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What Are the Different Types of Native American Poetry?

By April S. Kenyon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Native American poetry encompasses a large variety of types, styles, authors, and topics. It includes contemporary and traditional verse that is either written by or composed about Native Americans. Early Native American poetry is generally thought of in terms of traditional songs and tribal performance rituals. Topics include beliefs, myths, legends, accounts of bravery, tribal traditions, or any number of other subjects. The history and heritage of the Native American people is often depicted through poetry.

Songs, poetry, chants, and Native American rituals may include initiation rites, hunting and planting ceremonies, healing rituals, and medicinal chants. Early Native American poetry and songs also typically express mourning, religious beliefs, war ceremonies, and traditional Native American beliefs. It is believed that the early Native Americans used these poems as a way to communicate with nature and become closer to the earth. The rituals, songs, and chants were also a way to record history and express beliefs. Early Native American poetry was performed through song and dance as a way of passing down the poems from generation to generation.

Other forms of Native American poetry include myths, legends, and stories of creation. The Native Americans were renowned storytellers. Tales and folklore of the tribes were often passed down through poetry and stories. Poems might also include legends of bravery or extraordinary acts of courage. The history and beliefs of the tribes were often passed down through storytelling and poetry.

Native American poetry may or may not be written and composed specifically by Native Americans. Many individuals express feelings and thoughts on the culture through poetry. These poems include ancestral accounts, longings to understand the Native American way of life, or frustrations over the treatment of the American Indians throughout history. The poetry often continues to express the morals and beliefs held by the Native Americans, with a strong emphasis on courage, bravery, life, a love of the earth, and closeness to nature. Historical accounts of Native Americans are also often expressed through poetry.

It is important to remember that the term “Native American Poetry” is not always used to only describe poetry about Native Americans. The term may also be used in conjunction with poets who are of Native American descent. Not all poetry composed by Native Americans revolves around the beliefs or lives of the American Indians. A large number of Native American poets compose verse on a variety of topics.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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