Home  »  Volume XVIII: American LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART III  »  § 19. The Koshare, or Delight-Makers

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

§ 19. The Koshare, or Delight-Makers

What appears as a single exception to the seriousness of formal drama among American aborigines is the institution known among the pueblos of the South-west as the society of the Koshare, the Delight Makers. The function of this group is differently understood by ethnologists. Bandelier interprets it chiefly as social corrective through the whips of laughter. Originally it seems to have personated the Spirits of the Ancestors, in connection with ritual dancers, cheering the tribe with the assurance of interest uninterrupted by death. Always the Koshare are supposed to be invisible, so their quips cannot be resented. But there is no doubt also that there is symbolic association of their function with the fertility-inducing thunder-storms of early summer, and with the idea of laughter and good nature as mystically beneficial to both the tribe and the crops. Their black and white makeup, such as clowns have immemorially worn, and their antic behaviour, is the sole tribute of the Amerind mind to the æsthetic use of the Comic Spirit.

For the basis of serious drama we have to fall back on the song sequence, which we have just seen is also the source of epic. There is no tribe without a number of such sequences arranged around either a story or a dramaturgic presentation of a saving act. Not until this material is all collected and compared can we be certain at what point the untutored literary instinct of the aboriginal turned to one form or the other. At present it seems unsafe to conclude that a ritual of acts will invariably produce the dramatic form, or a sequence of episodes an epic. The most that we can say is that it is easier, on the whole, to trace the song sequence under what is left to us of even the most sophisticated Amerind drama.

In the Ollantay Tambo, the best example of Inca drama, reduced to Spanish by Don Antonio Valdez, the Cura of Tinto, some five years before all Inca drama was forbidden, the dialogue still breaks into lyric quatrains at the high moments. The story dialogue is carried in very good octosyllabic blank verse, but every important speech is cast in such verse as this quotation from the speech of Ollantay, the hero, when he goes to ask the hand of his daughter from the Inca Pachacuti:

  • ’Twas I that struck the fatal blow
  • When warlike Huncavila rose
  • Disturbing thy august repose,
  • And laid the mighty traitor low.
  • Earlier in the play the friends of Ollantay warn him that his too ambitious passion for the Inca’s daughter has been discovered; the warning is given in a song purporting to be addressed to the little field finch, in what appears to have been a favourite song measure:

  • Thou must not feed,
  • O Tuyallay,
  • In Nusta’s field,
  • O Tuyallay,
  • Thou must not rob,
  • O Tuyallay,
  • The harvest maize,
  • O Tuyallay.
  • Let us select three of the many song sequences which are available for study, presenting three characteristic stages of literary development: the Songs of the Midé Brethren, a simple song ritual; the Hako, which might be described as a morality play or masque; and the Night Chant of the Navaho, which tends toward a generic American dramatic method.