Thunder Rides A Black Horse

Mescalero Apaches and the Mythic Present

Brian Lamar

ANT 221-001

Keith Stephenson

October 16, 1995



















I feel that what Claire Farrer means by living in the "mythic present" is that although most Indian culture is perceived long to have been different, it is in fact very live and active today. I will give specific examples from her book, Thunder Rides a Black Horse, to support my arguments of what the "mythic present" actually means and list many examples of events that could be considered to be in the "mythic present."
First I will define the mythic present in the terms that Claire Farrer actually uses in

her book. She states, "For the Indians I know on several reservations in theAmerican West and Southwest, life is lived in what I term the "mythicpresent." What mainstream Americans consider to have happened longago, if it happened at all,is real and present during everyday life onreservations" (2).

Farrer obviously feels that there are many misconceptions among the mainstream Americans about the Indians, inparticularly the Mescalero Apache. I feel she uses her book primarily as actual proof that in many ways the Indians\' culture is the same now in thought, song, narrative, everyday life, religion, and in rituals as many generations before the present.
The three major examples of life in the "mythic present" that I will primarily be discussing are the astronomical concept of the Mescalero Apache, the kin-system that the Apache implore, and lastly the Apache girl\'s puberty ceremony. Although I have only selected three examples, there are obviously many more such as the cultural heroine, White Painted Woman, the creation process in which Apache people are seen as the weakest link in the being-chain, and reciprocity, among others.
The first example of the "mythic present" I will discuss is the astronomical concept that the Apache Indians have and how they apply it. This also includes their "Indian time". The Apache Indian Calendar is not nearly as artificially constructed as our Western version. Only after reading this book did I realize how artificial "our" calendar actually is. Although this calendar was designed like most others to be the time between which it takes for new moons to appear, it is actually not even close. It takes about 29 1/2 days between moons while for some reason about half of our months have 30 days, nearly half have 31 and another month has either 28 or 29.
The Apache calendar is in many ways much more structured. Farrer states, "Indian time . . . is governed by participants rather than a clock; it is when things and participants are all present and ready. That time may be ahead of or behind clock time" (1994:5). The Apache day, instead of starting at midnight as in our society, starts whenever the sun comes up, if at all. Generally, exact times are not set for any reason or are needed to be. I feel a lot of their time schedule has evolved instinctively. That is, Apache Indians generally eat, sleep, and wake up at approximately the same times day after day. There has never been a need for anything to happen, say, for example, at exactly 6 or 11 p.m. and I doubt that the Apache will ever completely adapt to a different calendar for this reason. The Apache have been using the same time structure and schedule for many generations. Their society has never become nearly as complex as our Western society and hopefully it never will be.
There are many examples from the book of their abilities to tell time without watches
or clocks. One example is the morning of the first day of the ceremony in which Bernard
awakens the author before sunrise to prepare for the many events that would occur during
the day. Farrer states, "as usual, his watchless and clockless time sense wasimpeccable, for we would have just enough time to do all that must be donebefore he moved into the ceremonial arena for the start of this July\'sceremonial" (41).

I feel. by saying "as usual", she means that this is a frequent occurrence of their amazing ability to "feel" what time it is or know the amount of time needed to accomplish a certain event. There is also the instance