Home  »  Volume XVIII: American LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART III  »  § 18. Community Dramas

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

§ 18. Community Dramas

In the history of one of the pueblos of the Rio Grande valley, there used to be celebrated a periodic community drama, which, given time to develop, might have resulted in a farce comedy of the sort which undoubtedly gave rise to, or at least suggested, the comedies of Aristophanes. The story relates that on an occasion when all the men of the pueblo were away on a buffalo hunt the women discovered an enemy party approaching. Hastily dressing themselves as men, the women stole upon their foes while they were still some distance from the pueblo, and by a show of force frightened them away. At the festival of this event, men and women change places for the whole of that day, wearing one another’s clothes, assuming one another’s duties, men at the ovens and women flourishing weapons. At some point in the day’s events there is a re-enactment of the incident that gave rise to the celebration, in excellent pantomime, enriched by recollected “hits” of other days.

This sort of thing was usual throughout tribal life, and there is reason to believe that in the more advanced cultures it gave rise to more or less fixed comedy forms, some of which may yet be recovered in Mexico and Peru. Among our own Navaho Indians, parts of the Night Chant seem to be of this character. Unfortunately, however, the quality of the humour is such that it cannot be offered here. That such comedy, popular and universal as it was, did not receive what may be called literary form, is probably partly owing to the nature of comedy, which demands spontaneity as its chief concomitant, and in part to the lower esteem in which it was held. Comedy had little to do with making the world work well together, which was the primary object of Amerind literature.