Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux (Anglais) Broché – 12 novembre 2004
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As with any written account of an oral presentation, it often seems as if it lacks polish. But its directness is part of its art. It is not a story told to entertain. It is a recounting of an important story and a vision unfulfilled, a factor that puzzles the sympathetic reader as much as it seemed to grieve Black Elk himself.
The value to many readers lies in hearing a different point of view no only on history but also on valid ways of knowing and thinking. As a counterpoint to European epistemology, this book is worth the effort to see the world through another set of eyes.
And that's the sort of glimpse Black Elk Speaks provides in wonderful detail. The past comes alive through the proverbial eyes of a revered man whose people have been overly villified or overly romanticized, but rarely portrayed in all their human complexity. Black Elk, I think, manages the complexity as he recounts experiences from boyhood through young adulthood. From the poetically practical names of people and months, eg. Moon of the Grass Appearing (April), to the migrations across traditional lands, to the historic battles with the Wasichus (white men), to the Ogalalas' end at Wounded Knee, the reader is immersed in a strange and vanished culture. It's said in the notes that the Indian Black Elk and the white man John Neihardt possessed something of a common spirit that communicated across racial and linguistic barriers. As it reads, the seamlessly flowing narrative demonstrates something of a communal overlap, a kind of deeper commonality. The book's centerpiece revolves around the nine year-old Black Elk's Great Vision, recounted here in all its colorful and lyrical detail. Whatever the prophetic value, the strength of Black Elk's Vision clearly guided and infused him for the remainder of his life, and provides a powerful potrait of another people's wishes and dreams.
Frankly, I've never put much stock in the metaphysics of visions, whether of the white man's Biblical variety or the Native American's pantheistc kind. But I have to confess that when I compare America's great national vision of Manifest Destiny with Black Elk's, I much prefer the latter. It's certainly more poetic and a lot less threatening to the planet. Something like that, I believe, is where the real value of looking at the world through the eyes of others lies. Perhaps it's the best way for a skeptic like me to expand his own consciousness, and share a vanished time and place as I did for a brief moment on that long ago park bench.
The "meaning" of this book is summarized by Black Elk himself when he says, and repeats, toward the end of the book "The power is in the Understanding". He is explaining how it was decided that he should share with the rest of his tribe a vision he has been entrusted with. They develop a ritual dance, which acts out his vision. In this manner, the entire tribe participates in the communication of this vision, and hopefully results in understanding of its message. I believe Black Elk's motivation in participating in the interviews, which this book captures, is his desire to share with all people the truth of what happened to him and his people, and the truth of what his spiritual lessons offer.
He wants to empower everyone through understanding. The Power is in the Understanding.
Most review's I've read on this book fall primarily into two camps: "Scholastic" (this is a great work of history / theology) or "Unappreciative" (I don't understand why anyone would want to read this).
This book is a verbatim (edited for presentation I assume) dictation of interviews with Black Elk. So, this is not a book read for "entertainment". However, as a historical documentation it cannot be replaced.
This is a must-read for anyone interested in Theology and/or Native American studies.
In the summer of 1930, as part of his research into the Native American perspective on the Ghost Dance movement, Neihardt contacted an Oglala holy man named Black Elk, who had been present as a young man at the 1876 Battle of the Little Big Horn and the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre. As Neihardt tells the story, Black Elk gave him the gift of his life's narrative, including the visions he had had and some of the Oglala rituals he had performed. The two men developed a close friendship. The book Black Elk Speaks, grew from their conversations continuing in the spring of 1931, and is now Neihardt's most familiar work.