Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Schoolwork: Essay on Apache Place-Names and "Speaking The Past Into Being"

Rockin' the Sneaker Pimps tonight, when I'm not watching Soul Eater. I started watching that show because of its incredible ratings on Netflix, second only to FMA(:B), and how it keeps showing up on "Recommended For Me" lists. Now I know why - it's the EXACT same voice cast as FMA:B.  Seriously. Every single character was main in both. Soul Eater isn't nearly as cool, and it's got a pretty great amount of fanservice, but it's still pretty great. A good tideover before I go back to Deathnote and find Korra. Wait, I'm supposed to talk about the music here?

Well, I said I'd post the other essay today, didn't I? Far later than I expected to - I had friends over today, so I was distracted. We watched Chip & Ironicus's Anime Theater stuff, it was a day of laughter.
This essay is done not for my History of Early Modern Europe course, but instead for my Native American Religious Traditions course, which I don't think I've talked about on the blog. It's a pretty dang interesting class. We learned about the Yurok, then the Lakota, and this essay was the culmination of studying the Apache and their place-name concept. We studied this through the book Wisdom Sits in Places, by Keith H. Basso. We didn't do formal citations for anything because everything came out of the same book, which has page number citations along the way. Just making it clear where the stuff comes from since I don't have a formal citation set.

Here's the prompt:
What does Basso mean when he says that place-names "speak the past into being," (32)?
So here it is, double-spaced as I typed it. Enjoy - maybe you learn something, maybe you have something to add, maybe you tell me how I'm an idiot or bad at writing (hopefully with how to not be those things), I'd love to hear from you regardless.
Note: I'm providing this of my own volition for the general information of others. This is NOT to be used by others without citing me (if you're citing me, stop what you're doing and go buy the book and cite the appropriate areas of that).

            What is the primary value of history? Our understanding of the past has taken many paths through the course of human existence. One particular path, an older, now generally abandoned path, was that history is written to glorify specific parties, and often this stance on history involved shameless fabrication. Another path is the current path for the majority of Western civilization, and that is the path that history is the objective accounting of previous events and the order in which they occurred. This is the path that gave rise to the obsession with dates and time-lines and causality that runs rampant in modern history books. However, while widely accepted, there are yet other paths, such as the path taken by the native Western Apache. Their form of history doesn't involve dates or meticulous records, but is instead about stories and places. And this needn't be any less worthy than the history keeping of Western civilization – both use their understandings of past events to teach and inform the actions and morals of the contemporary civilization. For the Apache, it matters less when it happened, and more where it happened. The traditions of how to use history also differ, and that is where Keith H. Basso's research, compiled in his book Wisdom Sits In Places, becomes helpful to us. In the book, Basso makes it clear that to “speak the past into being” (32) is to embody the past in places, conjure images of these moments, and to make them relevant to everyday interaction.
            The most important idea to understand about the Apache concept of the past is that it is, without exception, tied to places. Places each have place-names, or specific descriptive imagery that are used to refer to that location. These place-names are vitally important, and the name a place is given will be passed down through history in order to signify that place. It isn't simply a reference to a location however, and misspeaking these names (or, at the very least, not caring to get the name correct) is quite a transgression. This is because to the Apache, you aren't simply reciting a name, but are “repeating the speech of our ancestors,” “actually quoting the speech of their early ancestors.” (10) The Apache have a tremendous amount of respect for their ancestors, and to show disrespect for the place-names granted by them is to show disrespect to the ancestors themselves. Common speech often uses an abbreviated form of these names, but when speaking formally, such as when speaking with names, the full name is used completely and properly. (90) These place-names are descriptive of the location, with some examples being “Circular Clearing With Slender Cottonwood Trees” (23) or “Big Willow Stands Alone” (135), being indicators not only to mark a place as unique but also to place one in the same place as their ancestors, marking out what was important about a given scene. Sometimes, these place-names no longer even represent what the location looks like (such as Snakes' Water, which now entirely lacks for water), giving the modern Apache a sense of what has changed over the years, or showing “what is different, and what is still the same,” (16) a function similar to Western notions of history. Places become not only the location where events happened or people lived. No, the place actually becomes representative of the event itself. Often, merely mentioning a place-name is enough to remind a person of the event itself, without further guidance for when this event occurred or who it is about. This is especially true of speaking with names, a tradition that would be impossible without this correlation between place and past. (82-83)
            Now, understanding that places and the past are inseparably intertwined in Apache culture, the most direct means of speaking the past into being is to narrate and construct what Basso refers to as a “place-world.” (11) Apache historians such as Charles Henry are experts at using narration and description to extrapolate beyond simply a place-name or a small story attached to it and paint a world and situation in which the location, emotions, and intentions of the naming ancestors become clear. Three of the early stories in the book especially demonstrate these things. At Water Lies With Mud In An Open Container, Charles paints his first scene, using what he sees, hears, and can gather from the area about the past (“historical materials, sometimes called 'footprints' or 'tracks' that have survived into the present” (31)) to evoke the feeling that Basso expresses to Morley, “'It's like we were there, watching them when they came!'” (13). In this simplest of ways, the place (and thus the past as well) was made real, understood and seen by those present. The place, and the past, was spoken into being. Another story, Snakes' Water, shows us through the narration the intentions and motives of the ancestors, the respect and fear they felt toward the pool's snake guardians, the importance of Water to them, and the way they considered locations to have guardians to interact with. All this could be interpreted through Charles's interpretation and narration of the historical materials present, despite there being no snakes, guardians, or water present any longer. (14-15) However, conjuration of imagery in order to recall places is only one function of speaking the past. Place-names are established for several reasons, and being very explicitly descriptive is the usual purpose when deciding the name, but another common way to name a place is to commemorate an event that occurred there. Places named commemoratively are done so to  mark “some sad or tragic event from which valuable lessons can be readily drawn and taken fast to heart.” (28) The early story Charles uses to display this is the last full story Basso relays from Charles, and is about a place called Shades of Shit. While only a small story exists about Shades of Shit, Charles uses his expertise to expand and create a full narrative of the event, vivid especially in the emotions of the participating ancestors – the ignorant family, the perceived greed, the fury of the relatives. (25-27) This story, and commemorative stories in general, are not only indicators of what happened, but are meant as lessons. By speaking this particular place into being, the past becomes not only an instance in history to be remembered, but a haunting memory that disquiets and unsettles all those who know the story whenever they pass by Shades of Shit. Seeing the place, or even just hearing its name, is enough to make the Apache think about what happened there and the lesson they should keep in mind. (28)
            That leads into another point: why do it? It is not as if all Apache go around drawing up place-worlds and describing everywhere – sure, the historians help by doing so when necessary, but if that was all then they'd either be a cultural footnote or nothing would ever get done, and neither of those are true. Place-names play a very active role in society, and they do so by communities using them to make points and communicate. The primary mechanisms for these are “stalking with stories” (37) and “speaking with names.” (71) Stalking with stories has several parts, all of which are relevant to the idea of speaking the past into being. One is considered to be stalked by a story when it plays at their mind, when the story (and the place attached to the story, as all stories are attached to places) works its way into their mind and becomes an eternal reminder of a past mistake. If you had exhibited greed to your relatives, hoarding food or money or some other resource when they had little, perhaps you pass by Shades of Shit and remember the story. It works on you, and you're impacted by it. Perhaps the story makes you feel afraid of their retribution, or guilty for your behavior, but regardless, it sticks with you. Regardless of what you do, that story haunts you – you become the greedy people of the story, and you won't ever forget what you did, because Shades of Shit is always right there, reminding you of the story and what you did. This is an example of being stalked by a story and a place brought on by yourself. But more often than being self-inflicted, being stalked by the land is a social mechanism. Shades of Shit is both a place-name, commemorative of the event, but also a “historical tale,” a story intended “to criticize social delinquents,... thereby impressing these individuals with the undesirability of improper behavior and alerting them to the punitive consequences of further misconduct.” (50) When you have behaved poorly, in disagreement with social conventions, someone might begin telling a story. Who it is doesn't matter – anyone can “shoot” you with a story. (58) They do not name you, and they do not elaborate on the story's connection to you, but the story is an allegorical tale that places your actions in line with those of the wrong-doer in the story.  Now you've been called out on your misbehavior – you're ashamed, and already thinking about your misdeeds. Perhaps this is even the first you know that what you did was wrong, but there's no mistake now. That story's in your head now. Maybe you fix your issues, but that story isn't ever going to leave you alone – it's tied a place, just like every story. Now, whenever you see that place, whenever you hear its place-name, the memory of what you did will come back to you. In this way, it becomes a guideline on your morals. You'll never be able to forget that you did that wrong, and you won't do that wrong again. (58-59) In this way, the land, and the past tied to it, comes alive, brought into being and relevance through the spoken customs of the Apache.
            The other major way that the past and the places it is tied to can be dragged forth into life and modern relevance, and that is through “speaking with names.” (71) The idea is best illustrated by a conversation Basso witnessed in which the participants spoke not with standard speech but with ritual phrases surrounding place names (in the format of “It happened at [Place-Name], at this very place!”). (79) As it is later explained to Basso, the phrases are part of a tradition known as speaking with names, in which place-names (and the histories associated with them) that everyone involved would know are used as a way to condense down a much larger amount of speech. In this conversation, when Lola invokes Line Of White Rocks Extends Up And Out, all those present (save for Basso himself, who is informed of the meaning later) understood the image that Lola was conjuring. Through speaking with names, Lola and Emily “gave that woman pictures to work on in her mind...So her mind went to those places, standing in front of them as our ancestors did long ago. That way she could see what happened there long ago. She could hear stories in her mind, perhaps hear our ancestors speaking. She coul recall the knowledge of our ancestors.” (83) The past was brought into being, into relevance, through the place-names being spoken as short-hand. The speaking made the places real, and by making the places real, Lola and Emily were able to help Louise through unhappiness. While historical tales and stalking with stories are exclusively used to point out social misdoing, speaking with names is a way to help raise spirits. In the final chapter, Charles Cromwell, Dudley, and Sam use a similar but less ritualized form of speaking with names (lacking the same ritual phrases but with the same general purpose) to raise the spirits of a shamed Talbert. (113) They used the names to remind Talbert of the “merits of wisdom” (115) but at the same time, having placed their light-hearted ribbing firmly in the past tense, were recognizing that he was already doing better. (116-117) There are few (and infrequent) circumstances where the highly ritualized form of speaking with names is applicable (such as when “speaking of absent parties to persons closely connected to them” who must be approached “with delicacy and tact.”) (91), but when less ritualized, as in the case concerning Talbert, it seems to be more common to use place-names for their implications in general speech.
            The Apache speak the past into being every day, through narration, storytelling, stalking, being stalked, speaking with names, and in general keeping a collective conscious memory of where things happened. By speaking about places, the past comes alive. Apache speak in place-names to evoke images, to remind of stories and historical tales, to reinforce moral values, to converse in delicate situations, to offer sentiment or advice, and to heal wounded spirits, (100) and none of these things would be possible if those same place-names didn't embody the the past itself. By placing history into locations and binding the two together, the past is able to be spoken and made relevant to the everyday life of the Apache.

I gotta say, I'm proud of this one. I really learned a lot from this book, and I really enjoyed the ideas. I hope you learn something cool or interesting or new!
End Recording,

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