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Spoken Vs. Written History.

Updated on April 24, 2015

Brief Evaluation

Cruikshank describes how, while history is everywhere, only certain stories gain purchase. How does that claim apply to Ridington’s description of the writing of Native American spiritual traditions and Deloria’s view on definitions of science?

Cruikshank claims that only certain stories from history gain purchase and that this is due to their representation and re-enforcement of culturally appropriate behaviour. He also argues that extensive written accounts from administrative authorities are able to outweigh local oral narrative. This is despite the fact that these written accounts do not, as is often perceived, contain a fuller or any more objectively reliable account. Both written and oral narrative act to convey conventional social ideals of perfect behaviour; only the context of interpretation alters in these narratives as each invokes their own social system. These stories which gain purchase are those which are best able to display those ideals of the society in which they are told.

Ridington’s investigation of written account of Native American spiritual traditions comes to a similar conclusion as Cruikshank. Ridington finds that spiritual traditions are indigenous to the land and the peoples; creating a cosmic order within which the world realises its meaning. This would be near impossible to convey in written form as understanding requires a complete understanding of the world and culture which seems to be only possible to gain through experience. Western styles of story telling use a monologue; Judeo-Christian creation stories for example present a single given story repeated almost identically over time. Native Americans however use a greater dialogue style; traditions flowing from discourse and altering slightly over time rather than the Judeo-Christian single minded tradition of right and wrong advocating conversion to this dogma. Ethnographic studies inevitably convey the writers bias and is always framed in Western ideas of religion, science and spirituality. These ethnographies are also invariably written as monologues which fails to convey the communication necessary between the cultures for understanding.

DeLoria further claims that the Western ideas of correct scientific method actually fails to consider many useful aspects and possible information of the world around. The Western belief that humans societies seek knowledge devoid of superstition seems overruled by modern tribal societies. These societies don’t seem to wish to remove themselves and their knowledge from nature, instead they seem aware of rhythms that scientific people cannot understand. DeLoria argues that tribal ways represent a complete logical alternative to Western science, not a lesser more primitive means. Tribal methods can even be considered superior in that no data is wasted; while Western science discards failed study, tribal knowledge continues to grow and learn from all of these experiences. Tribal societies also manage to mix facts which western science would divide into distinct categories.

Generally, it seems to be that tribal understandings and portrayals of the world need to be better respected and understood. The Western ideals are not unequivocally the correct and most useful means of recording and gathering knowledge and information and this needs to be understood.


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