Desert Indian Woman: Stories and

SAMPLE EXCERPT:

Manuel can see the difference between old and new native society, and many of the changes distress her, as she clearly shows here. It must be very difficult to grow up in the middle of two cultures, as she did, and see the old ways disappearing, and the new ways taking hold. Many of the people of the reservation die, as Neff recalls, of traffic accidents or alcohol related problems - things that did not occur when Manuel was a child. Her world is rapidly changing, and she is one of the few who remember earlier times, which is another reason this book is so important.

Interestingly, Manuel has become a Christian, and it is an important part of her life, even though she still believes in the powers of her native medicine men. She is at peace with her beliefs, and yet, sometimes she wonders why she believes what she does, and which world is really the world she belongs to (Manuel and Neff 127). Manuel clearly has her culture's teachings and what she has learned during her life at odds, and yet, she manages to blend the two together successfully, and so her story is not only valuable, it is inspirational for others who feel they are torn between two worlds and two belief systems.

She regrets that the children of her tribe would rather read a book than listen to the old stories. She notes, "Yet this is not what it is like these days. [...] Long ago it was not like this. Long ago they would set us down and tell us the stories, the stories and all the things that are connected to them, the Ho'oki a:gida. And now they are all gone, they are no longer told" (Manuel and Neff xxiii). Manual is also adamant when she says that the experiences she relates in the book are hers, and not necessarily representative of her people as a whole, and yet, many of her stories and legends have been passed down verbatim from generation to generation, creating an oral history that is rich in the culture's beliefs and traditions.

It is quite obvious that the book owes much of its clarity and detail to the relationship that grew between Deborah Neff and Frances Manuel. Neff notes they were more alike than different (Manuel and Neff xxxviii), and it is quite clear Manuel not only trusted Neff with the story of her life, but she felt comfortable with her, comfortable enough to relate her stories into an ever present tape recorder. The two women were friends before they began working on this project and that of course would account for the camaraderie that is clearly present throughout the book. These two women enjoyed each other's company, and respected each other, which gave them the freedom and ability to share their stories, and collaborate to share them with the world.

Neff knows how to draw Manuel out, and that is important in oral histories. If you cannot get the subject to share their stories, there is no oral history. Neff knew how to get Manuel talking about her life, and made her so comfortable she would even record her recollections when Neff was not there. This is an important and valuable skill, and Neff demonstrates her abilities with every page of the book. Manuel also demonstrates her remarkable memory for detail, and the importance she places on the tales of her people. Sharing stories like this is extremely important to keep the tales from disappearing, but to also keep the culture and beliefs alive in a new generation. Both women do a great service to Native American culture by preserving it, and it seems clear this book will continue to be an important and well-read document in Tohono O'odham culture. Not only does it show the value and importance of preserving the history of our native people, it shows how important a good relationship is to the final outcome of the book, and the oral history.

Manuel and Neff have constructed an important and interesting book that not only chronicles the culture and bygone days of a population, but also shows the conflicts native cultures face in our society. As Manuel notes near the end of the book, "A lot of things we don't know about / A lot of things don't work the way it's / SUPPOSED to work / because we don't KNOW about it, / we're not accustomed / to these things" (Manuel and Neff 158). She seems to…