood that these early tribes possessed.

Red Eagle’s story is a perfect example of how oral Native American “autobiographies” were about more than just the individual and included the entire tribe.  In his coup tale, a specific form of story that described different war honors and feats, Red Eagle replaces the “autonomous “I” with the communal “we”” (27).  Red Eagle tells the tale of individual brave feats, but there is “an immediate audience reply to the narrative” (28).  The audience is actively involved with the story making them a part of the story.  This statement might seem fairly obvious, but it is actually quite extraordinary.  According to the reading, the coup narrative is not fully “germinated” until it has achieved a “potent response from the tribal member” (28), thus a person’s identity is not justified until the rest of the tribe approves the person’s tale.  The narrator creates a self-image while also creating an image for the entire tribe.  The “autobiographer” and the clan form individual identities autonomously.  Rather than the individual being seen as separated from the larger society, the individual identity and the communal society share deep symbiotic roots.  This idea to me is what makes these stories so interesting.  Red Eagle’s identity is his own, but at the same time it is the identity of the tribesmen.  My identity is my own.  I am a unique individual, but at the same time my identity is also the identity of my family.  My identity had an exponential affect on their identity and vice versa.  Again these ideas might be pretty obvious to some people, but I have never really thought about how much we affect one another’s individual self.

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