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The Nahnu Native Ethnography

My own contribution to this tradition of native ethnography has been in collaboration with Jesus Salinas Pedraza, a Nahnu teacher from the Mezquital Valley in central Mexico. Jesus and I met in 1962 when I went to the Mezquital to study Nahnu for my M.A. In 1971, I told him that I was thinking of writing an ethnography of the Nahnu. He said that he might like to write one himself, and so for the next 16 years, he wrote, and I translated and annotated, a four-volume, 232,000-word book on Nahnu culture in Nahnu (Bernard and Salinas Pedraza 1989; Salinas Pedraza 1984; Salinas Pedraza and Bernard 1978).

Just as I had developed a writing system for Nahnu and had taught Jesiis to intellectual- ize about the phonology of his language, I supposed that I would teach him to take field notes about ceremonies and to write about all the details of everyday life. As I said in 1989, in the introduction to the Nahnu ethnography:

I saw him writing up a bunch of raw facts and me guiding him in the analysis of those facts, as we teased out the underlying meaning of the texts produced by his unschooled efforts. I saw myself guiding Jesiis, monitoring and supervising his work, and seeing to it that the ethnography he would produce would meet the high standards of modern anthropology. I wanted to be able to say that, as the professional anthropologist of this team, I had laid academic hands on Jesus’s work and that the result was much better for it. (Bernard and Salinas Pedraza 1989:24)

I was soon disabused of these illusions. Jesus Salinas wrote his 232,000-word ethnography of the Nahnu with very little active coaching from me.

 
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