The Interwoven Beauty of Culture
It was only forty-one years ago when Indigenous peoples were finally given rights to independence through self-determination in terms of governance, land, resources, and culture. Before then, First Nations, Metis, Inuit, and other Indigenous peoples were oppressed and were often victims of discrimination. A notorious instance was the system of residential schools operated by the Canadian government. Indigenous culture was considered insignificant and an obstacle that prevented homogenizing Canadian society. As a result, Indigenous children were taken from their beloved families, and placed in residential schools in hopes of assimilating them into Euro-Canadian culture, where they often experienced physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. “Two Braids” is a poem written by Rossana Deerchild, a Canadian poet of Cree descent, that delves into the themes of identity and family heritage through an Indigenous mother scarred by her experiences at residential school. It follows a child who takes pride in her tightly woven braids, symbolizing her culture and the impenetrable integrity of her family’s heritage, juxtaposing her mother’s experience as a child, where Indigenous culture was oppressed and discouraged. In her poem, “Two Braids,” Rossana Deerchild uses symbolism, metaphors, and imagery to convey the message that following cultural traditions can connect people to their family heritage and roots, creating a sense of belonging among them.
Deerchild applies symbolism to express the importance of cultural traditions and heritage through their ability to connect people together. The first symbol she uses is braids, which are highly valued in Indigenous culture because they are a representation of identity, history, and interconnectedness through generational history. When the poem’s speaker expresses her thoughts about her braids, she intones in a delightful manner, with stanzas such as “I wave smile back” and “a reminder of who I am.” However, the poem contains the stanza “of falling wisps of hair” followed by “of never going home.” These stanzas describe the feeling of displacement and separation that the speaker’s mother faced when residential schools were in operation. The act of cutting Indigenous peoples’ hair acts as a way to sever the culture that their braids stand for, further emphasizing the stanza, “a reminder of who I am,” as the absence of the braids causes displacement for every Indigenous student. Cultural traditions such as braiding are passed down from generation to generation, interconnecting each group through culture. Shown in the poem, the mother braids her daughter’s hair “so tightly as if they never let go,” symbolizing her mother’s desire to maintain Indigenous traditions through tight braids, unlike her personal experiences as a child. As a result, the poem illustrates how braiding acts as a way to link people together through family roots that exhibit the significance of cultural traditions.
In addition to symbolism, Deerchild implements metaphors to further interpret the significance of culture and its practices. One metaphor depicts the braids as “long perfect arrows,” comparing the Indigenous braiding style with arrows that guide people back to their cultural heritage. In residential schools, Indigenous peoples often had their hair cut, most notably for hairstyles that represented their culture, such as braids. As a result, many students had their connection with their culture severed, and practices could not be freely carried out. This demonstrates the significance of cultural practices like braiding, which due to being cut, caused most Indigenous children who were brought into residential schools to forget how to practice their traditions, preventing them ed from following their culture. Another metaphor, “tips into exclamation points memories,” compares the tips of braids with exclamation points, which further signifies the importance of culture by illustrating the component of memories within culture, and how they are crucial to tradition. The stanza describes how every interwoven strand of hair acts as a memory from generation to generation, accumulating to the tip, representing cherishable memories. Therefore, Deerchild’s poem exhibits the significance of braiding in Indigenous culture by showcasing its ability to connect family heritage from generations ago with those in the current generation.
Imagery acts as an additional literary device that Deerchild employs in her poem to provide readers with vivid and graphic descriptions to further deliver and interpret her messages of culture. Foremost, in the beginning, stanzas, it reads, “Mama weaves two braids,” allowing the audience to visualize a mother braiding her child’s youthful hair. Mothers are commonly considered to hold a multitude of emotional importance due to biological connection, early emotional connection, and particularly their specific role as a parent. Correspondingly, a mother weaving her child’s hair into braids paints a picture of a nurturing act provided by a salient and loving caregiver, administering comfort to readers. Furthermore, a similar instance of imagery is written only a stanza after describing the mother braiding “so tightly as if they never let go.” The significance of the mother’s role remains intact in this stanza, with the description “so tightly” allowing readers to picture the mother braiding her child’s hair with intensive care and technique. The following section of the stanza, “as if they never let go,” continues to emphasize the importance of the maternal role by describing how the mother’s tight braiding represents her intent to assure her daughter will be able to find her identity and find her way back “home” through culture. Deerchild implements imagery in her poem to signify the importance of culture, specifically Indigenous culture, by using descriptions that provide readers with a visualization and emotional connection to further understand her messages.
Culture acts as a way to shape societies and individuals in many ways, such as identity formation, traditions, and family structure. As a result, they allow those who follow their culture to connect with family, friends, and generations that have existed long ago, to ultimately aid their discovery of who they are as a person. The poem “Two Braids” by Rossana Deerchild expresses these important components through illustrative literary devices such as symbolism, metaphors, and imagery, to attempt to signify culture and family heritage. She employs them in a way that allows readers to imagine her writing, creating emotional connections that can be relatable to anyone regardless of their specific culture, resulting in a more suitable way of understanding how culture connects people together.