Western Apache Language and Culture

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From what I read, I understood that the Apache people, just like most if not all societies, have an emphasis on using the past to teach future generations to moral lessons using stories, gossip and sagas passed down from ancestors. The Apache language is featured in all these methods of communication. Not only does this help keep the language alive throughout the years, but it also establishes and maintains a stronger bond with their ancestors. When it comes to naming places, the Apache do not take any detail for granted. Descriptive specificity is a common characteristic of place-names (47). The name chosen had to be able to give members of the tribe a clear image that, once spoken, would help them remember the place accurately (12). An example is T'iis Sikhadade meaning a Groove of Cottonwood Trees (16) or Kai?‚b?- ye Bi?‚ Naagozwode meaning Gray Willows Curve Around A Bend; a point on a stream (23). Also, after the name has been given, it continues to hold significant value for later generations because they are words that were spoken directly by their ancestors in their language. They are essentially repeating their speech (10) and as Charles mentioned to Morley, to rush through trying to say the place name or not acknowledge the significance of the name, would be considered disrespectful (10).

In addition to all this, the explicit place names in the Apache language, offer evidence of changes in the landscape (13), which can then be used to identify and explain any differences seen in the appearance of the place after many years. They show what is different and what has remained the same (16) For the Apache, history is no farther than one's imagination; it is very near (32). People known as place-makers formulate place-worlds in which the ancestors lived in, to bring history back to life. A place-maker's primary objective is to speak the past into being and essentially produce an experience (32) where an apache listener can build a credible image in their heads. Apache constructions of place reach deeply into other cultural spheres, including conceptions of wisdom, notions of morality, politeness and tact in forms of spoken discourse, and certain conventional ways of imagining and interpreting the Apache tribal past (xv) The stories are designed to attempt to instill admiration and empathy for the ancestors (33) who arrived in a foreign land, identified what would be useful, described areas so that others would know about it and toiled to make an environment capable of sustaining life. Unless of course, what they did was immoral or unethical, in which case their stories served as a lesson of how not to act and showed possible consequences that may occur if you ignore the advice.

My opinion of the role of an anthropologist studying another culture would be to watch, listen, be respectful and record everything either in notes or recordings and this corresponds with Basso. During one of the tours Basso took with a place-maker named Charles, and a translator named Morley, he described his role as driving the jeep, providing coffee and Reese's peanut butter cups for Morley and recording everything on paper and audiotapes (10). As for his methods, he differentiated himself from other anthropologists who have ignored the fact that groups of people, like American Indians, maintain complex symbolic relationships with their surroundings, which hold a significant place in their culture (66). As for Basso's main findings, one of them was that historical stories could change people's ideas about themselves and force them to admit to their poor behavior and concentrate on the significance of it (60). He concluded this when he observed people who were shot by stories (60) and were therefore flooded by a wave of shame and guilt, after which they would analyze their behavior and alter it accordingly.

The book was an excellent resource to look into the lives of a group of people that a lot of the American public may not take the time to learn enough about, despite sharing their surroundings. It has also emphasized on the value of learning from the past and not just from generations that are still around, but from the original settlers in a place you may call home, and in this aspect, I can personally relate. Passed down from generation to generation, are the stories, myths or legends that have lessons that can still be applied to today. For example, in Uganda, one legend that is well known is the origin story of one of the largest tribes, the Baganda, featuring a man named Kintu and the various struggles he had to overcome in order to win the hand of the creator's daughter, Nambi. In our generation, and some before us, we ignore the advice given to us by our parents and assume we know better. When I was younger, I did this because I did not understand why we had to listen to old stories, when other cultures did not. I considered it an African thing that was not necessary or applicable. However, as I grew older, this quickly changed and I appreciate books, such as this one, that shows us our history and culture is essential and must be treasured. Wisdom does indeed sit in places and these places are in the minds and words of the people who came before us.


Basso, Keith Hamilton. Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language among the Western Apache. University of New Mexico Press, 2010.

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Western Apache Language and Culture. (2019, Jun 24). Retrieved June 20, 2024 , from

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