Waterlily Book Review Essay

Ella Cara Deloria (Yankton Nakota) whose translated Dakota name means Beautiful day, was born in 1887.She was born on the Yankton Siuox reservation in South Dakota. Delioria was brought up as a protestant and had strong ties to her cultural upbringing, which were huge influences on her.( http://voices.cla.umn.edu/artistpages/deloriaElla.php) Deloria was a member of one of the most influential and educated American-Indian families, her grandfather was a tribal leader; her father was a deacon in the reservation’s Episcopal mission church.

(vii) With the intention to become a teacher she first enrolled in Oberlin College in 1910 and then 1913 she enrolled in Columbia Teacher’s College, where she met Franz Boaz. Franz Boaz was a predominant anthropologist who studied the culture and language of her own Dakota people. Boaz inspired Deloria to create a number of published and unpublished manuscripts, including Waterlily.(xi)

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Throughout her life Ella maintained connections to her home places and her culture by lecturing, researching, and consulting.

These things helped to make her one of the leading authorities on Dakota life and culture. In my opinion, her most remarkable contribution was writing one of the leading books in American-Indian literature, Waterlily. Waterlily is a novel which focuses on the lives of two women, mother and daughter, Waterlily and Blue Bird. The book is named after the daughter of Blue Bird and Star Elk, Waterlily. In the beginning of the book Star Elk abandons Blue Bird by “throwing her away publically” in an attempt to shame Bluebird, but the attempt did not work because Blue Bird proved herself as a respectable woman .(p.15) This event brings Bluebird and Waterlily to a different tribe, where Blue Bird finds a suitable father and husband in Rainbow. (p. 31) The reader follows Waterlily through her journey from birth to adulthood, through happiness and heartbreak, until she ultimately finds true love. The book explores the novel and extraordinary aspects of a Sioux woman’s life.

I believe that Ella Cara Deloria wrote this book to educate people on the life of the Dakota Sioux, because American-Indians are a subject ignored by many. I also believe that she wrote the book to explore the lives of Dakota Sioux woman as well as to describe the strength and love that these woman and every woman are capable of. The book also did a fantastic job of explaining and teaching the reader about the culture and experiences of a member of the Dakota Sioux tribe, before it was “tainted” by the arrival of the white man. I believe she chose Waterlily for the title because the book focuses on the life of Waterlily beginning at her birth.

The book Waterlily , does a fantastic job of explaining to the reader the roles of women within the Dakota Sioux tribe. Bluebird, is the mother of Waterlily, whose role is to be a good wife, and mother as well as being hospitable and respectful to the sisters and mother of her husband. Blue Bird also had a responsibility to make useful things for the tribe as well as gifts. Gloku’s rolls were to take care of her grandchildren, her husband and her own children, but one of her most important rolls was to make her daughter-in-law feel included and loved by her entire side of the family. Gloku and Blue Bird were very close in part because of this role and also because they truly loved each other. Gloku loved and respected Blue Bird even before their families joined thorough the marriage of her son Rainbow.

Waterlily’s roles are slightly more difficult to pinpoint because tribal roles change as a person ages. When Waterlily was a child her role was to be a child, her brother and cousins watched over her and protected her. As she aged into an older child her role was to take care of her younger siblings and cousins. She was also expected to begin taking an active role in the tribe so she could start to get a better understanding of what it’s like to be a respected member of the tribe as an adult. As Waterlily aged into a young woman her role was to act as a support for her family, primarily her brother. In a Dakota Sioux tribe sisters and brothers are completely devoted to each other, they do anything to help and love one another. When Watelily reached the age to marry, her role’s shifted to become similar to the role of her mother, Blue Bird.

There were many events in Waterlily which provided the reader with a window into life as a Dakota Sioux. At one point in the book Waterlily eats too much pemmican cake, which makes her very ill almost to the point of death.(p.72) While laying sick her step-father, Rainbow, promises to throw her a hunka ceremony, which would make her a “child beloved”, a very prestigious status. Later in the novel Rainbow brings his family on a trip to visit his kola where the family gets an opportunity to see the Dakota Sun Dance, which is one of the most important religious events for the Dakota. This ceremony held men, who had made oaths to their words these men fasted, wept, sang, or subjected themselves to ritualized scarring. While the Sun Dance was going on Waterlily observes a young boy named Lowanla, who made a promise to take out one hundred pieces of skin in return for his father’s good health, Lowanla fasts during the ceremony and one night Waterlily sneaks out of her tipi to deliver a bucket of water to the young boy.

This boy was Waterlily’s first love interest. During this ceremony Waterlily and her cousin had the opportunity to take part in the “tree cutting” ceremony, which was a coveted opportunity with the children of the tribe. (p.110) Tisyopaye is the Sioux word for camp circle. A camp circle includes all relatives, including grandparents, parents, sibilings, aunts, uncles, cousins and any other relatives connected through blood, marriage or adoption. Waterlily, Blue Bird, Gloku, Rainbow, Little Chief, Smiling one, Leaping Fawn, and many others were part of Waterlily’s Tisyopaye. This book is truly a gift; it opened my eyes to a world and culture that I was previously unaware of.

The book focuses a lot on the theme of kinship, particularly the relationships between family members; in a lot of ways the Dakota family is far closer than the typical American family. I believe that one can learn a great deal about love and devotion by reading this book and getting an idea of how the Dakota people put their own selfish wants and needs aside for the good of the Tisyopaye Not only does the book have the ability to change how a person looks at their own life and relationships, but the story is magnificent. Once the book is finished the reader feels as if they have a better understanding of Dakota culture, as well as the satisfaction of reading a fantastic story.

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