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EARLY INDIAN LITERATURE
Indian literature begins with the orally transmitted myths, legends, tales, and lyrics (always songs) of American Indian cultures. There was no written literature among the more than 500 different Indian languages and tribal cultures that existed in North America before the first Europeans arrived.
Tribes maintained their own religions — worshipping gods, animals, plants, or sacred persons. These tribal variations enter into the oral literature as well.
Still, it is possible to make a few generalizations. Indian stories, for example, glow with reverence for nature as a spiritual as well as physical mother. Nature is alive and endowed with spiritual forces; main characters may be animals or plants, often totems associated with a tribe, group, or individual.
The Mexican tribes revered, a god of the Toltecs and Aztecs, and some tales of a high god or culture were told elsewhere. However, there are no long, standardized religious cycles about one supreme divinity. The closest equivalents to Old World spiritual narratives are often accounts of shamans' initiations and voyages. These tricksters are treated with varying degrees of respect. In one tale they may act like heroes, while in another they may seem selfish or foolish.
Examples of almost every oral genre can be found in American Indian literature: lyrics, chants, myths, fairy tales, humorous anecdotes, proverbs, epics, and legendary histories. Accounts of migrations and ancestors abound, as do vision or healing songs and tricksters' tales. Certain creation stories are particularly popular.
The songs or poetry, like the narratives, range from the sacred to the light and humorous. There are lullabies, war chants, love songs, and special songs for children's games, gambling various chores, magic, or dance ceremonials. Generally the songs are repetitive. Short poem songs given in dreams sometimes have the clean imagery and mood associated with Japanese haiku or Eastern- influenced imagistic poetry.
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