The Ten Grandmothers; Epic of the Kiowas by Alice Marriot – Book Review

The Ten Grandmothers covers the history of the transition of Kiowa culture during roughly a 100 year period between 1847 and 1944 in an epic linear narrative.  As a work of history and anthropology, this book reads as compellingly as good fiction, with the profound depth of meaning as mythology.




The chapter Going Away was the most compelling to me.  This chapter takes place in 1883 with Grass Stem, the son of Hunting Horse and Spear Woman.  Once Grass Stem emerged from the school house in his blue trousers and white shirt, with his hair cut, his earrings removed and with the new name Stanley Hunt, it was clear that Kiowa life had changed permanently.  Nothing else up to this point in the book had quite the same impact regarding the changes to Kiowa life, not the coming of the first white traders, not the near extinction of the buffalo, not even the ending of the Sundance.  At the point Grass Stem is renamed, we get a glimpse not only of what has been lost in Kiowa culture, but the future of it.

The Ten Grandmothers is written in a literary style that reminds me of one of my favorite books, Seven Arrows by Hyemeyohsts Storm.  It similarly follows the interactions of the Cheyenne, Crow and Sioux in a mythologized fashion over a period of several generations from before the arrival of the white man.  It progresses into the modern era using the old stories and the symbolism of the Sundance in order to convey the teachings of the Medicine Wheel.




Being written from a multi-generational perspective within the same families is what makes The Ten Grandmothers so effective in capturing the sense of change and adaptation from the freedom of life on the prairie to the 20th century.

The story ends with a strong sense of melancholy nostalgia as Spear Woman recounts all the events of the past to her granddaughter while they make their way to the buffalo park.  The buffalo have returned, only this time they are raised behind the fence, like the Kiowa.  And their appearance at the end of the book serves as a beacon that there is an as of yet unwritten future for both the buffalo and the Kiowa.