Black Elk Speaks By John Gneisenau Niehardt Summary and Analysis Chapter 16 - Heyoka Ceremony

Summary

Black Elk decides to perform his dog vision with heyokas, who are sacred fools. He explains that truth has a sad side and a rejoicing side and people need different sides at different times. Heyokas do everything backwards and make people laugh, but their actions represent profound truth.


To enact the dog vision, two heyokas kill a dog with much ceremony; it is skinned and its head and heart are boiled. While this is happening, 30 heyokas move among the crowd of Indians assembled at Pine Ridge, playing tricks and entertaining. Black Elk and his friend One Side act out the vision by riding past the boiling pot and spearing the head and heart of the dog upon their arrows. His people share the meat, sacred because it has the power of the West in it. The people are made happier.

Analysis

Black Elk's performance of the dog vision again shows the importance to the Sioux of acting out one's private vision for the community. It emphasizes the esteem in which the person granted such a vision is held. This later vision clearly defines the Wasichus (whites) as the enemy of the people — a significant aspect of the vision. A deep state of hostility now exists between Indians and whites.

Many cultures have a version of the sacred fool (the Sioux heyoka), people privileged to convey a truth that no one else is allowed to utter, through wit or entertainment. This ceremony enabled people to see the richness and sacredness of the earth. The ceremony returns the Indians somewhat to their old tribal ways and reminds them that goodness still exists in their world. It directs them to do what Black Elk says the Grandfathers wish, to show kindness to each other as the grasses do.

Glossary

Heyoka a person who has been granted sacred power which he enacts in an entertaining and comic way.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

During the fishing lesson, how does Watanye react when Black Elk falls into the water?




Quiz