The Secret of the White Buffalo.
Montréal: Tundra Books, 1993. 24pp., laminated boards, $13.95.
Reviewed by Patricia Fry.
Volume 22 Number 2.
C.J. Taylor's reputation as an artist and a writer will continue to grow with the publication of her fifth book, The Secret of the White Buffalo. This is the retelling of an Oglala legend, and information on the Oglala Sioux can be found on the last page. Apparently, it had long been one of Taylor's ambitions to retell and paint a legend about a woman, as she does in this book.
In this legend, the Sioux have endured a long, cold winter and they are anxious for spring to arrive and the buffalo to return. They have grown quarrelsome and there is much strife within the communitity. Two scouts who are sent to search for the buffalo find, instead, a beautiful woman dressed in white. She sends a message back to the camp that when the tribe has completed a task requiring them to work in harmony together, she will visit. She is White Buffalo Woman and the gift she brings is the peace pipe.
The pipe is described in great detail with explanations for each of its symbols and its four colours. After the gift is presented, White Buffalo Woman leaves the camp. The people watch astounded as she transforms herself into a magnificent white buffalo and, just as miraculously, the long sought for herd of buffalo appears on the plain. The pipe remains as a reminder to the people that only through peace can they solve problems and prosper in harmony together, both within their own tribe and with other tribes.
The peace pipe is one of the best-known symbols of Native American culture. It creates an instant bond between people as a symbol of friendship and is widely reputed to promote goodwill and health. Each tribe had its own origin legend for the peace pipe and it is no surprise that the Sioux, who depended on the buffalo for life, would combine their legend with a buffalo. A white buffalo, actually an albino, is so rare that its appearance in a herd inevitably took on religious significance, and this legend therefore has unusual sacred power.
Taylor's illustrations are powerful. There is a full-colour painting to balance each page of text. My favourite is the one showing White Buffalo Woman sitting in the ceremonial tent and holding the smoking peace pipe, with the smoky wisps of the four colours trailing off to curl around a symbol.
There are several paintings that show Taylor's unique way of presenting Native People against vast landscapes, unforgettable individual faces in relationship to nature.
Grades 4 to 9 / Ages 9 to 14
Patricia Fry is a librarian at Erindale Secondary School, Peel Board of Education, in Mississauga, Ontario
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Copyright © 1996 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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