Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language Among the Western Apache
Keith H. Basso
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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 awareness of what place can mean to people.
Most of us use the term sense of place often and rather carelessly when we think of nature or home or literature. Our senses of place, however, come not only from our individual experiences but also from our cultures. Wisdom Sits in Places, the first sustained study of places and place-names by an anthropologist, explores place, places, and what they mean to a particular group of people, the Western Apache in Arizona. For more than thirty years, Keith Basso has been doing fieldwork among the Western Apache, and now he shares with us what he has learned of Apache place-names—where they come from and what they mean to Apaches.
"This is indeed a brilliant exposition of landscape and language in the world of the Western Apache. But it is more than that. Keith Basso gives us to understand something about the sacred and indivisible nature of words and place. And this is a universal equation, a balance in the universe. Place may be the first of all concepts; it may be the oldest of all words."—N. Scott Momaday
"In Wisdom Sits in Places Keith Basso lifts a veil on the most elemental poetry of human experience, which is the naming of the world. In so doing he invests his scholarship with that rarest of scholarly qualities: a sense of spiritual exploration. Through his clear eyes we glimpse the spirit of a remarkable people and their land, and when we look away, we see our own world afresh."—William deBuys
"A very exciting book—authoritative, fully informed, extremely thoughtful, and also engagingly written and a joy to read. Guiding us vividly among the landscapes and related story-tellings of the Western Apache, Basso explores in a highly readable way the role of language in the complex but compelling theme of a people's attachment to place. An important book by an eminent scholar."—Alvin M. Josephy, Jr.
variety of communicative functions served by acts of naming in different social contexts. It may be noted in this regard that placenames, or toponyms, comprise a distinct semantic domain in the lexicons of all known languages, and that the formal properties of placename systems, together with their spatial correlates and etymological histories, have long been objects of anthropological inquiry. But the common activity of placenaming—the actual use of toponyms in concrete instances of
with places, for it is solely by virtue of these relationships that space acquires meaning. (Thus, as Heidegger [1977:332] himself put it, "spaces receive their essential being from particular localities and not from 'space' itself.") As numerous as they are both singular and specific, and fully realizable across great distances, relationships
"Then that girl went up there. She started to gather firewood. It was very hot and she got tired fast. 'I'm getting tired,' she thought. 'I've already got enough firewood. I'll go back home.' "Then she picked up as much firewood as she could carry. She started walking down to her camp. She got careless. She stepped on a thin flat rock. It looked strong but she forgot
bull is missing. His tracks disappear at the head of a narrow canyon. Dudley is unconcerned. The bull is strong and smart. He will rejoin the herd when it suits him. One day he will reappear. That is his way. We have been working in land without water and the heat of the day is hard upon us. Horses and men are edgy with thirst, so instead of returning directly to the village
What do people make of places? The question is as old as people and places themselves, as old as human attachments to portions of the earth. As old, perhaps, as the idea of home, of "our territory" as opposed to "their territory," of entire regions and local landscapes where groups of men and women have invested themselves (their thoughts, their values, their collective sensibilities) and to which they feel they belong. The question is as old as a strong sense of place—and the answer, if there