Assessment of the book
Tables / Illustrations
Final Evaluation / Target Group of Readers
Subject of this review is the book Kulturwandel bei den nordamerikanischen Plainsindianern, written by Jürgen Döring and published in 1984 in Berlin. First a short summary of the contents of the book will be given. Afterwards the structure of contents, the author’s qualification and competence, formal aspects, the bibliographical background and the style of writing (and in this context also the target group of readers) will be evaluated.
I have chosen this specific book, because it deals with the aspect of horses in the Indian culture. As hippology and horse riding are hobbies of mine, I have a special interest in this specific aspect of Indian and North American culture from a horseman’s / horsewoman’s point of view. As I possess a solid particular knowledge in the field of horsemanship I am able to critically judge and evaluate literature which deals with the topic of horses.
At the beginning of the book the author presents a short survey of the literary sources that he had at hand for his studies. Afterwards he explains and defines the meaning of the terms ‘culture’ and ‘cultural changes’ from a sociological point of view. In this context he submits an ethnographic outline of the cultural history of the Cheyenne and the Comanches, i.e. the two tribes that are subject to his studies. In the following the author then presents a short discourse about the domestication of the horse, how it was brought to the new world, how it spread there and how and when the Comanches and Cheyenne took over the horse as part of their culture.
The following chapters give information about the number of horses a single Indian, an Indian family and a whole tribe owned. The author describes the way the horses were kept, cared for and bred by the Indians. The equipment for saddle-horses and packhorses are described. Then the several functions of the horses in the different techniques and strategies of hunting bison are discussed. Other topics are the importance of mustangs as a source for getting horses, the role of the horse in the different trade relations of the Indians, the horse’s role in warfare and in the intratribal relations of the Indians. Within the framework of the last aspect the author also describes the role of the horse concerning the Indian rights of inheritance, their religion and its role as a means of payment.
The book closes with a comparison of the ways of life of the Comanches with that of the Cheyenne before and after the introduction of the horse into their cultures. The differences and parallels in the cultural development of the two tribes are described and a final, critical evaluation of the current state of scientific research and discussion concerning the role and meaning of the horse in Indian culture is given.
Assessment of the book
The structure of the contents appears to be comprehensible and logical. The list of contents is classified in a detailed way, which makes it easy to find information to specific aspects without a (missing) subject catalogue. The introduction of the book, containing the definition of the term ‘culture’, the description of the author’s sources and the ethnographic outline of Indian culture form a very good entry into the following discussion. The topic of the book is extensively worked upon. All aspects of every day Indian life, in which the horse plays some role or other, are discussed thoroughly. The comparison of the life of the Indians before and after the take-over of the horse as well as the tables and illustrations in the appendix and the extensive bibliography round off the book.