People of the Rainbow: A Nomadic Utopia

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Overview

Since 1972, the Rainbow Family of Living Light, a loosely organized and anarchistic nomadic community, has been holding large gatherings in remote forests to pray for world peace and create a model of a functioning utopian society. In People of the Rainbow, Michael I. Niman offers the first comprehensive study of this countercultural group, also known as the Rainbow Nation or Rainbow Family. Niman's insightful and compelling profile describes the origins and recent history of the Rainbows and explains the eclectic philosophy of environmentalism, feminism, peace activism, group sharing, libertarianism, and consensus government they espouse. A fictional re-creation of a day in the life of a Rainbow character named Sunflower begins the book, illustrating events that might typically occur at an annual North American Rainbow Gathering. Using interviews with Rainbows, content analysis of media reports, participant observation, and scrutiny of government documents relating to the group, Niman presents a complex picture of the Family and its relationship to mainstream culture - called "Babylon" by the Rainbows. Niman also looks at internal contradictions within the Family and examines members' problematic relationship with Native Americans, whose culture and spiritual beliefs they have appropriated. The nomadic nature of the Rainbow Family has long exasperated the U.S. government - especially the Forest Service - and has baffled the media. Niman places the Rainbow Family's gatherings in a historical context by framing the group's activities in terms of the long tradition of intentional communities and utopian experimentation within the United States. Concluding with reflections on the successes and limitations of the Rainbow movement, People of the Rainbow provides an extensive ethnography of this intriguing subculture as well as fresh insights into the ongoing legacy of utopian communalism.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
The Rainbow Nation is a loosely knit group of countercultural activists ("hippies") that has organized gatherings in remote rural areas since 1972. Drawing on the methodology of participant/observer, Niman (American studies, SUNY at Buffalo) offers a sympathetic profile outlining the group's guiding mission to uphold and practice the values of nonviolence and cooperative living and to provide an alternative to the urban rat race. While he suggests that the tribe has been largely successful in terms of adhering to its founding ideals, Niman also points out that individual gatherings have been marred by poor group dynamics and disruptive behavior. One of the more notable features of Niman's approach is his effort to link the Rainbow to earlier utopian movements. "Rainbow ideology syncretizes Euro-American traditions with Thoreauvian pacifism, simplified `New Left' politics, and the `Eastern' religious ideas that flooded America in the years just prior to the first Gathering." The text is accompanied by several photographs by Gabe Kirchheimer, whose work has also appeared in the New York Times. Recommended for American studies collections.Kent Worcester, Social Science Research Council, New York
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780870499890
  • Publisher: University of Tennessee Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/1997
  • Edition description: Older Edition
  • Pages: 274
  • Product dimensions: 6.02 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael I. Niman is a professor of journalism and media studies in the Communication Department at Buffalo State College in New York.

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