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Three Reviews, + a grumpy note from Pat
June 2nd, 2002 Review by Jennifer Macaire for eBook Reviews Weekly.
The Wampum Keeper by Pat Montague
The Indians of North Eastern America lived in great tribes, their governments were complex, and their customs and religious rites an inextricable part of their lives. Competing with each other not only for land and game, the tribes also coveted iron, flint mines and wampum - beads made of freshwater shells. Many of the tribes spoke one language - Iroquoian - including the great Iroquois nation. The Iroquois and the Huron federations were at war. Between them, and at peace with both tribes, was a tribe known as 'the Deer People'.
In 1649, the armies of the Iroquois League made their final, annihilating raids on the Huron towns and in 1650 they burned the neighbouring towns of the Petun tribe. The next year, twelve hundred Iroquois destroyed the capitol town of the Deer People. This story starts in the year 1651, in the Niagara region of present day Ontario and New York State. Ten years before that time, a chief called Tsouharissen, both a religious and political figure, ruled the Deer people. His power was absolute, and his story - and the story of his tribe's disappearance, is woven into 'The Wampum Keeper'. Extensive research went into this book. Those readers interested in Indians, notably those of the North East, will be engrossed by the details of their daily rituals and mundane existence.
Told from several viewpoints - among those of an old huntress, Hannoe, 'The Hawk Woman', and the Wampum Keeper, Shalinka - the story starts when Shalinka, wounded, arrives in the abandoned Huron lands among Huron and Petun refuges. Once, Shalinka had been a strong warrior, fighting at the great chief Tsouharissen's side. However, he's become the Wampum Keeper and he's renounced the bloody 'Heart Ceremony', the ritual slaughter of captured warriors. Now, he watches, impotent, as his world collapses around him.
Pat Montague has taken up an enormous challenge - bringing to life long-gone traditions and beliefs, delving into the heads and hearts of the first inhabitants of the New World as they are faced with the end of their race. Part history lesson, part fiction, I found myself wishing the book had concentrated more upon one single person, instead of having so many characters. However, it is an interesting voyage into the past, into a world that disappeared and left little trace.
Sept. 18th, 2002 Review by Karon Booth for Reviewers Choice.
The Wampum Keeper by Pat Montague
The Wampum Keeper is a highly structured fictional account of life among the Deer People during the mid 1600s. The author reveals an in-depth anthropological review of the Native Americans' world view.
Emphasis is placed on rites of ritual cannibalism designed to appease and support the sun god, which in turn empowered the high chief. This concept of devouring a victim as a religious act carries over into an evaluation of the Christian communion with an analysis of the Roman Catholic Eucharist presented as a type of "eating" of the divine person by the worshipers.
Perceptions of and influence by the Jesuit priest among the Deer people during that period is a major subplot. Specific details are outline of daily life among the population woven into an in-depth analysis of key individuals. Internal dialogue and review of influencing factors establish the identities of the characters.
Seeking to exchange the cannibalistic rites of sacrificing the Chosen One with non violent ceremony, the protagonist Shelinka struggles against those who wish the old rites to continue and against hostile Iroquois ready to annihilate the Deer People, who are in the way of the Iroquois' own advancing imperialism.
The author paints a vivid portrait of daily life among the Deer People by using specific details and weaving them into her plot and characterization. Internal dialog and review of influencing factors help readers form an in-depth analysis of the key characters.
Sept 8th, 2002 Review by Albert. Braz of the University of Alberta
To begin with, I really enjoyed parts of __The Wampum Keeper--. Beginning with the introduction, your book is full of ethnographic detail, revealing your vast knowledge of the context in which the narrative takes place. Among the characters, I particularly enjoyed Tahinya. Your treatment of his spiritual-cultural crisis, at times, reminded me of Chinua Achebe in __Things Fall Apart__. However, the problem that I had with Tahinya is that you don't reveal enough of his internal struggles. As I interpret it, his conflict is really a personal or intellectual one. But, instead of exploring the possible reasons for his crisis, you have a tendency to focus on the clash between Aboriginal and Christian spiritualities, a choice that ironically gives a centrality to Christianity in the narrative that it probably shouldn't have.
Your unrelenting criticism of Christianity also created some problems for me as a reader. First, it's not very subtle. Second, considering that the form of Christianity in question is French and Catholic, it seems to be coloured by more than a tinge of chauvinism. Most significantly, though, I wasn't convinced by your text that Christianity was the most implacable enemy that the First Nations ever faced. Considering that the subsequent settlers dispossessed them of their lands, the loss of their spirituality somehow doesn't seem as apocalyptic. That is, events took place after the clash between the First Nations and the French, events that help us to understand that relationship. Unfortunately, they don't surface in the narrative.
In conclusion, I enjoyed reading your novel and believe it shows promise. However, I feel that it would be considerably stronger if it focused more on the internal lives of the characters, particularly Tahinya, as opposed to on their external ones.
Pat gets Grumpy with A. Braz
Do not be easily swayed by the criticism of Albert Braz regarding my lack of focus on the internal lives of my characters. In his review above, he makes the lamentable error of confusing the story's main characters: The wampum keeper is Shalinka; Tahinya is the Hawk Mother, the main female character in the novel.
Such a basic mistake on Braz's part does not inspire trust; I've had to discount all his statements regarding my lack of focus on the internal lives of my characters. How on earth would he know, I ask myself grumpily. He hasn't given the text a close reading.
PM Oct. 24/02
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