In Storyteller, Leslie Marmon Silko uses images throughout her stories to give the reader a direct look into her childhood experiences. The photograph on page 78 is included in a specific location of the collection for many reasons. It is a family picture of the author and her two sisters in traditional Laguna female clothing. Each is carrying a traditional pot used to transport water, a typical task of women in an Indian society. Following the picture is a story told by Silko’s aunt describing a strong female hunter, beginning with the words, “Aunt Alice told my sisters and me this story one time.” The photograph shows the traditional expectations and dress of the Indian culture, while the poem breaks almost all of the “subservient” stereotypes of the past. The photograph also provides a reference to the traditional clothing described in the poem as the warrior removes her clothes. The two are interrelated with a deep sense of family that is evident in both pieces. In the Laguna society, family is the most important symbol of one’s self, in all meanings of the word.
While the picture depicts traditional female roles, the poem takes on a more feminist tone within the first few lines. Kochininako, the protagonist, is described as one “who hunted deer and rabbits/just like the boys and men did./You know there have been Laguna women/who were good hunters/who could hunt as well as any of the men.” The recurring theme of women’s power can be seen throughout many of Silko’s poems, as she often reflects on the strength of women even though her society is traditionally male-dominant. By its placement immediately following the picture, the story implies that these young girls could be as strong as the hunter Kochininako, despite typical gender roles. Another reference to female power is seen in the line, “she’d bring them home to her mother and her sisters,” clearly indicating all women and in contrast, not men. Finally, many of the poem’s lines begin with the word “she,” emphasizing the power of women and all that “she,” representing any woman, can do. The “man,” represented as the giant, Estrucuyu, wants to take everything that is Kochininako’s, symbolizing the objectification of women in society. She gives him everything he asks and he just wants more: “and he just swallowed them like they were little crumbs.” Kochininako outsmarts the giant by going into the cave as she gives him her clothes, knowing that “his big head” will not be able to fit. The photograph shows similar feminist ideas in the powerful positioning of the girls. Their strong, confident facial expressions demonstrate why their aunt told them this particular story when the older men were out hunting, to encourage them in their pursuit of powerful womanhood.
The picture of the sisters wearing traditional Laguna clothing is designed to give the reader a literal representation of the outfit worn in the story. When Kochininako runs out of weapons to give the giant, she removes her traditional clothing, “First she took off/her buckskin leggings”, “then she took off her moccasins”, “she untied her belt”, and last “she took off her manta.” These pieces of clothing are clearly illustrated in the picture. The girls’ confidence also reflects a sense that their dress protects them over the giants (men) who might hurt them in the future. Their attire gives them a sense of belonging and collective protection with the other women in their culture.
Finally and possibly most importantly, the picture depicts family bonds in the Laguna society, which are also described in the poem. Silko often refers to how close she and her family are and the many stories she heard passed down through the generations. In the picture, she kneels in front of her sisters, and they stand above her in a supportive manner. The caption states that the clothing and jewelry is loaned from their cousins, placing an even greater emphasis on family. The relationship between the sisters in the picture and the “Twin Brothers” upon whom Kochininako calls for help further links them together. The story ends with the slaying of the giant and the subsequent naming of a locale called Yash’ka, meaning heart. It is as if to say that the bond of family will always be most important, despite the conflicts between men and women. The brothers come to help in her time of need, and therefore the family conquers all. In a universal sense, the picture of the sisters carrying traditional water pots purposely draws on the well-known adage: blood is thicker than water, or the family triumphs over all.