Keith H. Basso Essay

2257 words - 9 pages

Keith H. Basso


It is rare to find a book that is as informative as a textbook but reads as easy as a short story. But Keith H. Basso is successful in creating an interesting ethnography about the Western Apache culture by using two usually overlooked topics, geography and oral history. Geography and the location of places is usually forgotten or seen as just topography, but Basso proves that geography is more than a location. It is the forgotten history of the name of a place that makes the locality more important than it seems. While whitemen (a term frequented by the Apache to describe White European culture) has constantly renamed places for convenience and prove of colonization, Basso overturns this ignorant and offensive practice and attempts to understand and map the geography of Western Apache by using the original place-names. Therefore this paper will be an attempt to explore the "sense [sic] of place as a partake of cultures, of shared bodies of 'local knowledge' with which whole communities render their places meaningful and endow them with social importance" (Basso 1996:xiv). And from Basso's detailed accounts of interacting with the natives of Western Apache, I will also attempt to demonstrate the importance of spoken (oral) language in relating and learning about ancestral history.

As we have sorted out the themes of this book, we can then look at how the book is structured and why I have acclaimed it to be informative and yet so easy to read and understand. At the beginning of the book, we learn that Basso had first traveled to Cibecue in the summer of 1959 as a nineteen-year-old college student but then returned numerous times after his graduate studies was done (Basso 1996:xiv). We can conclude from this that Basso is not unfamiliar with the culture of the Western Apache. And as for when this book was being researched, he had worked there for about eighteen months, spread over a period of five years (Basso 1996:xv). The background of the author is very important because it provides the basis in which the reader will understand the information presented as of the experience and the reasons why the anthropologist wrote such an ethnography. We must also remember that Basso is also a linguist, an anthropologist whose focus is on the language of societies and how different words and contexts convey different meanings. But in Wisdom sits in places, Basso takes on the role of the observer and foreigner when approaching his consultants. (Note: the word consultant is now used instead of informants or subjects because these natives are there to work for the ethnographer, to be consult when questions arise). In a way, Basso is considered as a child when doing the interviews with the retired horsemen because in Apache culture, children are not born with the three conditions of the mind required to learn the wisdom of the culture. The three conditions are: smoothness of them mind, resilience of the mind and steadiness of the mind....

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