The Pueblos of New Mexico in Benedict’s Patterns of Culture

[Image credit: Ruth Benedict, Anthropology Theory Project]

The Pueblos of New Mexico

This is the comment page for “The Pueblos of New Mexico” (chapter 4, pp.57-129) in Ruth Benedict’s Patterns of Culture for Hartwick College students in Cultural Anthropology 2016. Before the reading, posed these questions:

  • What are the Pueblos like and how do they compare to their neighbors?
  • What is Benedict trying to do here?
  • Why use the Pueblos as her first example?

Rough notes below followed by Disqus comments.

In future readings, I would include Our Laboratory of Anthrolocura by Aimee Villarreal and David F. García in Anthropology News (July 2018).

The Pueblos of New Mexico: Who are they?

Native American groups: Acoma, Zuñi, Hopi (59)
New Mexico & Arizona
Farmers on arid & inhospitable land
Matrilineal (71-75)
Inheritance through mother’s side and how that influences kinship & marriage
Discipline, Rite, Whipping (69)

Benedict:78-80 is the crucial “thesis statement” Benedict uses to organize the ethnographic material

For contemporary examples of rituals, see The Perennial Power of Ritual (2016) in Sapiens.


Middle road (79)
Avoid visions (87)
Drunkenness repulsive (89-90)
Monotonous Dance (92-93)
No crimes (100)
Never violent (106-108)
Quickly get past death (109, 119-120)
Suicide incomprehensible (118)
No menstrual huts (120)
Fertility without sex symbolism (123-25)
No notion of sin (126)
Institutions over individual


“achieve excess” (79)
Risk, frenzy
Seeking visions, dream (80-81)
Drugs & alcohol (85)
Frenzied dance (94)
“courting of death” (119)
Individualism (83)
Although still only minor variant to cultural whole (84, 98)

What is Benedict trying to say?

  • Same people–Race & Environment–but so different
  • Against savage stereotypes = Greek examples as civilized
  • How deep culture goes, countering idea of culture as sum of individuals (113)

“The trouble with life isn’t that there is no answer, it’s that there are so many answers” (see Ruth Benedict in the Vassar Encyclopedia)

They have made, in one small but long-established cultural island in North America, a civilization whose forms are dictated by the typical choices of the Apollonian, all of whose delight is in formality and whose way of life is the way of measure and of sobriety. (Benedict 1934:129)

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