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Reviewed by:
  • North American Indigenous Warfare and Ritual Violence
  • Mark van de Logt
North American Indigenous Warfare and Ritual Violence. Edited by Richard J. Chacon and Rubén G. Mendoza . Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-8165-2532-4. Photographs. Figures. References. Index. Pp. ix, 283. $50.00.

This book is an important contribution to the study of Native American warfare. It is the first volume of a collection of papers presented at a symposium at the 2003 American Anthropological Association meeting in Chicago. It is published simultaneously with a separate volume that discusses indigenous warfare and ritual violence in Latin America.

The papers presented here effectively dispel the myths that native societies in North America coexisted peacefully before the arrival of the Europeans and that native warfare was uncommon and relatively bloodless. The contributors to this volume show that warfare and ritual violence were of "considerable antiquity," widespread, and often very intense and quite lethal.

The papers cover nearly every cultural area in North America and provide some surprising conclusions. While it is generally asserted that native warfare increased after the arrival of Europeans (as among the Iroquois, for example), it appears that warfare between tribes in the Arctic region actually decreased as a result of European contact. Other interesting observations concern the various causes of intertribal warfare. Although the desire for revenge was almost universal, there were also causes that were more culturally specific. Witchcraft accusations played important roles among the Cree, the Iroquois, and among certain Californian tribes. Among the peoples of the Northwest Coast, warfare was also "considered the means to satiate the spirits of cannibalism, war, and death" (p. 70). Among the Pueblos, long considered to be among the most pacifist peoples in North America, warfare and sacrificial killings were associated with fertility and subsistence, and essential to ensure the survival of the people. Nation-building and territorial expansion through warfare characterized the ancient civilization that built the Cahokia mounds. Among certain southeastern tribes the desire to extend political influence and power caused chiefs to destroy the ancestral shrines and temples (which were sources of supernatural power) of neighboring rivals. Prestige and the quest for captives to be adopted into the tribe were important incentives for Iroquois men to take to the warpath. Taken together, the papers in this volume remind military historians that warfare is a cultural, as much as a social and political, phenomenon.

As is often the case, myths do not die easily and it is doubtful that the conclusions reached in this book will be readily accepted in certain circles outside of academia, where they might be misconstrued as a sinister attempt to provide after-the-fact justifications for the Euro-American conquest of the Americas. To avoid such false accusations, the editors added a concluding chapter discussing the ethical issues raised by this book. [End Page 561]

All chapters are, without exception, readable, engaging, and free of the professional jargon that often characterizes the work of anthropologists and archaeologists. The introduction by editors Chacon and Mendoza provides excellent brief overviews of every chapter. Researchers will also find the bibliography comprehensive and very useful.

Mark van de Logt
American Indian Studies Research Institute
Indiana University
Bloomington, Indiana


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pp. 561-562
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Open Access
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Archived 2010
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