Wisdom Sits in Places
Landscape and Language Among the Western Apache
by Keith Basso
2001 J. I. Staley Prize
Keith H. Basso was named winner of the 2001 J. I. Staley Prize for his book Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language Among the Western Apache (University of New Mexico Press, 1996). Douglas W. Schwartz, then president of the School for Advanced Research, presented the $10,000 award to Dr. Basso at a special ceremony on August 7, 2001, at the School's campus in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
In Wisdom Sits in Places, Basso explores how the Western Apache of the greater Cibecue region use the names of geographic places to carry multiple layers of meaning and information. Dr. Basso had worked with the White Mountain Apaches for over twenty years before Ronnie Lupe, one of the tribal leaders, suggested he turn his attention to Apache geography and map-making. "It is worth noting that Wisdom's success is based on a uniquely long-lived and honorable relationship between a fascinating Native American community and a dedicated anthropologist," observed Lupe, one of the book's nominators.
The book is organized as four elegant and lyrical essays, each centered on a different Apache storyteller and the place-names he or she summons. "Widows Pause for Breath", "She Carries Her Brother On Her Back", and "Water Lies With Mud In An Open Container" are examples of Apache place-names that offer information not only about the geographic characteristics of a certain place or actual events that happened there, but also about morality, values, and wisdom that guide daily living. Vine Deloria, in a review for the Journal of the West, said, "Basso illustrates the idea that language and linguistics are mutually supportive and irretrievably combined so that knowing language connects an individual to the land and knowing the land holds the personality together in a cohesive, balanced unity."
Basso illustrates how, among the Western Apache, "knowledge of places is closely linked to knowledge of the self, to grasping one's position in the larger scheme of things, including one's own community, and to securing a confident sense of who one is as a person," wrote reviewer Cornel Pewewardy, for the Multicultural Review.
Wisdom Sits in Places is one of 37 books reviewed by a five-member panel comprised of Lane Beck, Arizona State Museum and University of Arizona; Regina Bendix, University of Pennsylvania; Kent Lightfoot, University of California, Berkeley; Tom Weisner, University of California, Los Angeles; and Ana Celia Zentella, Hunter College, City University of New York and CUNY Graduate School. After convening twice, the panel submitted its recommendation to SAR's Board of Managers, which granted the award.
Keith H. Basso, Professor of Anthropology, University of New Mexico