The Beautiful and the Dangerous by Barbara Tedlock

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The Beautiful and the Dangerous

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

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 arrived for her annual visit and was suddenly left alone with a Zuni woman, Tola. She felt uneasy and looked out the window, only to see a group of nearly naked men trotting by the window in single file, singing. Tola yelled to her to get cornmeal because these were the Muddyheads and it was time to sprinkle good thoughts for the dead. With buckets of water and cornmeal, women smiled and sobbed their remembrances while Tedlock, admittedly, just couldn’t cry. She saw this as a way she couldn’t truly be Zuni. When they went back indoors, to Tedlock’s amazement, Tola placed a pottery jar in front of her, filled with blood, sheep’s liver, stomach, and yards of intestine and told her to stuff them. Blood pudding. Tedlock’s thought: what’s her husband off doing anyway?

Much of the...

(The entire section is 636 words.)