Native American communities have gone through probably the worst of situations in North America that people can go through. North America’s indigenous peoples have experienced the devastating depopulation of their tribes that followed the “discovery of the New World” as American Native Holocaust. To survive mass genocide after the arrival of the Europeans and grapple with the history of compulsory assimilation Native peoples needed something that held them together. They had to have the ability to laugh.
Kanien’kehake (Mohawk) actor Garry Farmer explains on Native humor:
If they didn’t have the ability to laugh they wouldn’t be existing today. So humour has been a means of survival, the only means…. For the last two hundred years they’ve had everything taken away from them, their ability to think, practically. Everything: what language they could speak, what religion they could do, and the things they couldn’t do. It was all set out for them. All those decisions were taken from them. The only thing they had was their ability to laugh their way through life because if they didn’t they would vanish.
Especially in theatre Canada Native playwrights employ humour artistically in their theatre of resistance. Through writing and having their plays performed Native writers have the opportunity to influence and inspire social change and help to develop a new consciousness to a certain extent. Theatre gets people together. There is the possibility of direct confrontation. Theatre seems to be an excellent site of resistance as it provokes thought and can introduce ideas and foster an openness to change as people on a recreational level tend to be more willing to listen. And that might have far-reaching consequences in society and have an influence on politics. Canadian author Margaret Atwood explains about indigenous plays with subversive tendencies: They ambush the reader. They get the knife in, not by whacking you over the head with their own moral righteousness, but by being funny.
What is so special about humor? Humour certainly is one of the very important parts of the mystery of life. It is the human “luxury reflex”. Humor makes us feel good and definitively has a very healthy effect on the cells in our body.
Humor is above all else part of communication. It is a very basic impulse the need to communicate, to make people laugh, to make people enjoy and celebrate life.
It is a message we all should take to our hearts because Native writer Tomson Highway like other Native writers admonish us: It’s just so – like we need to laugh. We need to laugh so desperately.
And laugh as hard as possible. Every day. 15, 20 times a day…. Please be joyful! Celebrate life, celebrate your families, your friends and your lovers, celebrate the sunlight, the water, the wind, the laughter of strangers, celebrate the very earth you walk on.”
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