Saturday, December 31, 2016

Mesa of Sorrows

Book 91 of my 2016 Reading Challenge
read from November 22 - December 07

Mesa of Sorrows: A History of the Awat'ovi Massacre by James F. Brooks

Summary (via Goodreads)
The Hopi community of Awat'ovi existed peacefully on Arizona's Antelope Mesa for generations until one bleak morning in the fall of 1700 - raiders from nearby Hopi villages descended on Awat'ovi, slaughtering their neighboring men, women, and children. While little of the pueblo itself remains, five centuries of history lie beneath the low rises of sandstone masonry, and theories about the events of that night are as persistent as the desert winds. The easternmost town on Antelope Mesa, Awat'ovi was renowned for martial strength, and had been the gateway to the entire Hopi landscape for centuries. Why did kinsmen target it for destruction?
Drawing on oral traditions, archival accounts, and extensive archaeological research, James Brooks unravels the story and its significance. Mesa of Sorrows follows the pattern of an archaeological expedition, uncovering layer after layer of evidence and theories. Brooks questions their reliability and shows how interpretations were shaped by academic, religious and tribal politics. Piecing together three centuries of investigation, he offers insight into why some were spared - women, mostly, and taken captive - and others sacrificed. He weighs theories that the attack was in retribution for Awat'ovi having welcomed Franciscan missionaries or for the residents' practice of sorcery, and argues that a perfect storm of internal and external crises revitalized an ancient cycle of ritual bloodshed and purification.
A haunting account of a shocking massacre, Mesa of Sorrows is a probing exploration of how societies confront painful histories, and why communal violence still plagues us today.

My Opinion
The description of the book, both from reading the summary and listening to the author speak at a reading, didn't match what I actually read.  It's not necessarily a bad thing but it was dryer than I expected after his engaging talk about his research and I didn't get the deeper layers of how this applies to the present day that he alluded to in the summary. 

There were some typos which surprised me since he's a professor, especially with using "there" instead of "their" occasionally.

He mentioned a way people used to determine if a woman was a witch that was new to me.  They would measure her tongue...apparently witches' were shorter than average.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"In the Euro-American mind, history marches from past to present. Each event - birth, death, marriage, divorce, war and peace - accrues in a sequence that shapes the next in knowable ways, although their precise relation may prove elusive. We attend to the past to better comprehend our present. Yet, invert this. What is our present were already active in our past? What if our present is nothing more than a past foretold? This swirl of cause and effect, effect as cause, not linear but cyclical and untethered from western time, more closely captures the way many Hopis understood (and understand) the ruination of Awat'ovi Pueblo."

"The present troubles the ghosts of the past."

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