- Anetso, the Cherokee Ball Game: At the Center of Ceremony and Identity
Michael J. Zogry has given us an exceptional study of anetso. Otherwise known as the Cherokee ball game or what casual observers may call lacrosse, anetso defies simple explanation. Anetso, for example, is often considered a sport on the one hand and a religious ritual on the other, but Zogry effectively undermines this game versus ritual dichotomy. Challenging the western notion that the realms of game and ritual are distinct, Zogry instead demonstrates how anetso "is a perfect model to test the limits of received categories and definitional boundaries" (4). The author accordingly situates the ball game within a Cherokee ceremonial complex as he stresses the need for multiple interpretations to truly understand anetso and its cultural significance.
Zogry combines extensive archival research and ethnographic fieldwork with a firm theoretical foundation to convincingly argue for the centrality of anetso to Cherokee cultural identity. Even during times of great stress and change, particularly in the first half of the nineteenth century when missionaries and other "civilizing" agents threatened Cherokee cultural norms, the ball game remained "an unmistakable statement of [Cherokee] identity" (68). Its prevalence and persistence show that Cherokees "asserted their identity, demonstrated resiliency, and creatively improvised responses to changing circumstances" (72). Zogry therefore adds to a chorus of voices (see, for example, Theda Perdue's Cherokee Women [Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1998]) that challenge William McLoughlin's increasingly tenuous position that Cherokee peoples experienced "anomie," or cultural degeneration, during the early nineteenth century (see McLoughlin's Cherokee Renascence [New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press, 1986], and his article in American Encounters [New York: Routledge, 2000]). Following the era of removal and the division of Cherokee peoples into distinct political bodies, members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Nation maintained–and continue to maintain–key elements of the anetso ceremonial complex, such as "going [End Page 81] to water," prohibition, and medicine (among others discussed in chapter three). Although the ceremonial complex has undergone significant change, it nevertheless continues as "a distinct and enduring cultural element" (144).
One of the more original and convincing premises of the book is found within chapter four, which highlights the Cherokee ball game in the twentieth century. Zogry finds that some Eastern Band members have strategically adopted non-Cherokee cultural elements, such as Plains-style headdresses, not only to market their community to tourists but also to safeguard "traditional behaviors and beliefs" (154). Anetso reflects this strategy, Zogry notes, in that Cherokee people for more than two hundred years have played the ball game "for the benefit of visitors, as tourist events" (159). In doing so, they have selectively presented elements of anetso to outsiders, while they privately performed other ceremonial practices to uphold their traditions.
This book is both conceptually clear and culturally sensitive. Zogry takes seriously his role as a scholar and ethnographer. As a guest among the Eastern Band and friend to certain tribal members, Zogry protects the identity of consultants and relates Cherokee perspectives in a balanced way. Perhaps at times the author is too self-conscious of offending his Cherokee audience, but this is understandable since he journeys into Cherokee religion, where few academics dare to tread. Another critique of the book is that it may prove less accessible to the general public because of its theoretical "thickness," particularly chapter five, "Theory and the Meaning of Anetso." Zogry, however, often employs an informal and personal writing style to counter this potential obstacle to a wider readership. In sum, Anetso, the Cherokee Ball Game is a valuable contribution to the field. I highly recommend this book.