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I BECOME PART OF IT Sacred Dimensions of Native American Life edited by D. M. Dooling and Paul Jordan-Smith (Parabola Books: $14.95; 291 pp.)

Nonfiction in Brief

August 13, 1989|SONJA BOLLE

An underlying concern with the absence of spiritual values in contemporary American society informs this book, a collection of essays on Native American life. In our world, where "the life of the intellect and the life of the spirit grow apart, terrible things become possible," writes Joseph Bruchac in his introduction. The book title, a phrase from a traditional Navajo chant, serves as shorthand for what the authors think our society must learn from the Indians: to see ourselves as a part of nature, not as her master. By way of stressing the practical value of accepting Indian teachings about "becoming part of it," Bruchac reports that the Iroquois prophet Handsome Lake spoke of a time when the maple, the "leader tree of the woodlands," would begin to die from the top down; this would be a sign that the end of the world was approaching. Bruchac notes that maples all over New England are in fact dying from the top down, as a result of the greenhouse effect.

The essays, written by both Native Americans and scholars, first appeared in Parabola, the journal of the Society for the Study of Myth and Tradition. They are interspersed with myths and stories from various tribes. In an essay called "It's Where You Put Your Eyes," Sam Gill argues that the only sensible approach to Native American art is from the point of view of a participant: A mask must be seen from behind the eyeholes, a sand painting from a sitting position at the center. A Lakota writer, Arthur Amiotte, contributes several recollections of Indian ceremonies, including his own experience of the vision quest. Native American artists have also contributed their views in a series of black-and-white illustrations.

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