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163 7 Making It New by Making It Old F or many feminist ethnographers, an examination of cultural “pristineness” was of great interest. In part, they conducted their research in the Southwestern United States because they saw the region as more pristine and primitive than most of the rest of the United States. The region’s distance from major eastern metropolitan areas and the later date of Anglo-American expansion into the region meant that the Native American populations of the area had not, for the most part, been removed from their own lands. In contrast, most eastern tribes had been geographically disrupted, removed to reservations , or pushed to other areas. In the Southwest, however, many tribes had been able to maintain their lands. As a result, ethnographers saw them as more closely connected to the “primitive” origins of the region, and thus more culturally pristine. In the Southwest, then, ethnographers could seek out cultures that had not been “destroyed” by dispersal or massive adaptation to Euro-American culture. Ethnographers were not—and indeed could not be—ignorant of the presence of Spanish influence in the region. In fact, many of their interviews with Native American informants in the region took place in Spanish. Yet they still sought to examine the “pristine” elements of the Native American cultures they encountered in the region. They weeded out elements they saw as being Spanish and dismissed them as inauthentic elements of these cultures. They also downplayed ways in which Native American informants had adapted to the various forms 164 CHAPTER 7 of cultural incursion on the part of Euro-Americans, including industrialization and the market economy. Further, they sought to explain that they were the first ethnographers among the people they encountered in the Southwest. Finding “virgin soil” among Native American informants was significant to legitimizing the scientific nature of their ethnographic research. Thus much of Elsie Clews Parsons’s work among the Zuñi focused on disproving assertions made by Matilda Coxe Stevenson, in order to present the previous researcher as unscientific; Parsons could thus argue that she was the first truly scientific researcher to work among the Zuñi. So Gladys Reichard undergirded her field research on ritual with a scientific analysis of kinship and linguistics. And Ruth Underhill sought to prove to her advisor, Franz Boas, that she was the first to work with the Tohono O’Odham, despite the fact that several researchers—including the Smithsonian ethnomusicologist Frances Densmore—were working among the Tohono O’Odham at the same time she was.1 Feminist ethnographers strove to recognize cultural relativism and to determine the ways in which cultures came to differ from each other. To examine this, they focused on ways in which cultures preserved their distinctiveness in the face of contact with other cultures . They also had assumptions about cultural purity as a source of authenticity. Parsons, especially, attempted to indicate the degree to which the Native American cultures she came into contact with had incorporated elements from other cultures. Parsons believed that the cultures with which she came into contact were not “pure.” In 1918, she speculated that “fifty percent of Zuni culture may be borrowed from White culture.”2 She determined this even if her Zuñi informants were unaware of this or denied it. She wrote in 1916 of an exchange between herself and an informant, when her assessment of an informant’s statement as being “Surely, a Mexican belief” caused her informant to reply, “No, Zuni.”3 She later argued that many folktales from Acoma, Laguna, and Zuñi were “probably of Spanish provenance ,” though she provided no argument or evidence of it.4 Feminist ethnographers often linked the ideas of pristineness, authenticity, and “primitiveness” together. By seeking out what elements they identified as primitive in Southwestern Native American 165 MAKING IT NEW BY MAKING IT OLD cultures, they sought to identify authentic Native American cultural elements as well as presenting to Euro-American readers a positive view of primitive cultures. In this project, they were linked to a much broader movement among modernists and other ethnographers. In Gone Primitive, her fascinating examination of the construction of primitive identity within the emergence of modernist culture, literary scholar Marianna Togorvnick has identified the predominant conceptualization of “the primitive” that emerged in modernist culture in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She presents the primitive as “exist[ing] for us in a cherished series of dichotomies...


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