November 29, 2011
Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language Among the Western Apache
Keith H. Basso’s Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language Among the Western Apache delivers a strong message regarding human connections between place, identity, and origins in relation to the idea of place-names. Every place evokes an association to a story and/or a person/ancestor bearing a moral message that allows the Western Apache to shape their beliefs, behaviors, identities, etc. It is through this connection to the land that the Apache begin to define their understanding of their lives.
Along with the connection to nature comes a strong connection to their ancestors. Many of the narratives that come from these places is in reference to wisdom and tradition deeply rooted in the past. It is through an interpretation of the Apache ancestral past that these place-names are able to provide ideas of wisdom and moral behavior. These ideas are used as modes of criticism, warnings for transgressions, and can become an exercise in self-reflection.
The Western Apache people have a lot of things to learn and consequently remember, in terms of metaphor and place-names and it would seem that that is enough. And then the idea of having a smooth, steady mind is introduced by Dudley and suddenly; there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge comes with a greater concern for being able to recall why something is named what it is while wisdom is taking that knowledge and being able to apply it in their daily lives. Wisdom is not something that is easily attained, but for those that are able to, they are highly respected in the community.
Basso does a good job in providing an ethnography that is both etic and emic. However, it comes across at times as though Basso believes place-names to be a universal idea: As roundly ubiquitous as it is seemingly unremarkable, place-making is a universal tool of the historical imagination. And in some...
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