The Beautiful and the Dangerous

With engaging respect and moving honesty, Barbara Tedlock brings us right into the world of the Zuni in her new book, THE BEAUTIFUL AND THE DANGEROUS. What’s so fascinating about the portrait she creates, is that she herself is one of its main characters. She is not merely the objective observer of Zuni practices; she is adopted by the tribe, considered a respected aunt. It is from this position of the familiar that Tedlock’s account emerges.

Much of Tedlock’s interviewing and recording centers on the music of the Zuni. She is given tapes of songs that are not preserved anywhere. She interviews many members of the Zuni tribe, always in their homes and with their enthusiasm for sharing what they know. One learns that Zuni property passes down through the women. If a woman wishes to divorce her husband, all she has to do is put a pile of his personal belongings outside their house and the message is clear. We become witness to the branding and shearing of sheep, and we are introduced to the odd and refreshing logic of the Zuni. On hearing the news of the Apollo 13 return to Earth after a near disaster, the Zuni man, Hapiya, concludes that the astronauts were forced to turn back when the Moon Mother got mad and threw dirt and rocks at them. One must respect the life of the Moon Mother.

Prayer sticks are made, medicine songs sung, and much mint, cilantro, and chile consumed in the course of this narrative. Tedlock describes her sometimes-reticence while becoming part of the Zuni’s daily life. In one instance, she had just...

(The entire section is 636 words.)