Kirkus Star


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People came into the world from underground,"" Betty Baker begins, and if you have not fastened on the subtitle--Native Americans of the Desert Southwest and History As They Saw/t--you may be startled: a novelist, like Baker, knows the value of arresting attention. She will then tell what scientists say, that people walked from Asia, and ""Coming from between the glaciers onto the plains must have been like stepping from underground into a world of sun and sky."" This is sensitive, creative history-writing, and nonetheless firmly grounded and precise. ""People changed things to fit the new land"": legends, clothing, houses. And so we move, with the Cocliise people from pit houses to attached houses--in pueblos--to multi-story dwellings. The pueblo people, settlers, are beset by strangers, Navaho hunters and raiders: ""Because they moved with the game and the season, the pueblo ceremony of sand painting suited the Navaho best."" In time we meet the Pima and Papago, who farm and think differently--not revering the earth, they dig canals. ""The Enemy"" comes: Esteban and his party. Spanish settlement and subjugation follow, the pueblos revolt, the Spaniards return and rule less oppressively. A good priest builds churches as ""small, brush-roofed shelters, the kind Pimas and Papagos used for cooking""; and they are won over. In the same calm, assured fashion, Baker carries the story to the present: the young people advocate tribal unity to fight the government; says an old Navaho: ""There won't be such a thing as Navaho or Hopi. They want something new called Indian."" You might never think about the subject quite the same way again.

Pub Date: Oct. 31st, 1977
Publisher: Macmillan