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“A fascinating book that truly breaks new ground in the study of Cherokee history, women's history, and American history in general. Exemplifies women's history at its best. She neither concentrates only on so-called notable women—those Cherokee women who are supposedly worthy of historical study because they acted like white men—or on inserting Cherokee women into an already existing narrative of Cherokee and American history. Instead her work challenges the existing narratives and suggests an alternative reading of history. By characterizing women as agents of cultural persistence, Perdue makes a case that we should not see American Indian women as bit players but as ‘major players in the great historical drama that is the American past.’”—Margaret Jacobs, Journal of Southern History
— Margaret Jacobs
Posted April 23, 2003
In her well-written Cherokee Women: Gender and Culture Change, 1700-1835, historian Theda Perdue argues that ¿the story of most Cherokee women is not cultural transformation¿but remarkable cultural persistence.¿ This is not to say, she argues, that these women did not experience significant changes in their status and condition, especially if one looks at the ¿decline¿ of Native Americans only in terms of land losses and military defeats. If, however, historians looks at ¿other indices of cultural change, including production, reproduction, religion, and perceptions of self, as well as political and economic institutions,¿ then a different image emerges of Cherokee women over time: one of cultural persistence. Perdue does not deny that contact with Europeans had a profound, and ultimately negative, impact on the lives and well being of native peoples, including women of the seven Cherokee clans. She is particularly lucid in describing how the deer skin trade, military alliances and the insistence by whites of negotiating only with males in treaty making and land deals diminished much of the influence women had in terms of trade, material possessions and political status. Perdue interprets the changes in Cherokee life for men and women, beginning in the 18th century, as a cultural retooling, in which men became predominantly involved in external affairs of the tribe (war, military alliances, commercial enterprises, treaties) and women maintained internal power and status within the tribe. ¿While women became dependent on men in some respects,¿ she notes, ¿men also relied increasingly on women to plant corn, perpetuate lineages, and maintain village life.¿ She goes on to state that the deerskin trade may actually have enhanced the power of women within their Cherokee communities ¿by removing men for much of the year.¿ Additionally, for most of their yearly sustenance, male hunters still relied on the bounty of agricultural production, which remained almost exclusively the domain of females. Finally, Perdue argues that despite the encroachment of whites, the male takeover of tribal political leadership and institutions by the late 18th century, and relocation to the west by 1839, ¿a distinct culture survived removal, rebuilding, civil war, reconstruction, allotment and Oklahoma statehood.¿ As proof of the survival and persistence of this culture, Perdue briefly points to the continuing significant role of women at the end of the 20th century. Thus, she concludes that the fate of Cherokee women has not been one of cultural declension, but one of ¿persistence and change, conservatism and adaptation, tragedy and survival.¿ Much of Perdue¿s interpretation of persistence and survival of women¿s culture within the Cherokee clans is quite persuasive. However, her treatment of the growing external role of men with regard to leadership and war and the corresponding decline in female power and influence on tribal matters of extreme (and ultimately devastating) importance to the Cherokees is problematic. By arguing that the male takeover of political power and control of land allowed women to consolidate internal, domestic power within the tribes seems to make a virtue out of an inescapable necessity. This is not to refute Perdue¿s recognition of the important spheres women continued to control; nevertheless, her contention that the external pressures of the U.S. government¿s ¿civilization program,¿ land sessions, wars and eventual removal did not result in ¿declining status and lost culture¿ may be significantly overstated. For example, she asserts that although men dominated most aspects of commercial relations with whites, ¿women did occupy one position that had long-term implications for the Cherokees¿they became wives of traders.¿ While marriage to whites may in fact have been an effective method of survival and adaptation for Cherokee women, Perdue¿s use of this trend as evidence of cultural persistence isWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 18, 2001
In Cherokee Women, Theda Perdue overcomes the arduous task of placing women at the forefront of Cherokee society. Too often, Native American History places women on the periphery of native culture and society. Instead, Perdue explores the gender constructs which are essential to understanding Cherokee culture. Hence, the title can be misleading in that this book is just as much about Cherokee men as it is about women. Nevertheless, Cherokee Women is a well-written account of Cherokee society starting from the early eighteenth century, before extensive contact with Europeans, and ending in the early nineteenth century when the majority of Cherokees were forced west to Oklahoma. Throughout Cherokee Women, Perdue utilizes words such as perhaps and possibly, and periodically confronts issues that are hard to document. This is due to the difficult task of acquiring sources and interpreting the sources that are available. Faced with the complex process of interpretation, Perdue is able to extract valuable information from biased and flawed observations written by male European observers. In light of the oral tradition of the Cherokees and the Western principles that clouded observers' accounts, it is amazing that Perdue is able to write such a vivid, detailed account of Cherokee life. Cherokee Women consists of three parts and seven chapters. Part One, 'A Woman's World,' consists of two chapters, 'Constructing Gender' and 'Defining Community.' 'A Woman's World' discusses the importance of the myth about Kana'ti and Selu which is the basis for understanding the Cherokees' worldview. In Chapter One, 'Constructing Gender,' Perdue illustrates the Cherokees' concept of the cosmos and how that shaped gender roles. In Chapter Two, 'Defining Community,' Perdue carefully explains the structure of Cherokee society which is based on matrilineal descent. In Part Two, 'Contact,' (which consists of two chapters, 'Trade' and 'War') Perdue introduces the effect Europeans had on Cherokee society and culture particularly gender constructs. A shift in gender relationships arose out of the need to meet the challenges of contact with Europeans. Trade and war threatened to elevate men over women which ran counter to the Cherokees' belief system. Part Three, 'Civilization,' consists of three chapters, 'A Changing Way of Life,' 'Early Cherokee Republic,' and 'Selu Meets Eve.' Increased contact with Europeans forced many Cherokees to recreate their culture to better accommodate 'civilization.' After the Revolutionary War, the United States government concerned with an increasing population and republican ideology embarked on a 'civilizing' Indian policy. Cherokee Women is a wonderful contribution not only to Women's History and Native American History but also to Early American History. Early America cannot be fully understood with looking at the affects of contact between natives and colonists. Perdue effectively illustrates the changes that occurred, both in Cherokee men's and women's realms, due to contact by first discussing the Cherokee worldview and culture and then connecting it to trade, war, and the United States' 'civilizing policy.' Consistently, Perdue explores Anglo-America's influence on Cherokee culture particularly gender constructs but maintains that Cherokee tradition persisted in the face of enormous change.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 3, 2009
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