Paul Haspel's Reviews > Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language Among the Western Apache

Wisdom Sits in Places by Keith H. Basso
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Apr 02, 12

bookshelves: native-americans
Read from March 18 to April 02, 2012

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 lessons about appropriate behavior but also are directly linked with specific places within the landscape, so that the full meaning of a story depends on a listener's knowledge of the particular bit of landscape against which it takes place. Ethnographers and other academics may constitute the most immediate audience for this brief and well-written text; as a window into Native American culture, it may not have the kind of broad applicability for general readers that a book like N. Scott Momaday's The Way to Rainy Mountain possesses. But Basso recounts well the process by which he gathered this testimony from his Western Apache informants, and he retells the Apache stories in a way that I can't help but feel captures at least some of the poetry of the tales as told in the original Apache. Well-illustrated with maps, tables, and photographs that capture the austere beauty of the Western Apache lands, Basso's Wisdom Sits in Places well worth the time of any reader with an interest in Native American culture, or in ethnographic research generally.
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