History, Culture, and Politics
BLUM, RONY. Ghost Brothers, Adoption of a French Tribe by Bereaved
Native America: A Transdisciplinary Longitudinal Multilevel Integrated
Analysis. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen's UP, 2005. Pp. 448.
In Ghost Brothers, Rony Blum argues that shared loss among Native Americans (brought on by new European diseases) and the French in New France
(who had suffered through widespread disease episodes in Europe) led
them to forge alliances and adapt cultural practices from one another â€” the
"ghosts" of the past led to new understandings. This is a very short prÃ©cis
of what is a long and complex argument presented in jargon-ridden and
overwrought prose. The book is less a work of history and more of a postmodern musing upon a colonial past; it relies on sociological, psychological, and postcolonial theories, to name but a few. The work is consciously
present-minded and its ultimate aim seems to be to find in Native-French
relations a model for cooperation and goodwill in today's contentious
world. That is, death in New France was turned into a means of finding
peace and not continued war, and we should all learn from that example.
Any work that approaches the past with a clear theory to test runs the
risk of making the past fit the theory and, at best, blurs distinctions. This is
true of this work. In looking for the basis of cooperation, the various, and
very destructive, relations between the Natives and the French are overlooked. Leaving aside the dislocation caused by contact, missionary efforts,
and the fur trade, the French actively sought to destroy several Native
groups (the Fox and Chickasaws among them). There is no mention of this
situation, nor any analysis of why the "ghosts" failed to arrange peace in
such instances. There is also a disconcerting blurring of Native cultural differences with regard to death, for example, and an alarming practice of
making sweeping declarative statements about what people thought or believed without evidence to support those conclusions. The book, to be sure,
is heavily documented (the notes and bibliography account for well over a
third of its length), but much of the reference material is to the secondary
literature that forms the theoretical backbone of the work.
If one can accept that much of the theory of human behavior developed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century â€” informed as it was
by the cultural conditions of its times â€” can be applied to the people of the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and to a wide array of different cultures, most not of the "western" tradition, then one might find Blum's argument persuasive. But the reality is that much of the argument is extremely
speculative and as ephemeral as the "ghosts" to which she so often refers.
JosÃ© Antonio BrandÃ¢o
Western Michigan University