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HOTHEADS AND HOLY MEN : THE ZUNI MAN-WOMAN, By Will Roscoe (University of New Mexico Press: $24.95; 328 pp.)

May 26, 1991|Evan S. Connell | Connell won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in 1985 for "Son of the Morning Star . "

We'wha died in 1896. Mrs. Stevenson visited him during the final hours. She found him crouched on a ledge beside the fireplace, suffering from heart disease. When asked why he did not lie down, We'wha said that he could not breathe. She sent to her camp for a comfortable chair and he seemed grateful. In a weak voice he asked her to tell President Cleveland and his other friends in Washington goodby. A foster brother had prepared the customary te'likinawe (prayer sticks).

Mrs. Stevenson might have believed to the very end that We'wha was female, because this is how she writes of him: "The brother offered to hold the plumes and say the prayers, but We'wha feebly extended her hand for them, and clasping the prayer plumes between her hands, made a great effort to speak. She said but a few words and then sank back in her chair. Again the brother offered to hold the plumes and pray, but once more she refused. Her face was radiant in the belief that she was going to her gods. She leaned forward with the plumes tightly clasped. . . ."

"The Zuni Man-Woman" sketches We'wha's life as an exemplar of the berdache tradition against a backdrop of American curiosity about Indians. Anthropologists began arriving in the late 19th Century, notably Mrs. Stevenson and Frank Hamilton Cushing, followed by innumerable others. Indeed, says Roscoe, there is an old joke that a pueblo household consists of father, mother, children and the anthropologist.

Along with scientists came teachers and soldiers and missionaries determined to change the Zuni, which they did. The transvestite berdache is now a memory, or if he yet exists his presence is pretty well concealed.

Roscoe's scholarship is impressive; it seems unlikely that anybody will dispute his conclusions or the merit of his research. "The Zuni Man-Woman" is a readable and thorough exploration of an oblique approach to life.

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