Weaving, a Metaphor for the Lives of Three Navajo Women

Friday, January 28, 2011

Noted anthropologist, Dr. Louise Lamphere, visited the University of West Georgia recently. She spoke to a packed house about her work.

Lamphere, a distinguished professor of anthropology, emeritus at the University of New Mexico, said her 2007 work, “Weaving Women’s Lives: Three Generations in a Navajo Family,” is not so much about the loom, but about how the women have lived.

The professor wrote the book with Eva Price, who is 82, her daughter, Carole Cadman, and granddaughter, Valerie Darwin.

Weaving is a metaphor, Lamphere said, for the “ways in which all three of these woman have woven together Navajo traditions and Anglo American practices in their daily lives.”

All three have studied in American schools, learned English and worked wage jobs. But they have also participated in traditional Navajo puberty, marriage and healing ceremonies.

Central to their lives are three Navajo concepts: the importance of place, the emphasis on generosity and reciprocity, and k’é.

This last is “loosely translated as kinship of family but a more standard definition includes notions of cooperation, compassion, friendliness, unselfishness and peacefulness,” she said.

The women’s lives, rather than representing a continuum – starting with Price’s traditional life, Cadman in the middle, and ending with Darwin, a student at the University of New Mexico and who is the most assimilated – the women have managed hybrid lives.

“I prefer to think of them as engaged in cultural preservation, yet weaving together these elements of Navajo traditions and Anglo American traditions,” Lamphere told the audience packed into Kathy Cashen Recital Hall on Jan. 27.

Lamphere met Price and Cadman in 1965, when she was working on her dissertation. The relationship grew over the decades. Lamphere watched and learned as the family weathered marriages and childbirth, illnesses and deaths, jobs gained and lost.

In writing the book, Lamphere said she wanted to present “women’s narratives, their voices and place them, at the same time, in the context of the larger American society.”

For her part, Price wanted to work on the book “because she always felt it was important to teach her children and her grandchildren ways of behaving that would give them a long life…. and blessings and harmony and balance in the universe.”