Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language Among the Western Apache
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Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language Among the Western Apache

3.98 of 5 stars 3.98  ·  rating details  ·  478 ratings  ·  46 reviews
This remarkable book introduces us to four unforgettable Apache people, each of whom offers a different take on the significance of places in their culture. Apache conceptions of wisdom, manners and morals, and of their own history are inextricably intertwined with place, and by allowing us to overhear his conversations with Apaches on these subjects Basso expands our awar...more
Paperback, 171 pages
Published August 1st 1996 by University of New Mexico Press
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Susan Eubank
"I think of that mountain called Tsee Ligai Da Sidile (White Rocks Lie Above in a Compact Cluster) as if it were my maternal grandmother. I recall stories of how it once was a t that mountain. The stories told to me were like arrow. Elsewhere, hearing that mountain's name, I see it. Its name is like a picture. Stories go to work on you like arrows. Stories make you live right. Stories make you replace yourself. (Benson Lewis, age 64, 1979)", p. 38
"Nothing is more basic to the telling of a Wester...more
Paul Haspel
When reading Wisdom Sits in Places, one gets a strong sense of the aspects of Western Apache language and culture that prompted Keith H. Basso to write the book. Basso, an anthropology professor at the University of New Mexico, is also an Arizona rancher, and therefore he can consider from a variety of perspectives the Western Apache and the way they link language and landscape. As Basso tells it, "wisdom sits in places" because the Western Apache tell "historical tales" that not only impart les...more
Wisdom Sits in Places is the name of a remarkable little book of linguistic ethnography about "landscape and language among the Western Apache." Written by rancher and professor Keith H. Basso, who had spent decades working with this group of Apache before composing this opus, the book is easy to overlook: file under boring academic anthropology. For anyone interested in gaining a greater appreciation for the diverse ways we humans think and act, both in and about this world, doing so is a certa...more
Aug 15, 2010 Brent rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Brent by: Professor Buonforte
Shelves: cultural-study
I read this book in my Anthropology 101 class at BYU, one of my favorite classes.

Places have power. Feelings and thoughts can stay in places long after those who experienced them have moved on. Wherever I am, I love pondering about all the other people who have been there and what they felt and what they went through.

There's a residential neighborhood in Provo in the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains where all the streets are named after indigenous American tribes. I laugh driving through it b...more
Modern Anthropologist Keith Basso's work focuses on the often overlooked and oversimplified relation of people and place. The Western Apache of Cibecue present a poignant example of the persistence of place in the American Indian narrative. The tribe uses descriptive "place-names", as Basso terms them, to serve multiple functions. For the Apache, and one could argue for people in general, making place is crucial in the construction of a social identity. This book was especially interesting for m...more
This slim book is a very interesting look at how a community of Western Apache people—centered around the village of Cibecue, Arizona—conceive of their relationship with their past, the process of passing on their culture, and how they view the physical world around them. "Wisdom Sits in Places" is more than a catchy title; it is how the Apache themselves think of 'wisdom'. It's something which is gained from a long meditation on the symbolic dimensions of the physical landscape, and on the stor...more
Alyson Hagy
I was introduced to this book by the writer Rebecca Solnit. It's a remarkable volume, carefully assembled by Basso, who is clearly a brilliantly thoughtful ethnographer. Some of the conclusions Basso draws about landscape, community, place names and identity may seem self-evident to contemporary readers who harbor (increasingly)the desire to lead lives "connected" by something more than bytes and bites. But Basso is a social scientist...and a gifted listener. His Apache sources present a complex...more
A profoundly valuable book which demonstrates a way of living with the land, of developing memory of place, and of creating an ethical landscape for a culture to thrive in — all this specific to the Western Apache. Beautifully and carefully elucidated by a sensitive, respectful anthropologist - the best in the field.
Josephine Ensign
This book is really a collection of four linked journal articles/essays, so I found some of the content annoyingly repetitious. The fourth essay 'Wisdom sits in places' is by far the strongest and best-written part of the book.
This is one of the greatest non-fiction books I've read. Basso's book is a wonderful exploration of the language of the Western Apache. He doesn't delve into the culture so much as the language, of which the historical narrative takes precedence in this book. If you have any interest in other cultures and languages, want to learn just how much one's language shapes the way one thinks, want to learn how the Apache "speak with names", how to "stalk with stories", and how wisdom can sit in places,...more
A good ethnography of the Western Apache to read. Among the Western Apache, landscapes are imbued with meanings and histories. It is significant for men and women in the Western Apache to learn about the place-names in their country because their past lies embedded in the features of the earth which is endowed with multiple forms of significance and thus influences the way they view the world. These stories and meanings associated with the landscapes are wisdom that was passed on from generation...more
I loved the narrative sections. It brought life to what could have been a really dry read. After speaking with a linguist friend, I'm now a tad suspicious of some of Basso's conclusions, but I still took away a lot from this book about language, landscape, and narrative. I'm now interested in seeking out other books that discuss Native American narrative and literary traditions, particularly those that approach the subject from an anthropological perspective.
I was assigned this book for class and was stunned by the intense lessons this book delivered. The language is almost lyrical and in some spots I had to go back and re-read for content because I had become so engrossed with the music of the words. It expresses the differences between how the Apache tell history vs how we tell history. Made me really wish my history teachers had been Apache - maybe I would have learned something when I was younger!
Loved it!
I read this with my Eco Study Group. The style alternates between accademic and re-tellings of conversations and stories. I think it may be my only 5 star non-fiction on GoodReads. I've decided a book has to blow my mind in some way to get 5 stars, and this surely did. I've been thinking a lot about "sense of Place' for the last couple of years, and this added a whole new layer.
This is an excellent ethnography. But more than that, it is an interesting linguistic perspective on the language of narrative, and how it can tie together the human experience of place across generations. This is one of those rare books that I find myself regularly recommending and/or gifting to friends and colleagues and anonymous book sharing shelves, because it's that good.
Maura W.
A fascinating and informative portrait of the relationship between land (place), storytelling, and history among the Western Apache. Recommended for anyone interested in Native American oral histories and/or Apache culture.

Basso does a fairly good job of using respectful language, but he occasionally slips and uses some extremely condescending or paternalistic phrasing.
I read this as part of an "international relations" class analyzing eco-religious critiques of a globalizing world. I was fascinated by the descriptions of how places--landmarks--nature tied together generations living on this land, so that looking at a place is looking back in time, receiving the knowledge of who to be and how to act in that society.
Dec 22, 2007 Brianne rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in ethnologies
This book is simply the best ethnology I have ever read - and I have read a lot of em. Basso describes the notion of place and human wisdom in such a loving and exact way. I originally had to read this for a cultural ecology class in college, but at times, I find myself digging it out again just to read through it. It is beautifully written.
This book is a beautifully written ethnography about the Western Apache and their language and the landscape. I have had to read it for two separate classes and have enjoyed it both times. It caused me to think about me and my sense of place in the world. It is great book for the budding anthropologist.
Read this for a cultural anthropology class and loved it. What I took away from the book was a better understanding of how different cultures view the landscapes of their homes and how they fit into those landscapes. The way a people define or name their landmarks can relate directly to their world view.
This was an interesting book to read, that I read in my college anthropology class. It was neat to learn about the Western Apache and to see similarities and differences among my tribe. The Western Apache greatly respect nature and I loved taking the time to just sit in nature and to ponder.
Aug 02, 2007 Naeem marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Patricia Price -- who wrote Dry Places -- says that 1) this is one of the best books she has read, and 2) that I MUST read it.

I haven't done so, yet. But if you get to it, tell me how it is. I don't want to pass up the advice of someone for whom I have so much respect and admiration.
Rachel Zibrat
Basso discusses the concept of place to the Western Apache, and how their elegant place-naming is an economical and incredibly forceful way of expressing sympathy, passing social judgment obliquely, and face-saving, among other uses. A delicately and beautifully written ethnography.
Megan Mathes
This was one of my favorite books from my grad school courses this summer. Basso writes beautifully and candidly about his missteps and accomplishments in learning about the roles of silence and place-names in Apache culture. This book did a great deal to shape my thinking about space.
A poet-anthropologist comes to his senses - of people, place, time and their interwoven meanings - among elders of Cibeque, New Mexico, and fortunate readers may follow along. Perhaps the sparest, most elegant prose to grace a scholarly work.
Alicia Low
I was a linguistics major in college, so I was absolutely fascinated by this book and how language and cognition can function so differently. Always an eye-opening experience to gain insight into the workings of another social/linguistic group.
Basso tells us about the Western Apache that use physical locations as the basis for moral stories and lessons and argues about the importance of recording those places original names in order to better understand their culture.
Great collection and analysis of Apache lore. William deBuys sums it up best, "Through [Basso's] clear eyes we glimpse the spirit of a remarkable people and their land, and when we look away, we see our own world afresh."
Oct 13, 2009 Michelle rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Michelle by: Linguistic Anthropology 105
This was incredibly interesting, actually. Parts I had trouble reading, but the all of the stories and the Apache concept of wisdom really fascinated me.

Recommended, if you're into enthnographies, haha.
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“Knowledge of places is closely linked to knowledge of the self, to grasping one's position in the larger scheme of things, including one's own community, and to securing a confident sense of who one is a person.” 2 likes
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