The Man to Send Rain Clouds by Leslie Marmon Silko highlights the cultural divide between the Native American protagonists and the Christian Priest, Father Paul.
In the Christian world, it is only God who can shower rain whereas in the Pueblo world people believe it is the task of every dead man to send the rain for the better lives of Pueblo tribesmen. From their respective positions on either side of this cultural divide, the characters exercise an interesting episode of power struggle and dominance between the Christian and the Pueblo world.
The struggle in the story turns into a ritual not of confrontation but of asserting dominance over one another through the various means of subversion, evasion, and finally adaptation to adhere to the Pueblo culture. By doing so, the author also warrants her cultural stance towards native culture and her affinity towards Native Americans.
1. Old Man Teofilo found Dead
The story begins with two men from Laguna Pueblo tribe – Leon and his brother-in-law, Ken, finding the corpse of their grandfather, Teofilo. They find him under a cottonwood tree dressed in his Levis jacket and blue jeans. Teofilo was herding sheep before his demise and as he has been dead for a day, the sheep have now strayed away. Leon and Ken first gather the sheep and then begin the death rituals of their tribe in a bid for the proper afterlife of their grandfather. They draw a streak of white on his forehead, a strip of blue on his cheekbones, a yellow streak under his nose, and paint green across his chin. A grey feather is also tied into his hair. After painting according to their customs, they then wrap his body in a blanket muttering “send us rainclouds, grandfather.” On their way back home, they meet the local Christian priest, Father Paul. He asks them about the whereabouts of Teofilo and suggests they should not leave Teofilo with the sheep alone. Leon doesn’t tell father Paul about Teofilo’s death instead replies that everything is “O.K. now”.
2. Preparations for the Funeral
In Part II, we see Leon and Ken arriving at their home and declaring the news of Teofilo’s demise. Louise, Leon’s wife, and Teresa then dress Teofilo in new clothes in accordance with their tribal customs. Ken leaves, stressing about gravediggers and the need for burial before dark. The news breaks to the neighbor who brings food not for the family but for the gravediggers to eat after finishing their task of grave digging.
3. Proceeding for Burial
In Part III, the author depicts the funeral proceedings of Teofilo. People sprinkle cornmeal around the body of Old Teofilo out of their customs and beliefs. And as the funeral is over, they load the dead body in the pickup to reach the graveyard for the burial. Louise hesitantly asks Leon if they can ask father Paul to sprinkle some holy water over the body, to which Leon readily agrees.
4. Two Cultures Intersecting: Sprinkling of Holy Water
In Part IV, we find Ken driving all the family members to the graveyard while dropping Leon midway at the church gate to bring Father Paul to sprinkle the holy water. Father Paul gets upset after hearing about the demise of Teofilo. He lays emphasis upon doing the last rites according to the Christian tradition for Teofilo. Father Paul initially refuses to sprinkle holy water on the body as the Christian burial tradition is not followed but eventually relents to do the same. When Father Paul first sees Teofilo’s body in the graveyard, he becomes skeptical. He thinks it is some Indian trick being played by Laguna Pueblo tribe in order to harvest a good crop. However, he pours the holy water on the body. As Father Paul returns, Leon notices the sun setting down. He feels good as they finish all the rituals before sunset as per their tribal custom and traditions. Moreover, he is happy that the holy water has been sprinkled on Teofilo’s body which will bring them “big thunderclouds for sure”.