In this story we see the co-existence of the Christian traditions and Native American Culture and the conflict arising between the Native American and the Christian customs following the death of Old Teofilo. The Native Americans do not believe in the “Christian culture” imparted by the European countries. The Laguna Pueblo tribe has a firm belief in their culture and the tribesmen do their best to adhere to their customary beliefs and traditions in the story.
The Conflict with Christian Traditions
In the funeral, we see the funeral-goers sprinkling cornmeal near the body with the belief that the Old Teofilo will have adequate food and won’t be hungry in his afterlife. These beliefs about afterlife give rise to one of the most conflicting event in the context of story. After the funeral is over, Louise hesitantly asked Leon whether they could ask the local priest, Father Paul, to sprinkle some holy water “so he won’t be thirsty” in the afterlife. Despite the explanation given by Louise, it is evident that she uses the reason not because of her robust belief but more so to convince Leon by a not so Christian rooted explanation to bring the priest. Although, Leon readily agrees to call the Priest.
The incident of holy water disappearing as soon as it touches the grave also infers several meanings. Symbolically, it depicts the desperate longing of Teofilo’s family about getting the holy water sprinkled on the body. On the other plane, it shows the desperate need of rain in the region where the soil is so dry that it soaks the water as soon as it falls. It also alludes to the August rain that falls in the presence of the sun and evaporates as soon as it touches the ground. Both the importance and the absurdity of the religious rituals are propounded by the fact that Leon believes that the holy water, despite being a Christian tradition, will bring showers of rain for them and their crops.
An Implied Critique
Silko is critical not only of the fanaticism of Father Paul but the Christianity as a whole. When Leon goes to Father Paul’s house, he sees “the brown sofa, the green armchair, and the brass lamp that hung down from the ceiling by links of chain.” Clearly, these things don’t point towards the austerity of a religious person. The scene becomes much more emphatic considering the livelihood standard of the tribesmen. Contrary to the preaching of ‘need’, the household of Father Paul seems full of expensive things which are beyond the reach of general public. The scene also underlies the corrupt codes in the Christian religion.
The symbolism becomes more interesting with the Church door which has “symbols of the Lamb”. The Lamb has a clear allusion to the Bible. Jesus Christ is also known as the Good Shepherd in the Christian mythology. For Christians, Jesus Christ is their intermediator. He will speak for them when a need arises, will intervene for them too. The Old Teofilo dies herding the sheep and when Leon and Ken mutter “send us rainclouds, Grandfather”, they echo his role as an intermediator. And as Christ, the death of Teofilo is destined to bring better life to them.
The story’s conclusion also echoes the dual interpretation of the title. The Old Teofilo is not the only “man to send a rain clouds” but the priest also has his own significance attributed to the title of the story. The Priest is not a member of their Laguna Pueblo community, but is as important as Teofilo to their customary beliefs to send the rain clouds.