Sunday, November 16, 2008

Nahuatl Theater Volume 3: Spanish Golden Age Drama in Mexican Translation. Edited by Barry D. Sell, Louise M. Burkhart, and Elizabeth R. Wright. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, April 2008. Cloth: ISBN 978-0806138787, $49.95. 420 pages.
Review by Bradley Montgomery-Anderson, Northeastern State University, Oklahoma
from SJC post 2 (10/13/08)

Starting in 2004, Nahuatl-language dramas have begun appearing in a projected four-volume Nahuatl theater series, of which Spanish Golden Age Drama in Mexican Translation is the third. In the current volume the editors present three dramatic pieces and a short farce, or “Intermezzo.” When the Spaniards first conquered Mexico in the sixteenth century, they needed a language to communicate with a large indigenous population. The imperial language of the Aztecs, Nahuatl, already enjoyed great prestige as a language of empire and trade, and pockets of Nahuatl speakers were found throughout Mesoamerica and as far south as Honduras. While the pre-contact Aztecs had a pictographic system rather than a true writing system, they were in contact with the Maya to the south who did possess writing. The Spanish colonizers, recognizing the importance of the language, created a Latin-based writing system for Nahuatl and used it as a lingua franca. The desire to evangelize created a demand for Nahuatl-speaking priests, and the new alphabet adapted for Nahuatl was easily received by a culture with a high regard for the written word. The result is a large body of Nahuatl-language texts, the largest collection of colonial texts in an indigenous American language.Don Bartolomé de Alva, a fluent Nahuatl-speaker of mixed royal Aztec and Castilian ancestry, adapted and translated these plays from the original Spanish. Three introductory essays, as well as a preface with biographical information on Alva, alert the reader to the importance of these texts. The Nahuatl elements in these indigenized dramas are aptly explained in Louise Burkhart’s introductory essay “Nahuatl Baroque: How Alva Mexicanized the Spanish Dramas.” In another essay Barry D. Sell describes the relationship of the translator with Father Horacio Carochi, the author of the most important colonial-era Nahuatl grammar. “A Dramatic Diaspora,” by Elizabeth R. Wright, explains some of the sociolinguistic factors at play in the creation of the dramas and shows how Alva deftly combines elements of Spanish Baroque with native Nahuatl elements. One thing that makes these works especially fascinating is the process of Mexicanization they underwent as Alva adapted them to local sensibilities. These transformations are made apparent by the editors’ decision to present them in four side-by-side columns: the first is the original Spanish play, and the second an English translation. The third column, on the facing page, has the Nahuatl version, and the fourth has the English translation of this text. This layout allows the reader to compare the Nahuatl adaptations with the originals.
In “The Great Theater of the World,” a Eucharistic play that is the first drama presented, Alva often has the piece’s allegorical characters use Nahuatl-appropriate metaphors. In an especially striking example, the original Spanish “Praise the Lord of Earth and Heaven, the Sun, the Moon, and the stars; let the beautiful flowers, earth’s hallmark, praise him” (90)” becomes, “Let our hearts and words sprout jades, hatch motmots; intertwined with sacred popcorn flowers they extol the master of heaven and earth” (91). In "The Animal Prophet and the Fortunate Patricide," the character Irene is transformed into Malintzin; in the original the protagonist’s servant declares, “I’m Vulcan. My father was a Roman who had the custom of naming us children after gods, and so he called me Vulcan, after a well-known god” (170). In Alva’s adaption this becomes, “I’m Tizoc. My father is Mexicatl. They gave us royal Mexica names that are feared everywhere in the world” (171). In the indigenized form of the drama, several layers of cultural interpretation overlay the Spanish version of the story of St. Julian the Hospitaler. This old European legend tells of a nobleman who leads a holy life after unknowingly killing his parents in a jealous rage, an event foretold by a dying deer he had shot while hunting. The third drama, “The Mother of the Best,” is based on apocryphal gospels and portrays a couple, Joachim and Anne, who discover that their previously childless union is to bear fruit in the person of Mary, the future mother of Jesus. Alva’s version of this play ends with a beautiful example of Nahuatl aesthetics when a Mexicanized Archangel Gabriel announces the destiny of the infant Mary: “And moreover, the heavenly Atotoztli, the turquoise bellbird, will give birth in her girlhood to the great and royal child” (403).
Spanish Golden Age Drama in Mexican Translation has an abundance of information for those interested in colonial Latin American culture, religious history, cultural contact, and linguistics. Nahuatl language scholars will find much useful data in these texts for studying the impact of Spanish on the language. The editors have chosen to preserve Alva’s original linguistic commentaries within the texts, a feature that will help the language scholar to understand the complexities of translating between these two very different languages and cultures. They have done an excellent job, both in the introductory essays as well as in the layout and presentation of the texts. An additional feature that might render the texts more approachable would be a very brief grammatical sketch of the language; such an addition would give a greater appreciation of the Nahuatl language itself and enhance the side-by side comparisons. There is some discussion of the Nahuatl writing system, but it would be an improvement to have this information in a more complete format, perhaps with a few examples from the Nahuatl texts to exemplify the pronunciation.Burkhart and Sell state in the first volume of the series that this project aims “to establish the place of these dramas in the literary canon of the Americas” (xix). This third volume offers an engaging look at the beginnings of a new hybrid culture, a dynamic Nahua-Catholic literature created for a sophisticated and literate indigenous public. These texts represent a great cultural might-have-been; Spanish eventually became the dominant language as Mexico slowly became Hispanicized, and the culture of written Nahuatl eventually died out. Anyone interested in cultural aspects of the Columbian Exchange will find these dramas, and the excellent essays that accompany them, a fascinating read.
Patterns of Exchange: Navajo Weavers and Traders. By Teresa J. Wilkins. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, May 2008. Cloth: ISBN 978-0806137575, $34.95. 231 pages.
Review by Robin O’Brian, Elmira College
from SJC post 2 (10/13/08)

In Patterns of Exchange, Teresa J. Wilkins documents the long and vexed interrelationship between Navajo or Diné weavers and the non-Native traders with whom they have long done business. The work explores in detail the roles that traders played in shaping and developing the commercial Navajo rug trade and thus adds to ongoing theorizing about the nature of “authenticity” and craft production.Wilkins begins with a brief history of Navajo weaving. Accounts differ, but Navajo likely acquired weaving knowledge from their Hopi and other Pueblo neighbors. Weaving has become sufficiently central to Navajo identity that weavers say that the spider gave Changing Woman the ability to weave as a gift and that Navajos have woven ever since.While there had long been a small trade in Native American crafts items, the role of non-Navajo trading posts shaped and expanded the trade in the late nineteenth century. J. L. Hubbell and Clinton Cotton were particularly influential. An 1868 treaty following the Navajo Long Walk by several years mandated rations of food, farm equipment, clothing and weaving implements to Navajos, and many certainly accepted some of these items. The reservation trading posts encouraged the trade of Navajo wool for food and other goods, and by the mid-1870s hundreds of thousands of pounds of Navajo wool was shipped east each year for commercial textile production. The posts also functioned as a form of economic assimilation, “an opportunity to usher Navajo people into a capitalist economy.” By the 1880s Navajos were bartering hides, pelts, wool, and blankets, and the way trade functioned began to change.J. L. Hubbell had acquired a store in Ganado, Arizona, and he took on Clinton Cotton as his partner. Cotton sought to market Navajo products, including piñon nuts and Navajo blankets, even as he and Hubbell continued their active wool trade. Cotton, and later Hubbell, encouraged the use of Navajo blankets in U.S. homes, especially as rugs, and eventually began to suggest designs for weavers to produce. By the mid- to late-1890s Hubbell was using small paintings to provide weavers with examples of designs to copy, and Cotton began a mail-order catalog specializing in Navajo products.The marketing strategies of Cotton, Hubbell, and others intersected with the rise of industrial capitalism and a growing upper-middle-class anxious about the changes in their way of life. Some of this anxiety expressed itself in an anti-modernist sentiment that prized the objects produced by crafters like Navajos. Wilkins points out the irony of seeking the “real” and “authentic” through the consumption of crafts objects, a pattern that only reinforces and intensifies class-based consumer society.Still, demand grew and traders sought to meet it. John Moore, whose first catalog appeared in 1903, described items in terms of their natural origins and so-called “primitive” production. He often described objects as sacred to increase their perceived value, noting that such items were rarely available to outsiders. Moore increased his control over weavers by arranging a specialized production system where some women specialized in spinning and others in weaving. Moore introduced and encouraged adoption of designs drawn from other sources, particularly those used in Oriental rugs. Moore emphasized the “authenticity” and “naturalness” of such items, qualities that collectors of ethnic textiles still seek and value today.Hubbell’s small blanket paintings had a similar role in the rise of the Navajo craft market. The paintings likely served several purposes. As a trader, Hubbell probably used the paintings as examples of possible available blankets. The paintings also provided models of what Hubbell wanted copied. But while early accounts tended to emphasize the role of traders in the development of blanket designs, Wilkins examines the weavers’ own experiences. Unlike traders, Navajos remained deeply embedded in a web of relations and obligations. And while some weavers did produce close copies, many others modified designs and colors, both as an assertion of autonomy and as a means of avoiding the risks that could come with appropriating another weaver’s work.Navajos extend the tension between individual agency and cooperation to their understandings of the creation of the world, when First Man created this world: its animals and plants, its land, the Navajos, their ideas and way of life, exist through the action of his thoughts. In much the same way, weavers create their weaving designs, bringing them to life through their own thoughts and actions. Thinking as both a process and an action can affect what it creates. Weavers may leave a design in an item open—closed designs can close up thinking and action in one’s life, as well.Further, weavers with their looms create persons in the form of blankets or rugs. The original loom given to the First People by Spider Woman was created from the elements of life, and looms are themselves alive. Weavers use their living looms and their own thoughts and actions to create their works, sometimes guided by the loom itself. Said one weaver, “I can’t force it. The loom has to communicate what it wants me to do.” Weavers feel a sense of communication with the rugs they make and “feel” them in the trading post or traveling the world. The complexity of the rug-weaver relationship shapes weavers’ understandings of copying designs.And what of trading relations themselves? Navajos have ideal expectations of what they want from traders, framed in values about helping. Traders can help by buying all rugs offered for sale. They should not overcharge customers. They should extend credit for unfinished rugs, and when they buy a rug they should extend a small “extra,” perhaps some jewelry or sodas, as a token of the trader’s ongoing relationship with the weaver. Because Navajos consider the weaving of the rug to expand beyond its production into its purchase and circulation as a commodity, they regard the trader as a participant in the process.When weavers sell rugs to traders they have a price in mind and will use different methods to convince the trader to meet that price. A weaver may not specify the amount of work she has put into a weaving. A weaver may again invoke relationships, saying perhaps, “My son, I want this rug to cost this much.” Traders who know and respect Navajo kin obligations recognize this and say that it is almost impossible to refuse.Wilkins provides a wealth of such detail in this excellent work. Wilkins outlines the history of trading posts, the development of commercial weaving, the ways that the changing U.S. economy opened new markets for such weavings, and how weavers themselves engage with these changes. Its multi-sited approach makes it invaluable for those interested in Navajo society or more broadly in weaving or textiles as well. Well-written and generally free of jargon, it will be of interest to general readers with these interests as well as specialists.
White People, Indians, and Highlanders: Tribal Peoples and Colonial Encounters in Scotland and America. By Colin G. Calloway. New York: Oxford University Press, July 2008. Cloth: ISBN 978-0-19-534012-9, $35.00. 392 pages.
Review by Andrew K. Frank, Florida State University
from SJC post 2 (10/13/08)

In White People, Indians, and Highlanders, Colin Calloway explores the parallels and contrasts between the experiences of Highland Scots and Native Americans as the cultures encountered and engaged in acts of British colonialism and market capitalism. Much of the volume betrays a single thesis and instead emphasizes the complexities and ironies of their parallel histories. At the same time, though, Calloway effectively demonstrates how the histories of Highlands Scots and Native Americans were both transformed, albeit differently, as “capitalism displaced tribalism” (176).Calloway carefully delineates the cultural distinctions between Scots and Natives while impressively demonstrating how outsiders frequently perceived similarities. These resemblances often reflected cultural and social realities as much as they were intellectual creations of English colonizers. As much as the different cultures understood and controlled land differently and had contrasting clan and kinship structures, they both had warrior traditions, clan-based kinship networks, ties to the soil, oral and storytelling traditions, a belief that leaders should act for the good of their people, and an ethos emphasizing that individuals should share rather than accumulate wealth. At the same time, English society also believed them both to be lazy, barbarous, savage, and in need of civilization. These perceived and real similarities magnified as the two peoples intermingled and intermarried on the American frontier.Most of the volume, however, eschews cultural comparisons and explores how the cultures’ histories shaped and were related to one another—how “on both sides of the Atlantic, tribal peoples scrambled to adjust to new colonial relationships, structures, and economic orders” (11). The result is a messy set of connections that defy easy characterization, and a reminder that Native American history is not as distinct as it is often portrayed. Similarly, Calloway uses the insights of whiteness studies to remind us that Highland Scots once occupied a place outside of the “civilized” English norm.Calloway divides the volume into thematic chapters that impressively tie together but are equally effective as distinct entities. Calloway begins the volume with a chapter on conquest and colonization that epitomizes the interpretive tensions within the volume. As much as the English government brutally sought to pacify Natives and impose “civilization” with the same policies they used in the British Isles, the histories of the two peoples differed markedly. Scottish soldiers frequently imposed the will of the English crown and eventually the United States government. Similar histories, as Calloway repeatedly states, did not necessarily create alliances.The next two chapters build on the themes of conquest and colonization. One explores how Scots and Indians confronted the Industrial Revolution with comparable concerns for balancing innovation and tradition. Scots and Natives became part of the Atlantic economy, with often-disruptive “repercussions on social and political structures” (55). Chapter three demonstrates how ethnocentric English reformers sought to make Englishmen and women out of various tribal peoples. Although the English often held similar stereotypes of Scots and Natives, the so-called civilizing efforts often had quite different results. As Highland Scots increasingly embraced English norms, they often took on the role of introducing and enforcing cultural changes within more resistant Native societies. In short, Calloway shows how Scots and Natives underwent similar structural changes while emphasizing their different manifestations.The next three chapters explore the various ways in which Highland Scots and Native Americans met, merged, and competed on the American frontier. One chapter explores the ways in which Scottish soldiers and Native warriors united as allies and clashed as enemies. Another details the Scottish dominance of the fur trade, emphasizing how Native hunters and Scottish traders had complex and competing purposes and understandings of the trade. Once again, a joint experience did not result in a truly shared history. Chapter six builds on this chapter by examining the intercultural families that formed and the cultural mixing that occurred within Indian villages.The final three chapters detail the great divergence that occurred between Highland Scots and Natives. Chapter seven, perhaps the volume’s most insightful, details the parallels of the Scottish clearances and the various removals in Native society. For similar reasons and in similar contexts, both peoples saw themselves displaced in the name of progress and capitalism. The shared histories did not necessarily create sympathy, as many Highlanders whose families suffered from the clearances helped expel Natives (many of whom had Scottish relatives) from their homelands. After a chapter that explores the ways in which Scottish settlers tried to use Native lands to insure their own economic and cultural survival, Calloway demonstrates how the act of mythmaking allowed Natives and Scots came to occupy different places in the British Empire and history. In this way, Scots largely became an accepted and distinct part of the British Empire, while Natives were presumed to be disappearing in the face of American development. Finally, in the epilogue, Calloway explores the parallel ways in which Scottish and Native identities and heritages are performed, transformed, and embraced in the modern world.Because the volume covers a tremendous geographic and chronological scope, the volume occasionally lacks a sense of time and place. Some comparisons cross centuries, and distinctions within Native society are frequently and perhaps necessarily blurred. Despite this minor caveat, White People, Indians, and Highlanders deserves a readership interested in colonialism and ethnic identities on both sides of the Atlantic. With brilliant insights from the literatures and experiences of both Scottish and Native American studies, Calloway demonstrates the value of placing Native American and Scottish history in a much wider context than they normally appear.