Douglas H. Strong, Book Review Editor
Native Californians: A Theoretical Retrospective. Edited by Lowell John Bean and Thomas C. Blackburn. Ramona: Ballena Press, 1976. Bibliography. 452pages. $6.95.
Reviewed by Chris White, Lecturer, Department of Anthropology, San Diego State University, and Cultural Resource Manager, Wirth Associates, Inc., San Diego, author of “Lower Colorado River Area Aboriginal Warfare and Alliance Dynamics” in Antap: California Indian Political and Economic Organization (1974).
Dr. Bean and Dr. Blackburn have compiled an anthology which includes a selection of articles that reflect a renewed anthropological interest in aboriginal California. The sixteen articles focus on the dynamic interrelationships between Native California societies and their natural and social environments, and the often unrecognized and unappreciated, political, social, ideological, and economic complexity reflected in the Native Californian way of life. The interest in Native Californian ecology and organizational complexity has developed in response to general anthropological theoretical and methodological perspectives adopted during the past decade and the recognition of the potential value of the information available on California Indians to answer many of the new questions being generated.
The readings range from general synthesis as exemplified in Bean’s article entitled “Social Organization in Native California,” to more specific topics as Luomala’s “Flexibility in Sib Affiliation Among the Diegueño.” While the majority of the articles revolve around the interpretation of ethnographic and / or reconstructed ethnographic information, an article by King entitled “Chumash Inter-Village Economic Exchange” does an admirable job in integrating ethnographic, archaeological, and historical data. Blackburn, in an article entitled “Ceremonial Integration and Social Interaction in Aboriginal California” should also be complimented for integrating ethnographic and historical information in order to address questions of current anthropological interest.
The editors selected readings that reflect the current thought and research problem orientation of anthropologists who are studying Native Californians. The readings taken together, therefore, do not provide a statewide survey of “facts” on California Indians; and a very small number of aboriginal California groups are actually discussed.
While the majority of readings form around the central themes dealing with ecology and organizational complexity, they represent a range of over thirty years in their original publication dates. Such a range invariably leads to some confusion in the identification and interpretation of concepts and terms. If the articles had been organized into topical sections with an introductory discussion included, perhaps some of the confusion could have been eliminated. The volume could have also been enhanced by including a general map showing the location of the traditional California Indian tribal territories, as well as more detailed maps to accompany the specific readings.
I have assigned the volume as a text in a course on California Indians and have received an excellent student response to it. The volume, however, is not oriented towards a general reading audience and a number of students who did not have a solid introductory background in anthropology had difficulty understanding a number of the articles.
The volume is highly recommended for the serious student who is seeking insight into the cultural dynamics of the original inhabitants of California.