3/28/2007 1:53 PM
by PCL Staff
This historical work traces the life of a fictional Oglala Sioux woman from the 1820's to the 1870's, following the fateful Battle of the Little Big Horn. The title character is named Whirlwind. She occupies a prestigious place in her tribe because her father is a distinguished warrior. She grows up and acquires a handsome husband named White Thunder. Whirlwind's life would have been somewhat predictable except for the gradual but inevitable encroachment of the Wasichus (White men) on the Oglala's environment. As we all know, conditions go from bad to worse for the Native Americans as the Wasichus strike and break treaties with them, kill buffalo, fight battles and eventually drive them off the land they have lived on for many years. While the story is sad, it does end on an optimistic note.
This book goes into much detail about the daily life, rituals, culture and beliefs of the Oglalas. I would have liked for Whirlwind to be more fleshed out and complicated. Maybe her lodge (or family group) discouraged too much individualism among its members. The most fascinating character in the book is Whirlwind's uncle Grey Bull who, because of a holy dream he has, must become a member of the Society of Thunder Dreamers or heyoka. While this role was not necessarily one Grey Bull wished for, the heyokas occupied an important place in the Oglala society. They lived on the fringes of the group acting foolishly like clowns. In spite of that, they were considered holy men with great medicine power because of their dream. This was difficult for Grey Bull who had once been a proud warrior. Heyokas were contrary and always had to say and do the opposite of what they meant as did the people interacting with them. When Grey Bull visits Whirlwind after the birth of her baby, she has to tell him "Don't touch the baby" before she could hand the infant to him to hold.
Unlike some other recent books I've read, I really cared about the characters in BUFFALO WOMAN and worried about their fates. This story reminded me of CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR because it describes the family dynamics and culture of an indigenous society.
The author, Dorothy M. Johnson, also wrote THE MAN CALLED HORSE and THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE.
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