indigozeal (indigozeal) wrote in 50bookchallenge,

#11: You are the mother of a people; let no man speak ill of you. Ho.

I finished the short Thunder Rides a Black Horse: I'm Not Going to Bother Transcribing the Lengthy After-Colon Synopses Academic Authors Put on Their Titles, about the four-day Apache "Changing Woman" ceremony by which teenage girls are formally recognized as adults. The book is useful but significantly flawed, and I had trouble with aspects of the culture under observation.

For one, to start this review off on a racist note, the book was written by an Anglo professor who lives outside the reservation. I'm only just now beginning to realize what an issue having the history of vanishing peoples written almost exclusively by outsider academics is in anthropology, but man, oh, man: the professors get bogged down in office politics; the natives are polarized by their history being read through a usually-white filter; the real story doesn't get put down. The author of Thunder claims to be on familial terms with a Mescalero clan, a claim that seems to check out, but I'd rather these stories be told be the people themselves.

For another, I'm not convinced that the Apache cultures were as forward-thinking in the tribal role of women as has been charged. The girls ostensibly being celebrated are just dolls throughout the ceremony; each is under the direction of an older male "singer" who instructs her throughout her girlhood "to be chaste, not to be seen alone around boys, not to cut her hair, to behave only in certain rigid way" and during the ceremony to "not stare or even look most people directly in the eyes." When the girls are told "you are a mother of a people; let no man speak ill of you," it's not meant as "you are a person of worth, deserving of respect," but instead "don't get out of line, or the men will call you a slut, ho." I'm not sure this is different from the "look pretty but don't do anything" place women have occupied in every culture ever since only very recently. The culture may be matrilineal, but the Apache men are still the power brokers.

(There're other reasons I could never be Apache, though. If the author's claims are correct, direct questions & requests are discouraged in Apache culture; instead of asking directly, the speaker makes roundabout statements implying the need ("I was wondering if Biff had gotten back from Safeway yet..."; "it's hard for us to get shoes for all the kids, what with the roof repairs and grocery bills this month") and the listener is presumed to pick up on the speaker's implicit signals automatically and provide the needed information or assistance. I could not abide an entire lifetime of "if you don't know, then I'm certainly not going to tell you.")

Also, the Chinese artist who painted the cover got neither credit nor recompense, because he signed his name in Chinese characters and Chinese is a moon language that no one else in the author & artist's home of California can speak, apparently.
Tags: academic, anthropology, cultural studies, earth based religion, native american, non-fiction, race, scholarly, women's studies

  • Post a new comment


    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded