Last Updated 27 Jan 2021

Tribal Feminism

Category Feminism, Philosophy
Essay type Research
Words 1335 (5 pages)
Views 445

Paula Gunn asserts in her work “Pushing up the Sky” that tribal life of Native Americans possess an acceptable and dominated element of matriarchy and female- dominance. But she also make it clear that “tribal feminism” present in the tribal life was different to the concept of feminism that surged the modern society since late 1960s. The cotemporary feminist movements consider the tribal society as lame centered in which women were subjugated and oppressed. She suppose that this misconception on the part of the new feminists are due to tampered literature that present a distorted image of women condition in the tribal societies. She provides examples from a specific narrative (that conveys a totally different meaning and context of a ritual ceremony and woman role in it in the tribal society) to prove her point. Let’s examine her point of view in details.

Paula Gunn Allen has juxtaposed modern feminist approaches to that of “tribal feminism” as persisted in the Native American tribes. She further implies that pre-conceived notions of the modern feminists can not be attributed to the tribal feminism and that feminism (tribal must be observed and analyzed in its contextual framework using employing the basic tenets of feminist thought. She provides reason for this as “[t]he contexts of Anglo-European and Keres Indian life differ so greatly in virtually every assumption about the nature of reality, society, ethics, female roles, and the sacred importance of seasonal change that simply telling a Keres tale within the an Anglo European narrative context creates a dizzying series of false impressions and unanswerable (perhaps even unoposable) questions.” (p. 238)

For this purpose she takes the example of marriage. According to modern feminist approach, marriage is considered as an operational tool for masculine supremacy and dominance. (p.237)  It provides justification to every masculine act of domestic oppression and subjugation of women in way or the other. But for Keres and for most of other American Tribes, it has no anti-feminist connotations. She says in this regard, “[P]aternity is not an issue among traditional Keres people; a child belongs to its mother’s clan, not in the sense that she or he is owned by the clan, but in the sense that she or he belongs within it.” (p. 238)

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Modern feminist viewpoint will consider the information that the have received through different information channels. The foremost of these channels are the narratives that are written by Anglo-European writers. For example the narrative of Gunn describe Kochinennako as cause of conflict and thus maligned the woman character in the tribal society but Paula is of the view that truth is different from what a modern feminist takes from Gunn’s narrative. She asserts that from a native point of view, Kochinnenako is serving as a social tool in the narrative and “it is through her ritual agency that the orderly, harmonious, transfer of primacy between the Summer and the Winter people accomplished.”(p. 238) So she is a dominant force according to Keres viewpoint that enables the society to create harmony and balance in the tribal life.

Paula further sustains the viewpoint that a modern feminist will read a Gunn’s version of a story, will consider tribal society as patriarchal and male-centered  in which Kochinennako marries an indifferent and violent person against her will. Her will or approval is not considered necessary. So tribal society  bvdoes not take into account the feminine feelings and their ultimate right to choose. A rather radical supposition that will come out of this reading is about the abuse of power where common folk is afflicted with pathos and miseries due to Kochinennako’s “unfortunate alliance”.

Paula further illustrate that these interpretations of Gunn’s story are not in align with tribal socio-economic patterns and structure of Keres but rather it’s manifestation of Anglo-European tradition that are forcefully and/or wrongly implied to the tribal structure of Keres. She further asserts that it is the narrative structure of the Gunn’s story that is woven in a way “to confirm a feminist’s interpretation of the tale as only another example of low status of women in tribal cultures.”(p. 235) Gunn’s narrative version itself is tampered with Anglo-European sexist, classicist and racist notions and concepts.

Consciously or unconsciously, these notions and other related values are immersed in the mainstream tribal thought in a subtle way that an ordinary reader can not detect them. Furthermore, the linguistic inability of one language to transmit the concepts and values of another culture is another problem that renders alteration to the cultural concepts of one culture. Paula says in this regard, “So while the problem is one of translation, it is not simply one of word equivalence. The differences are perceptual and contextual as much as verbal” (p.225) Third factor that further deteriorates the situation is non-understanding of a proper contextual framework in which values, rituals and traditions operate.

To understand a tribal narrative it is mandatory to comprehend its contextual framework. So Paula assumes that Gunn’s version is tampered on the same pattern and his story contains notions of “Christianization, secularization, economic dislocation” patriarchal tradition of Anglo-European life etc. together "with linguistic inequivalence and lack of contextual understanding. Or this purpose she provides the example of Hiut-cha-mun-ki-uk. Guinn has translated this as “broken prayer stick” but Paula says that it originally means “-------. Furthermore, Gunn is unable to provide cultural assumptions and orientations related to these terminologies. That’s the reason that these terminologies are perceived in wrong connotations.

Paula further says that Gunn has neglected the broad contextual framework in which the whole story operates. This narrative version is related to a ritual that celebrates the seasonal change i.e. the coming of Summer. Additionally, as this story is taken from yellow woman story, and; “[t]he themes and to a large extent the motifs of these stories are always female-centered, always told from Yellow women’s point o f view. Some older recordedVversions of yellow woman tales (as in Gunn) make yellow woman the daughter of the hocheni’s. Gunn translates Hocheni as “ruler”. But Keres notions of the hicheni’s function and positions are as cacique or Mother Chief, which differ greatly from Anglo-European idea of rulership.”(p.226)

Paula further reinforces the idea that woman has a special place in the Keres of Lagua and Acoma Pueblos. Yellow woman is regarded as an epitome of certain extra human abilities. Paula elaborates that “in many ways Kochinennako is a role model though she possesses some behaviors that are not likely to occur in many of the women who hear story”. (p.227)  Paula wants to imply that her feminine character is different not only on the chronological basis but due to a different concept of woman hood in the tribal societies of Native American. So distortions and immersion of western thought in the narrative of Gunn also blur the vision of Modern feminists who consider a different view of “women status in the tribal life” that has nothing to do with real tribal society and its feminist notions.

Paula assertions seem valid about the distortion of contextual framework and its negative effects on the feminine perception of tribal women life. She thinks that incapacity of Western mind to understand and interpret the true tribal mindset and values pertaining to feminism in particular and other socio-cultural phenomenon “because they are generally trained to perceive their (tribesmen) entire world in ways that are alien to tribal understandings.” (p. 243).

Her point of view about the linguistic tampering due to various mentioned facts is also convincible. But sometime she draws upon far-fetched arguments to prove her point of view. The tribal society as depicted by her illustrations of Gunn’s narratives, clearly manifest a balanced and just society where both male and female members of the community are on equal terms. Although particularly in the domestic sphere they have dominance but they are absent from other aspects of mainstream social life. However, the arguments of Paula contain logical assumptions. But the supposition about the difference between modern feminist concepts and “tribal feminism” due to the misconception due to biases of the narrator and narrative structure is valid and authentic.


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Tribal Feminism. (2017, Mar 03). Retrieved from

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