Anpao: An American Indian Odyssey is written as a series of stories within a story. In his “Notes on Sources” and bibliography, Jamake Highwater briefly discusses these tales and legends, often noting their tribal origins and indicating where other versions can be found. Highwater also includes a section called “The Storyteller’s Farewell.” In it, he explains his reasons for writing the book and outlines the meanings that he hopes readers will find.
According to the story told by Wasicong, Anpao and his “contrary” twin brother, Oapna, know nothing about their past. While they are traveling the world, Anpao falls in love with the beautiful Ko-ko-mik-e-is, whose name means “moon” (“night-red-light”). Although she has refused all other men, she tells Anpao that she will marry him if he will journey to the Lodge of the Sun to have the scars removed from his face. Knowing that no one has made such a journey, Anpao nevertheless accepts and Oapna agrees to accompany him.
After the journey begins, Oapna is kidnapped by the Moon. With the help of an old swan-woman, Anpao makes a daring rescue. The swan-woman then tells the twins the story of how Old Man created the world and how a foolish woman created death. This woman later went to the World-Above-the-World, became the mistress of the Sun, and had a child named Anpao. When the woman tried secretly to return to the earth with her child, the Sun killed her. Although Anpao...
Western civilization has long since lost its most basic heritage. Several thousand years ago the precursors of that civilization still lived in harmony with their universe and were as much an integral part of it as the stars or the grass. As millennium succeeded millennium and Western culture became more and more urbanized, giving greater attention to technological advancement, the links with origin were gradually severed. The universe required more interpreters and its interpreters became of necessity more sophisticated; in time it assumed an adversary role and was no longer a mystery to contemplate but a puzzle to be solved—and an entity to conquer as well. Mere acceptance of it was no longer possible.
Western man continues to invent tools of astonishing complexity in his search for final answers, but the universe tends to ignore him. Each solution has to be discarded in its turn and ultimate understanding remains elusive. That cheerfully iconoclastic observer of scientific achievement, Charles Fort, once observed that looking for a final answer to anything is like searching for a needle that was never lost in a haystack that isn’t there. The essential truth of his remark is becoming more obvious to us. Although our endless research has brought about a vast increase in knowledge and material benefits, its dividends in terms of wisdom and human happiness are relatively obscure. Each fresh discovery carries with it the dual potential of technical advancement and widespread disaster; these dilemmas have proliferated until Western man finds himself living in a world of perpetual crisis, with his survival resting in precarious balance on a razor’s edge of human frailty. It is a vicious circle from which he cannot escape.
This position is rendered more intolerable by long alienation from the need to live in harmony with a surrounding universe, and modern man now finds himself without an anchor. Religion, undermined by various discoveries, no longer affords the authority and support he once depended upon; and in many cases the replacements he has devised have closed the door to that refuge with grim finality. Modern man has become a stranger in his own universe, and he is homeless in the truest sense of the word. It is no wonder that loneliness and isolation are the demons that torment him.
Until quite recently, Western man has described those cultures which developed along lines other than his own as primitive. This is a misnomer, for all cultures are complex and highly developed, regardless of the course their development may have taken. While it is true that the effect of Western civilization upon cultures it considered primitive was often calamitous, verifying an obvious technological advantage, it has become evident to us that they were not inferior in any other way. It has also become increasingly clear that inheritors of Western culture are not as happy, or perhaps as fortunate in the human sense, as those of the cultures it has destroyed or assimilated. These vanishing peoples were consciously an integral part of a sentient and harmonious universe: they belonged to one another and to everything around them. Western man belongs only to himself or to his sociopolitical group and suffers from feelings of inadequacy; he has rejected the ancient concepts so long ago that he can no longer understand the nature of such cultures, though he envies them even as he destroys them.
In spite of the extent to which they have suffered at the hands of those who gradually conquered them, the Indians of what is now the continental United States were fortunate in many ways. They never found it necessary to concentrate themselves in urban developments or to organize themselves on a large scale; their technology was adequate for survival and for their social requirements; their warfare was limited and was a game that never proliferated into wholesale slaughter as we know it today. Their social organization had its catalog of restraints, codes, binding traditions, and customs, but they enjoyed a high level of personal freedom. Of greatest importance was their close relationship to the world around them. This link with the infinite has never been broken, although the destructive pressures of a civilization that has overrun their own are making inroads more and more difficult to resist.
Although the culture of the American Indian has had many recorders and interpreters among non-Indians during the past five centuries, such efforts have been in many ways inadequate. The author of a recent book on Frederic Remington states that the artist was a bigot, principally because Remington remarked that the white man would never understand the Indian. This is the sort of gratuitous accusation currently fashionable in intellectual circles, and it reveals an ignorance of both artist and subject. Remington’s conclusion was both perceptive and honest, and any Indian would have agreed with him. He admired and respected the Indian for qualities of strength, intelligence, competence, and courage; that attitude is reflected in his work, for his portrayals of Indian...