Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language Among the Western Apache (Paperback)

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Cultural Anthropologist Keith Basso spent many years trying to understand why certain places, and very specific landscape features, were sacred to the Western Apache: when the features are actively visited, they remind the tribal members of collective memories and stories that teach them the correct way to live. Without these landmarks, the Western Apache will lose their roots, their purpose, and their path. This study might also help readers understand the conflict surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline and the protests at Standing Rock.

-Recommended by Ella

— From December 2016 Staff Picks


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.

Product Details
ISBN: 9780826317247
ISBN-10: 0826317243
Publisher: University of New Mexico Press
Publication Date: August 1st, 1996
Pages: 171
Language: English