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Vicarious Vitality

Published: December 5, 2010, Author: JayTaber

A while back, I wrote about Zuni Pueblo protector societies that
maintain barriers against unhealthy influences on their people. More
recently I came across another metaphor in the Apache Mountain Spirit People
— protectors, teachers, role models — who, like the mountains, serve,
look over, inform, and provide inspiration to those below.

Recently,
I was thinking about the threats we face as a multicultural society in
battling political violence, racism, and social exclusion, and how our
collective understanding and institutional memory expressed and explored
in gatherings and discussions propels social transformation. Which
reminded me of the Zuni Pueblo protector societies that meet regularly
to discuss threats to their social harmony and well-being and develop
means of guarding against poisonous ideas, be they economic, emotional,
intellectual, medicinal, physical, political, or spiritual.

And I
thought about the Zuni means of preservation of memory of these tools
of survival recorded in their architecture, food, pottery, and regalia,
and how through five centuries they’ve managed to adapt and endure
without sacrificing their core values. Which is instructive in the need
to develop our storytelling through art, ceremony, dance, oratory, and
ritual, if we, too, hope our values will someday triumph.

One story about such values is Zuni and the American Imagination by Eliza McFeely, from which I quote:

At
the heart of evolutionary anthropology lay the assumption that the
human mind was guided by universal, not culturally specific,
impulses…This assumption had two important methodological
implications. First, it allowed ethnologists to reason by analogy, and
to do so with the same certainty with which they reasoned deductively
from observation.

Because they believed that all societies
evolved through similar stages, developing similar or at least
comparable technologies and social institutions along the way, they were
perfectly comfortable studying ancient Native American cultures by
proxy, deducing their histories from the present lives of people who
occupied the same rung on the evolutionary ladder.

The conviction
that ancient and contemporary aboriginal peoples might be considered
virtually identical allowed the scientists to call their work an
empirical science despite the absence of the actual subject matter they
claimed to be analyzing.

Read David Farber’s review to learn more about McFeely’s book.

Chief George Manuel Memorial Indigenous Library

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