Two Crows Denies It: A History of Controversy in Omaha Sociology

By R. H. Barnes | Go to book overview

Introduction

It is sometimes forgotten that the social anthropologist relies on direct observation only in his rôle of ethnographer and that when he starts to make comparative studies he has to rely on documents, just as the historian does.

EVANS-PRITCHARD 1962, 50

The Omahas, a small community of American Indians now situated on a reservation in northern Nebraska, have had a long-continued and significant influence on anthropology. At one time or another most leaders of the profession have had something to say about theoretical issues conventionally associated with the tribe's name, and some have written books or articles about the Omahas. Among the tribe's ethnographers have been James Owen Dorsey, Alice Fletcher, Francis La Flesche, Margaret Mead, and Reo Fortune--all of whom have established for themselves substantial positions in the history of anthropology. "Omaha" has so long served as a by- word for patrilineal descent that anthropologists often seem to take it for granted that what is true of the Omahas is true of any other patrilineal society. Recently their name has threatened to become attached to another topic. Unless this book accomplishes its purpose, anthropologists will soon be speaking of "Omaha alliance" as a kind of institution discoverable in places as remote from Nebraska as Africa and New Guinea. Lévi-Strauss ( 1969, xxxvi) has even asserted, implausibly, that the complexities of Omaha society are beyond the capacities of mere anthropologists and can be explained only by mathematicians.

The attention the Omahas have attracted is due in large measure to the early classic reports about them published by the Bureau of American Ethnology. The first of these, Dorsey Omaha Sociology ( 1884), is known principally for its descriptions of Omaha kinship and clan organization. In these respects it was superior to what was

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Two Crows Denies It: A History of Controversy in Omaha Sociology
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Plates ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction 1
  • 1: Chieftainship 29
  • 2: the Tribal Circle 50
  • 3: Descent Groups 68
  • 4: Personal Names 104
  • 5: Relationship Terminology 124
  • 6: Terminology and Marriage 155
  • 7: Marriage, Residence, and Kinship 176
  • 8: the Pattern of Marriage 186
  • 9: "Omaha Alliance" 194
  • 10: Dispersed Alliance 218
  • Ii: Conclusion 228
  • Notes 236
  • Bibliography 243
  • Subject Index 257
  • Name Index 266
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