Svaha

Dialogues

 

We've seen the effects of Colonialism in North America on the original people and its continued effects to up to today, but what does the future hold? Svaha by Charles de Lint is a wonderful rendering of a possible future. It shows how colonialism mentality could be turned around on us, and how the beliefs of those who have been colonized in the past could eventually save us.

 

The Author

Charles De Lint has been a full time writer for over eighteen years. His style is what he calls "mythic fiction" as he take every day fiction and adds mythical and folk tale elements rather than creating a second world fantasy. He is also a folk musician and artist.

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  Dialogues

There is a Native American saying that in every action we take we must be mindful of the next seven generations. Most people in this day in age are not mindful of the immediate consequences of their actions let alone those of a couple generations down the line. Unfortunately we can see today that many of those people are our own world leaders.

Svaha was a delightful read in the first place, but it was truly interesting to study it in a postcolonial context. My idea was to use this book as doorway to study history and how it could possibly affect our futures.

One of the first texts that Svaha connects to is Morning Girl. There are themes of naming which parallel the characters in the novels. Gahzee Animiki-Waewidum means "swift speaks with thunder." As is Morning Girl, and Star Boy, his name is appropriate to his actions and interests. It is also interesting to look at Gahzee's relative innocence and naiveté about the outside world that relates to how Morning Girl first sees Columbus.

Put simply, Marxism states that colonialism is a necessary step toward communism and a perfect society. This is because tribalism must first be stamped out for a global society to exist. Capitalism is also important later in the process. The bourgeoisie (elite class) and the proletariat (working class) separate more and more until there is no middle class and society falls apart. Svaha shows signs of Marxist ideals in that the middle class is nonexistent in the society of the outside world. They have separated their classes to the point of there being no mixing. The main difference is that tribal ideals exist in the enclaves and it is pointed to in the book that tribalism may be the saving grace of the world, that is if it could be made to work on such a grand scale.

There are some other books that compare tribalism to western society. One is The Joys of Motherhood. In the book, a Nigerian woman Nnu Ego experiences life as a mother in both her village and in the modern city. She finds that tribal values do not mix well with her new life and ends up dying alone in the end without her family to care for her. Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions is an autobiography where Lakota traditional values are challenged by US authorities, or more American values are challenged by Lame Deer. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven has a series of short stories that describe life on a reservation where there is a mix of traditional and western values. Some other readings that can be compared to Svaha in this way are A People's History of the United States, Native American Testimony, Agatha Moudio's Son, and Things Fall Apart.

  Notes

The story is prefaced by a quote from a future history book. It tells us that the last time the Native Nations went to war, it was as lawyers in world courts. They gained money, and much of their lands back, and technology was created which helped them to seal themselves off from the rest of the world.

The story is about one young man, Gahzee, who is sent out from one of the Enclaves (Native lands) to investigate a downed flyer belonging to them. The story also centers around a young woman, Lisa Bone, who is living in the dregs of one of the outside cities.

The description of this future world is extremely vivid. Oriental companies have taken over most of the world, and whites are in a vast minority. In fact, there are only one or two whites in minor roles during the book. The world has been polluted seemingly beyond hope of redemption by the conglomerate business, and those who are the working class have no hope of rising in the ranks.

Clavers (those natives from the Enclaves) are pictured as savages with high technology with no care for the outside world. The truth of the mater is that the elders of the different Enclaves are waiting for the world to be ready for them. Though as the book moves on, it seems more and more of an excuse to not take action as they are living in a virtually utopian existence with no pollution and very little crime in their Enclaves.

As the book moves on, Gahzee makes friends with Lisa and a coyote. (It is interesting to see how the coyote have adapted to the polluted world.) He begins to see that the world will not correct itself, that those who are in a better position to help, should help. He learns this as he teaches his own spirituality and respect for the Earth to the people around him in the outside world.

  Links

***Charles De Lint This is Charles De Lint's home page. It's well made and one can find out more about the author here.

**Center For Multilingual, Multicultural Research If you are interested in the future of Native Americans, it is here. There are links to collages, funds and other things to help.

**First Nation Information Project This is a reference site for Native American Groups in Canada. It includes maps so it would be useful for geographic study also.

**Native American Treaties and Information This site has online copies of many of the government treaties with the native Americans.

  Teaching

Svaha joins an entire group of prestigious "what if" novels including Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and Lois Lowry's The Giver, and could be taught in a context with those novels. Colonialism is a theme, though, that pervades history. It shows how we got to where we are, and it certainly affects where we are going. Here are some questions that can help in teaching this novel:

Native American People have had much taken away from them. What do you think about the prospect of them winning back their land? Do you think it possible given how pervasive western society is today?

There is also an ideal of utopia and possible world community in this book. Write about what you feel such a community could be like.

Communism, Capitalism, and Tribalsim are all themes that can be studied in the book. What are their definitions? How can they be applied to Svaha? What do you think the advantages and disadvantages are in trying to apply any of these ideals to a global community?

  Citations

De Lint, Charles . Svaha: In the Time Between Lighting and Thunder . Orb Publishing, 1989 .

Colonial & Postcolonial Literary Dialogues

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