WATERLILY by Ella Cara DeLoria


Email this review


Exquisite evocation, in novelistic form, of the life of a female Dakota (Sioux) in the mid-19th century, before whites settled the plains. Deloria (1889-1971), a Sioux ethnologist who studied at Columbia and worked with preeminent anthropologist Franz Boas, wrote the book 50 years ago; this is its first publication. Waterlily, is born unceremoniously one hot day during a move from one camp site to another. Her mother, Blue Bird, simply steps out of the line of march and delivers the baby herself. Later, when the end of the umbilical cord withers and falls from Waterlily's navel, Blue Bird will wrap it in down and put it inside a little painted wooden turtle she's made as a plaything for her daughter; when Waterlily grows up, the turtle will serve as belt buckle and talisman. It is thus--gently and intriguingly--that we learn Sioux custom from infancy to death. The book's plot-turns reflect the developments--sometimes tragic, at limes funny, always dignified--of an Indian girl's coming of age. Waterlily shares a delightful childhood with a boy, Little Chief, who adopts her as his sister; and in adolescence she shares confidences with teen-age girlfriends, some of whom are less tactful than she. For Waterlily will become a model Sioux woman--demure yet capable. She marries, loses her first husband to disease, give birth, and remarries. Throughout it all we are treated, in the most digestible way, to the richness of Sioux lore and ritual--buffalo hunting, prayer, ceremony, the social codes between men and women, young and old. An unself-conscious and never precious or quaint pairing of scholarship and fiction. Includes a biographical sketch of the author by Agnes Picotte, who discovered the long-buried manuscript.

Pub Date: April 4th, 1988
ISBN: 0803219040
Publisher: Univ. of Nebraska Press