Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language Among the Western Apache

The Apache feel that speech should be used with economy. Verbosity is not considered precocious, merely loud. Indeed, careless use of language can be perceived as both rude to the listener and disrespectful of the ancestors. It is considered better to listen, observe, and reflect before one speaks or acts, since extended contemplation allows for deeper understanding (p 10-11).

Stories contain wisdom, thus the stories themselves can be 'drunk deep' for wisdom. Since stories are always linked to locations, one can seek wisdom by reflection upon both a physical place, and that place's associated lesson. Indeed, locations can have more than one story associated with them, and thus require considerable reflection to adequately plumb the wisdom each location offers (p 115-120).

The cultural norms apply by logical extension to the language as well: one should think before speaking, and one's words should be clear. Children are encouraged to observe before speaking, and travel with a wise elder is a way of teaching both the language and its proper use, as well as the morals of the culture (p 133-134).

When one speaks it is best if something of import is said. Thus a communally shared fund of stories can be used not only to point out mental deficiencies in others, but also to relate entire concepts with a minimum of words. Sometimes the name of the location alone will suffice, for if a group has a mutual collection of stories then both the teller and the listener will know the story and moral associated with a location.

This allows discreet speech to another, whether it is intended compassionately, commiseratively, or otherwise. Since compassion is a coveted characteristic, and open criticism of another person is frowned upon, the stories allow a subtle form of discussion and communication of meaning, without direct attribution, which could cause embarrassment, to any of the listeners present (p 78-79, 118-120).

The language used is invariably clear and unequivocal; it is the communicated concepts that are more subtly delivered. Furthermore, communication is sometimes achieved with participants speaking to non-human objects rather than the people they are in a discussion with. By this we can see there is no intent to force meaning, either in the spoken words or upon the person being communicated with. Rather, speech is delivered in such a fashion that one may take heed or not, as one wishes.

Indeed, telling any such location story is open-ended: the listeners are not told what conclusion they should come to. Instead the story, like the location it is attached to, simply exists. One can learn from it if one wishes, just as one can observe the associated location with greater or lesser visual acuity. Wisdom is found in cultivation of the learning a location has associated with it, through the stories told of that place.

The language has similar characteristics: it exists. One can learn from it, or one can misuse it. Wise use of the language implies one understands the need for careful attention to proper living, as exemplified in the lessons related in the culture's stories.

The woman struggled long and hard to find the right words. It wasn't easy. The ideas were slippery; sometimes the words wouldn't come. Several times she said to herself, 'Well, this is enough. This is good.' But she knew in her heart it wasn't so, and she remembered how hard her people had worked so she could be here, now, trying to build First Essay Assignment Paper into a place where wisdom could be found. Reflection on her ancestors made her keep trying until it was right.

Slowly, she built First Essay Assignment Paper into something she thought might be good. Then she went to other people she knew, wise people, and asked them what they thought of her place. She took their advice and she changed some things here, she cleared up some things there. After a long while, she stood back and gave First Essay Assignment Paper a long, careful look.

'Yes,' she said to herself, 'this is good. I want this place to be uncluttered, so that the ideas flow smoothly. Here is where I've woven resilience into the words, so that I can speak clearly of many concepts. This is a steady place, one that can stand up to outside criticism but also integrate more learning.'

Thus places become more than just physical locations to the Western Apache. The locations are also repositories of learning and wisdom. The land becomes associated, in the minds of the people that live on it and view it daily, with a multiplicity of objects and concepts.

Past occurrences in the lives of the individual people, the history
of their ancestors, the relatives and friends that told the associated
stories, correct behavior, cultural goals, a connectedness to the land
and a sense of place; all are fostered by contemplation of location and
all are preserved in the oral stories that are told generation to
generation.

Such is the tight connection between land, language, and people, that the possibility exists that a community-wide shift to English would slowly and insidiously destroy the Apache sense of place, and by extension the Apache culture (p 151-152).

The culture of the Apache ancestors is tied up in the people, the land, and the language they share. One cannot separate an Apache from the land and still have an Apache; the two are so closely interconnected that some of the Apache themselves talk of their disorientation, their loss of sense of self and place, when they are away from their land (p 38-39).

The language, as an implicit tool of the culture, is just as much a part of that interconnected sense of self and place as it is a code of proper behavior. The Apache themselves know this; as Basso's book demonstrates, they are working to keep locations, and through them both the culture and the language, alive and connected to the Apache people.

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