HANTA YO by Ruth Beebe Hill


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While probably not precisely what the American Indian has been waiting for, Roots-wise, this mammoth simulation of a Plains Indian culture (from 1793 to 1835) represents an astonishing breadth of inventive scholarship plus a fierce partisanship for what Hill believes was the nobility and purity of a people who had no words for ""sin,"" ""guilt,"" or ""forgive,"" and ""attained the highest working concept of individualism ever practiced."" The book was many years in the making; Hill translated her manuscript into the Dakotah/Lakotah language and back to English, in order to catch the flavor of an alien idiom and a mode of thought. For the most part she succeeds: the dialogue is solemn and rhythmic, packed with Dakotah words for animals, places, and everyday phrases. This is the story of the Mahto band--their seasonal migrations; warriors galloping home with scalps, horses, and captive women; ceremonies of grief and celebration; scalp-dances with trilling women and kill-tales; men and their women in sexual initiations; and the lonely quests of the seer. The central focus is on two young men--Ahbleza, son and grandson of warriors, and his vision-brother Tonweya--as they prepare for separate destinies. Tonweya will be the tribe's Scout; Ahbleza will become a Shirtman (leader) and spirit-seeker who rides proudly to his death after much grieving for his murdered wife and for the corruption of his people by the white man. An impressive recreation, then, but also pompous and stiff and humorless. The characters loom in rocky simplicity, their words emerging like graven images. And the copious Indian nomenclature will put off many, as will the faint aroma of a socio-political bias somewhere between Nietzsche and Ayn Rand. Still, while the average reader may find this excruciating, those so inclined will certainly be rewarded by Hill's hard-won, often magnetic sense of exotic authenticity.

Pub Date: Feb. 9th, 1978
Publisher: Doubleday