Left Handed, Son of Old Man Hat: A Navajo Autobiography

Left Handed, Son of Old Man Hat: A Navajo Autobiography

Left Handed, Son of Old Man Hat: A Navajo Autobiography

Left Handed, Son of Old Man Hat: A Navajo Autobiography

Synopsis

With a simplicity as disarming as it is frank, Left Handed tells of his birth in the spring "when the cottonwood leaves were about the size of my thumbnail", of family chores such as guarding the sheep near the hogan, and of his sexual awakening. As he grows older, his account turns to life in the open: nomadic cattle-raising, farming, trading, communal enterprises, tribal dances and ceremonies, lovemaking, and marriage. As Left Handed develops in understanding and stature, the accumulated wisdom of his people is made known to him. He learns the Navajo life founded upon principles: the necessity of honesty, foresightedness, self-discipline. The style of the narrative is almost biblical in its rhythms; but biblical, too, in many respects, is the traditional way of life it recounts.

Excerpt

It is one of the consequences of the gradually deepening consciousness of modern man that curiosity arises about the daily life of communities which are of utterly different race and culture from our own. The systematic ethnologist has done a great deal to map for us the essential cultural outlines of primitive societies and has given us more than a hint of the astounding variability of the forms which man creates and conserves in the course of his struggles with nature and fellowman. There is no dearth of information about primitive houses, artifacts, cooking methods, kinship systems, rituals, and folk-tales. The reader who is not something of an anthropologist, however, comes away from most of this material a little fatigued and confused. He is not schooled to analyze the details of cultural patterning into their tiniest elements, nor to trace out historic lines of development and ethnic interchange of custom running through these patterns and sub-patterns of socialized behavior. He finds it hard to think of custom as a severely objectified network of historically determined patterns, for custom to the average man is merely what you and I do and think because of the unplumbed necessities of our common human nature, and such variations from custom as are not immediately accepted as immaterial embroideries on understood themes are anxiously questioned as to their reasonableness. The ethnologist proudly withholds all value judgments, leaving his more naive--or shall we say, his less completely revised?--reader in the grip . . .

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