‘‘The Man to Send Rain Clouds” by Leslie Marmon Silko

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The short story was written in 1967 and published two years later in the New Mexico Quarterly. ‘‘The Man to Send Rain Clouds” introduced Leslie Marmon Silko to the literary circle and brought her acclaim as a brilliant new Native-American writer. It made Silko popular. As a result, she received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Leslie Marmon Silko efforts to propagate Native-American literature earned her the reputation of being one of the foremost Native-American woman novelist. Her writings found its way in the various syllabus of American literature courses in high schools and colleges. She was raised on the Indian reservation in Laguna, New Mexico. This gave Silko ample material for her writing. She was able to include in her literary works the  stories, myths, and legends she heard while growing up. Living in Pueblo, Mexican, and coming from white descent, she was considered both an insider and outsider in Laguna.  Her experience provides an interesting voice as she chronicles the stories about Native-American culture.

‘‘The Man to Send Rain Clouds”  is derived from an earlier incident Silko heard about in her hometown of Laguna, New Mexico. The story goes that an old man was found dead in a sheep camp and was given a traditional Indian burial. The local Catholic priest resented the fact that he was not called to officiate at the burial service.  Silko’s story delves into the Indians’ incorporating of Catholic rituals with traditional Indian rituals during a funeral ceremony. The tension of preserving traditional Pueblo practices and the amalgamation of outside influences which is typified by the Catholic Church in this story is a persistent interest fundamental to Silko’s works.

As a story about Native Americans, ”The Man to Send Rain Clouds’’ describes the quality of contemporary Laguna Pueblo life. The story is admired for Silko’s masterful portrayal of the Indians’ serenity at the face of death and for its highly objective narrative.

The short story, “The Man to Send Rain Clouds,” starts with Leon and Ken finding their grandfather, Teofilo, “dead for a day or more”.  Some readers may assume that the conflict revolves around the death of the old man. But not so.  As the story progresses, one gets the feeling that the conflict is actually beyond the passing of Teofilo despite its sad connotations. The struggles Leon faces to fulfill his customary duty to Teofilio and his tribe and to perform the rituals that will bring both peace and rain serves as the central plot of the story.

”The Man to Send Rain Clouds’’ main theme is culture particularly the Indians and their way of life as they adapt to necessary transitions. Culture plays an essential role in family life. Family traditions are passed down from one generation to the next.  The outside influences that affect these traditions produce complexities as time moves on. The original and basic premise of the belief remains the same, although as time moves on more ideas have been added to the cultural belief. In Leslie Silko’s short story, “The Man to send Rain Clouds”, this situation is obvious. Although a constant influence of Catholic beliefs are apparent in the Pueblo people’s society, Leon and his family still display their Native American identity through their actions they observe throughout the story. Silko explains that her people “were well informed about [culture],” and that “old traditions were dying out”.

The local Catholic Church’s minister, Father Paul resented the fact that Ken and Leon did not inform him of Teofilo’s death. The priest wanted to sprinkle holy water on him.  Leon shrugged off Father Leon’s misgivings by telling him that it was not necessary. The blessing of holy water is intended to enable the old man to help send them the much-needed rain. This view of Leon actually does not coincide with the Christian context of blessing with holy water. But Leon could not be faulted. He was after all an Indian who believes in rituals not Catholic preachings. What make the story interesting though is the fact that the two –Indian and Catholic – manage to exist peacefully side by side.  Not only that the residents of Laguna Pueblo are able to mix Indian rituals with Catholic rites in a non-conflicting sort of way.

Michael Loudon asserts that ‘‘The Man to Send Rain Clouds” “testifies to the essential role of storytelling in Pueblo identity, giving the people access to the mythic and historic past and relating a continuing wisdom.’’

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