The Lakota Ritual of the Sweat Lodge: History and Contemporary Practice.
The Lakota sweat lodge ritual, or inipi, is a familiar aspect of Lakota religion, incorporated and appropriated from reservations to urban areas, from traditional native ceremonies to New Age religion. The Lakota Ritual of the Sweat Lodge provides an ethnographic, historical, and personal account of the inipi on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The first part of this book traces the history of the sweat lodge ceremony to establish the ritual's tremendous continuity within the face of change. The second part uses the lens of the sweat lodge to present fascinating debates both within Lakota society and externally over religious tradition, ritual legitimacy, and cultural authenticity.
Bucko examines three hundred years of accounts written by missionaries, anthropologists, New Age practitioners, and Lakota individuals "as told to" non-Indians. He painstakingly identifies inipi continuity in the shape of the lodge, the use of stones, the use of singing, and the curative power associated with the ritual. He also shows the ongoing importance of and tolerance toward flexibility, adaptability, and innovation in the practice of inipi rituals, as individuals incorporate procedures and symbols that come to them through dreams or visions.
Through a rich series of detailed personal accounts about the meaning and practice of the sweat lodge, Bucko is able to establish in real life terms how ritual is a series of contentions over the right to determine and regulate tradition. Personal accounts of devout Lakota Christians, members of the Native American Church, and those exclusively committed to Lakota religion, as well as non-Indians involved in sweat lodge ceremonies capture the depth and diversity of contemporary perspectives on religion within the Pine Ridge reservation. Bucko shows how appeals to kinship, adoption, Lakota mentors, personal visions and dreams, and historic documents are made by Lakota and non-Lakota alike to establish individual authority and ritual authenticity. He also examines the pressure created by written texts, like Black Elk Speaks, to codify and solidify an otherwise fluid system of Lakota ritual and belief.
Bucko provides a useful theoretical model for tracing the transmission and creation of tradition. Individuals create tradition through their personal combination of historic continuity and contemporary needs, which are in turn validated or discredited in various communal and interpersonal contexts. By showing the dialectical nature of Lakota ritual and belief Bucko helps move the study of American Indian religion away from the static recording of unchanging traditions to the dynamic and ongoing construction of continuity within change. In his critique of William Powers, Bucko demonstrates the fallacy of discounting Lakota voices that fall outside an externally conceived construct of "Lakota tradition," as if there were a homogeneous "true Oglala." "If tradition is a process as much as a thing, as I contend is the case with the Lakotas, then no single source or single representation will fully encompass it" (111). As a result, ritual serves not only to create harmony and alliance but can also create factionalism and conflict.
Some Lakota readers may find the discussion of how Christianity suppressed the inipi and other aspects of Lakota religion muted. The book mentions that people hid their participation in Lakota rituals because of potential "criticism" they might receive, in a world "perceived" to be hostile to Lakota belief (51). Only one personal account presents the emotional suffering associated with Lakota religious persecution (189). No information is provided about the real economic and political effects of attempting to continue Lakota ritual practices during the period of cultural suppression by governmental and Christian forces, including denial of food rations and imprisonment.
The extensive information provided in the book raises other questions for exploration. For example, a broad array of gender issues are referred to but not discussed, including the appropriate roles for Lakota women as ritual supporters, participants, and leaders. It is also interesting that Bucko does not apply his dialectic model of ritual change to the Catholic Church. There is ample evidence that the strength and continuity of Lakota religion ultimately led to the adaptation of Catholic practices to Lakota religious precepts and symbols. Furthermore, Bucko began his work in Pine Ridge as a Jesuit, attended his first inipi as a priest invited by another priest, and lived at the Jesuit mission during his fieldwork, in many ways embodying the dialectic he propounds.
Finally, this book provides a wonderful window into the contemporary experience of the Pine Ridge Reservation. It captures the complex tangle of economic poverty, social conflict, and cultural revitalization that defines contemporary reservation life. For example, the individual and community struggles over alcohol abuse are vividly revealed through the uses and meanings associated with inipi rituals. The author's discussion of Lakota humor is particularly insightful and poignant, reflected in his nickname "Father Sweat Lodge" This book will be enjoyed by academics, Pine Ridge residents, and would-be inipi participants alike.
Kathleen Pickering, Colorado State University
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|Publication:||The American Indian Quarterly|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 1999|
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