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Hispanic American Historical Review 84.2 (2004) 361-362

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Behind the Mexican Mountains. By Robert Zingg. Edited by Howard Campbell, John Peterson, and David Carmichael. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2001. Photographs. Notes. Bibliography. Index. xxviii, 307 pp. Cloth, $50.00. Paper, $24.95.

During nine months of 1930 and 1931, two anthropologists participated in the University of Chicago Expedition of Tarahumara Ethnography, designed to study the Tarahumaras (or the Rarámuri, as they call themselves) of Chihuahua and collect specimens of Sierra Madre fauna. Wendell C. Bennett of the American Museum of Natural History was accompanied by Robert Zingg, still a doctoral student at Chicago. In 1935, the University of Chicago Press published their jointly authored results in The Tarahumara: An Indian Tribe of Northern Mexico. Zingg went on to study the Huichol Indians, but between 1937 and 1942 he wrote several articles and reports based on this Tarahumara fieldwork. He also assembled a longer version of his travels in Tarahumara country and submitted it for publication. Although this manuscript recounted a number of interviews and stories already published in The Tarahumara, its style was much less academic than contemporary salvage ethnographies; for a variety of reasons, however, it was not published in Zingg's lifetime.

The reasons for its resuscitation in Behind the Mexican Mountains, edited by three anthropologists from the University of Texas at El Paso, are explained in Howard Campbell's introduction. Zingg composed this narrative in the style of a travelogue, emphasizing the adventures and dangers of his treks through Tarahumara country; he also expressed his views in ways unacceptable in today's scholarly world. Nonetheless, Campbell draws on the work of James Clifford, George Marcus, and others who have probed the politics of "writing culture" to see in Zingg's travel narrative "an ideal venue for examining U.S. anthropology in a formative period and exploring the embeddedness of colonial and misogynist discourses and relationships in ethnographic fieldwork" (p. ix). Certainly, there is no shortage of such discourse in Zingg's glaringly ethnocentric and deprecatory commentaries on the sierra's inhabitants, and Campbell provides the reader with ample warning and explanation of these in the introduction. Still, he finds value in Zingg's descriptions of Tarahumara social practices, material culture, and the natural environment of the Sierra Madre. After taking us on this tour of twentieth-century critiques of ethnographic practice, Campbell emphatically sides with those who advocate the relevance and value of fieldwork in anthropology.

Having absorbed Campbell's caveats, the reader is left to her own devices to determine if Zingg's characterizations of culturally defective "wooden" or "cigar-store" Indians and surly "hags" can be redeemed. Zingg's prose is often imaginative and evocative, and we can appreciate his sense of humor in naming his muleteer Pancho Villa and his horse Rocinante. He offers detailed portraits of landscapes and buildings, flora, fauna, agricultural and trading practices, diet, clothing, and varied types of dwellings in the areas of Samachique and Norogachic. We also find [End Page 361] rich descriptions of the roles of community officials, drinking parties, and other ceremonies and practices (though Zingg's analysis of these is often flawed).

His pseudoscientific interpretation of the "genuine" and "spurious" values of Tarahumara culture, and his characterization of Tarahumaras as Philistines, are so unsophisticated and unsympathetic as to offend. For Zingg, Tarahumaras were practical, materially oriented people who had been shaped by isolation and the rigors of their harsh environment. He saw them as impassive, unfeeling, and irrational, with neither contemplative faculties nor aesthetic sensibilities. The only exceptions to their crude and drab existence were their drinking parties (tesgüinadas) and the Christian ceremonies that they had adapted from earlier missionary introductions. Their "culture" was meager and in need of improvement through "Mexicanization." In instances where Zingg misconstrued what he observed, the editors might have provided explanations from the work of subsequent anthropologists, such as John G. Kennedy and William Merrill; for example, the latter has shown definitively that Tarahumara theoretical knowledge is varied and complex.

Although Zingg understood that drinking parties were an integral...


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