Basket weaver, storyteller, and tribal elder, Frances Manuel is a living preserver of Tohono O'odham culture. Speaking in her own words from the heart of the Arizona desert, she now shares the story
of her life. She tells of O'odham culture and society, and of the fortunes and misfortunes of Native Americans in the southwestern borderlands over the past century.
From growing up in a mesquite brush home to attendance at American boarding school, exposure to Mexican culture, time in the barrios before returning to the reservation, and many more incidents, Manuel relates her story with wit and perspective.
A wonderful blending of forms revealing Frances Manuel's life, pieces of her traditional culture and its inter-mixture with her Catholic religious tenets, as well as some accounting of the hard work and hard times of her family during a major portion of the 20th Century.
Southwest Book Views
Through heartwarming and largely unedited prose, Manuel relates her instruction in tribal traditions, the strong influence of her grandparents, life in a boarding school, and the harmony among her dreams, songs, and folklore. Like most human stories, her account is the tale of sadness, hopes, expectations, and dreams, but most importantly survival.
Journal of the West
In Desert Indian Woman,
Frances relates her life and her stories with the wit, humor, and insight that have endeared her to family and friends. She tells of her early childhood growing up in a mesquite brush house, her
training in tribal traditions, her acquaintance with Mexican ways, and her education in an American boarding school. Through her recollections of births and deaths, heartache and happiness, we learn
of her family's migration from the reservation to the barrios and back again. In the details of her everyday life, we see how Frances has navigated between O'odham and American societies, always
keeping her grandparents' traditional teachings as her compass.
It is extraordinary to hear from a Native American woman like Frances, in her own words and her own point of view, to enter the
complex and sensitive aspects of her life experience, her sorrows, and her dreams. We also become privy to her continuing search for her identity across the border, and the ways in which Frances and
Deborah have attempted to make sense of their friendship over twenty-odd years. Throughout the book, Deborah captures the rhythms of Frances's narrative style, conveying the connectedness of her
dreams, songs, and legends with everyday life, bringing images and people from faraway times and places into the present.
Deborah Neff brings a breadth of experience in anthropology and Southwest
Native American cultures to the task of placing Frances Manuel's life in its broader historical context, illuminating how history works itself out in people's everyday lives. Desert Indian Woman is
the story of an individual life lived well and a major contribution to the understanding of history from a Native American point of view.