The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVIII. Later National Literature, Part III.

XXXII. Non-English Writings II

§ 17. Amerind Drama

In presentation, the Zuñi Creation Myth is dramatized. This is true so far as discoverable—for we do not know exactly how the Walam Olum was recited—of all the tribal cycles. But in dealing with Amerind drama we must distinguish between dramaturgic recapitulation of creative episodes, and drama as literary form. It has occurred to the primitive mind everywhere that the gods are influenced by representations of their supposed acts. The Shaman brings thunder by mimic thunder of his drum; he secures the return of summer by enacting the annual victory of heat and light over cold and darkness; he increases the fertility of the earth by performing reproductive acts amid solemn ceremonies.

It is possible that some such notion of promoting the welfare of the tribe may have been at the bottom of the performance at stated intervals of the pageant play of tribal history. But in most cases it has been superseded by motives of festivity and commemoration, and in part by those appetites for æsthetic enjoyment which we satisfy in modern drama.

The Indian is an excellent actor. Mirth-provoking mimicry and impromptu pantomime are the universal accompaniments of tribal leisure. Commemorative festivals frequently take the form of the Italian commedia dell’ arte, in which an old story is played anew with traditional “business” and improvised lines.