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Presents contemporary stories showing how native Americans have retained their tribal identities
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Tantalizing stories--more than 250--culled and woven together from interviews with Native Americans, primarily Navajo and Pueblo, conducted by Cunningham (English/Northern Arizona Univ.) and his wife through much of the 1980's as part of a research project into cross-cultural yarn-spinning. Following in the footsteps of well-known anthropologists and fieldworkers from previous generations, such as Ruth Benedict and Clyde Kluckhohn, the Cunninghams pursue an interest in commonplace folk tales and their formation in deliberately informal settings, talking with relatives and friends of tribal contacts. A Zuni woman brings them into the rich ceremonial world of the New Mexico pueblo, where they experience Night Dances and the midwinter Shalako rituals while hearing about tribal health matters and belief structures. Stories of medicine men lead to a hands-on encounter with a ``bone-presser'' in which the author is relieved of severe back pain following his spinal operation. A subsequent series of interviews with the Ramah Navajo uses common Anglo- American themes that have become legendary--such as the vanishing hitchhiker or the woman who tried to dry her poodle in the microwave--to probe for Native-American counterparts, prompting colorful stories about witchcraft and ``skinwalkers,'' those with the ability to change into animals at will. Other sections are equally interesting, whether concerned with Navajo humor or the difficulties of trying to live in both the white and native cultures, with individual anecdotes interwoven among scholarly commentary and personal reactions. Revealing glimpses of the Native American experience in the Southwest today, gathered with obvious warmth and affection for both the storytellers and their stories. -- Copyright ©1992, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.From Publishers Weekly:
Although Cunningham's ( The Oral Tradition of the American West ) book never lives up to its promise, it nonetheless makes an interesting and important contribution to Native studies. In allowing Natives to speak in their own voices, the author goes far toward exploding the twin stereotypes of Native persons as either bloodthirsty savages or noble and stoic, if humorless, icons. These Indians tell jokes, play Beatles songs on the banjo and routinely negotiate two cultures. In fact, many of the stories echo the popular folklore of white America (e.g., vanishing hitchhikers, pets exploding in microwave ovens and mice found in soda bottles). In Cunningham's very success at portraying his subjects as complex individuals lie the seeds of the book's problem. These Indians often seem almost fully assimilated, virtually indistinguishable from their white counterparts. The frequently brief tales tantalize without satisfying. Further, the Hopi, Zuni and Navajo are the primary focus, and readers will learn very little about other modern Native cultures. Likewise, Cunningham's Jungian analysis seems artificial and not particularly helpful.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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