THE EARLY INDIANS: Their Natural and Imaginary Worlds by Charles Paul May

THE EARLY INDIANS: Their Natural and Imaginary Worlds

Email this review


To engender ""a feeling for the relationships of early man with his natural surroundings,"" Mr. May purveys without meaningfully processing variegated data bearing on 13 Indian cultures. The bias implicit in the subtitle's term ""Imaginary"" shows through whenever that data takes form as something other than an unproductive list (the Catawba ""wove yarns about eagles, hawks, buzzards, red-winged blackbirds, bluejays, mockingbirds, cowbirds, doves, and flickers""); for instance -- ""How were white men fooled into believing (the 'glass' snake) existed? Some white explorers and settlers of North America had as many superstitions as the Indians."" Indeed the whole Indian cosmology might be no more than the sum of isolated superstitions here: in the context of a Keresan story a focal feature is relegated to parentheses -- ""Snake gave him four rabbits (the number four held magic in the minds of many tribes)"" -- and reduced to the insignificance of a curiosity; on the Fox creation myth, ""almost every Indian tribe has a flood legend,"" but so, importantly, does almost every non-Indian religion. The Delaware rites of passage are not respected as such but objectified with casual passivity; the formation of the Iroquois League is treated less as an event in history than as another occasion for attitudinizing -- ""Once they had agreed to work together, they could devote their energies to wiping out some neighbors. . . ."" White intrusion gets just passing mention, the thesis of Welsh descent among the Mandan is misrepresented, next to nothing informs the chapter on the Ohio River people and the disclaimer is unacceptable -- ""We will probably never know much about the Mound Builders known as the Hopewell. . . ."" As per a reference in the Foreword to the bibliography (which could itself be improved): ""For those who wish to know more about Indian life and natural history, there are always those other books to be read.

Pub Date: June 7th, 1971
Publisher: Nelson