News and Reviews
Last week, a newspaper in Rochester, New York, reported that some Amish men are helping fight fires with a couple of volunteer fire companies in the Finger Lakes region. The reporter spoke with William Palmer, Sr., at the Croton Engine and Hose Co. No. 1 in the town of Ovid, and with Dale Standard at the Interlaken Volunteer Fire Department in Interlaken. Both towns are between Seneca and Cayuga Lakes, and both fire chiefs had nothing but praise for their Amish volunteers.
Mr. Palmer said about the Amish, “They are truly a blessing to us in Ovid…. [They] are here, always available in an emergency, and we’re not sure how we ever got along without them.” He said that his fire company has some difficulty retaining its members because of the time commitment that volunteering as a firefighter represents. Those small towns do not have paid, professional fire crews.
He told the newspaper that there are 10 Amish firefighters out of a total crew of 57. Palmer, who has been with the fire company for over 50 years, said that a long time ago they had an Amish member but the local bishop intervened and he quit. However, a few years ago, things changed and another Amish man joined the company. Now, an Amish man volunteers on an average of every couple months.
“One man told me, he’d always wanted to be a firefighter,” Palmer said. “Just like me growing up, so it is something many of us have in common. And the Amish are keenly aware of the need for fire protection. They are all very intent and focused on the training.”
Mr. Standard, the Fire Chief from Interlaken, Mr. Palmer, and others indicated that the Amish are among the best workers in the two companies. “Nobody knows how to roll out a hose like the Amish,” Standard said. “Even at rapid speed, they are meticulous about it.” The Amish firefighters in the two companies range from 19 to 30 years old.
The Amish members did not wish to be interviewed by the reporter, much less to have their names used, but the two fire chiefs praised the working partnership that has developed between the Amish and the English communities. Recently, an Amish firefighter rode on a fire truck in the nearby town of Trumansburg’s Fireman’s Parade; also, an Amish family attended the annual fire company banquet, and some Amish people participated in a September 11th memorial ceremony.
Standard and Palmer both said that they take special care to respect the beliefs of their Amish members. “We’re a brotherhood at the fire house; a second family,” Standard said, adding, “we never want to do anything that is going to offend them.”
The young Amish firefighters carry pagers that they can recharge with solar panels. They are transported to the firehouses by “English” members, or by a Mennonite person. One young man uses an Amish scooter to rush to the firehouse. He keeps trying to improve his time—he can now make it from his farm to the village firehouse in six and a half minutes.
The Amish in the fire companies ride in the backs of the fire trucks and leave the driving up to the English members. According to Standard, the air masks of air packs will not seat securely enough over the faces of men with facial hair, so only men without beards—Amish men who are young and unmarried—are allowed to use the air packs and enter burning buildings.
The fire companies do not have enough funds to purchase the fire equipment they need for all the volunteers, so some of the Amish are eagerly waiting to be assigned air packs and to receive training in their use. According to Standard, the Amish are “fearless.” He added, “perhaps it’s the way they are raised, perhaps it’s their faith. Either way, we’re lucky to have them.”
Palmer commented that the two fire companies are not unique in having Amish volunteer fire fighters. He said that numerous communities in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, have Amish members participating in their fire companies. He singled out those in Bird-in-Hand, which has 50 percent Amish members, and Gordonville nearby, which is close to 100 percent Amish.
Coyote wanted to eat Opossum but the latter, too wily for his would-be consumer, said he must first eat the juiciest fruits from a nearby cactus. Coyote did as Opossum instructed—he opened his mouth and closed his eyes, whereupon, the possum pitched three prickly pears down the coyote’s throat.
The myth, according to Elizabeth Falconi, restates a moral value to the storyteller’s audience of Zapotec listeners: that ingenuity can triumph over power and force. And that simple moral, she argues, can serve as a metonym for the history of Zapotec culture and language, which are struggling to survive in the face of the overwhelming, oppressive force of Spanish. Furthermore, Opossum’s escape symbolizes the attempts by some Zapotec scholars to revitalize their language, and with it, their cultural traditions.
Falconi’s recent anthropology journal article provides insights into the ways the Spanish and the Zapotec languages are used for telling stories among Zapotec people in the village of San Juan Guelavía, located near the city of Oaxaca in southern Mexico. She sees the uses of languages during their storytelling sessions as part of a process of preserving and revitalizing cultural identity and practices.
By way of background, Falconi writes that the village is composed of people who speak Spanish, one or more dialects of Zapotec, and English, all with greater or lesser fluency. In their ordinary conversations, villagers usually speak a mixture of legitimate Zapotec and Spanish, called zapoteco revuelto.
Almost surprisingly, when the male elders sit down with younger people to tell stories, the men will shift into correct Spanish for their narratives. Other adults present may urge them, especially in the presence of a note-taking North American anthropologist, to use proper Zapotec, called didxzac, which they could also speak.
In contrast to ritualized events such as weddings and the festivals of patron saints, when the people use proper Zapotec as a ceremonial language, during the more informal storytelling sessions the elders often switch nervously back and forth between Spanish and Zapotec. Falconi describes several instances when storytellers she observed were translating their Zapotec stories into Spanish, not only for the benefit of a visiting scholar, who was still learning her Zapotec, but also to help the younger members of their audiences who had limited fluency in the native tongue. The Spanish language had become a dominant idiom for the performance of stories.
Falconi adds interesting asides to her analysis—in story form, of course. She tells how the storytellers she witnessed would relate tales of young princesses who were taken far from their homes and their families, thereby making obvious parallels with her own situation. One man, she writes, “then jokingly suggested that I could excuse my long absence [from home] by pretending I had escaped from a coyote, or human trafficker…. (p.628).”
The author discusses the relationship of storytelling in San Juan Guelavía to the social structures in the village. One of the storytellers she observed, Isidro, was celebrating his 78th birthday. The anthropologist was videotaping the party in order to share it with family members in Los Angles when a call came through from that very family. Isidro said he was telling a story he’d told before to the family gathered around him.
Isidro’s comments showed that he was well aware of his role as the center of the family, and the importance of the ceremonial occasion that was focusing on himself as the primary force in maintaining family social ties. The story he told celebrated his role as “venerated patriarch of the family (p.630),” Falconi writes. Isidro emphasized the importance of his storytelling, the celebration during the evening, spending time together (conviviendo), and respect (respeto) within the family.
Wilber, Isidro’s grandson who was in his late 20s and mostly a Spanish speaker, then expressed to everyone else present the value of his grandfather’s message. He thanked his elder for everything he had done as “the head of this family (p.630),” the source of his understanding and knowledge about the world.
But not all Guelavíans prefer to use Spanish in their oral communications with young people. Falconi describes a program developed by a Zapotec scholar in the village, Javier Ortega, who was at the time the president of the municipality. Ortega’s program sought to revive the use of didxzac by the younger generation.
An anthropologist himself, Ortega sought to restore familiarity and comfortable use of the Zapotec language by having young people translate myths from Spanish into Zapotec, then perform them in a theatrical fashion for the community. The telling of stories was, for him, a way of reclaiming the community’s indigenous heritage. Ortega felt that didxzac was founded on ancient Zapotec, and it had fewer borrowings from Spanish than the Zapoteco revuelto that many people spoke.
His approach reverses traditional Zapotec practice. While storytelling is normally the domain of elders, in Ortega’s program the youth are telling the tales, thus innovating a new pattern yet at the same time reclaiming their ancient culture and language. The new approach benefits the community due to the ways the stories reveal the workings of Zapotec indigenous knowledge. This is the most important aspect of the process: the development of cultural self-esteem, he maintains.
In essence, Ortega’s approach and Isidro’s vary considerably from each other. The one emphasizes the importance of the hidden Zapotec values, while the other clings to the Spanish dominance of their culture. The story of the opossum and the fox was told by the youth of the community in a pilot version of Ortega’s language revitalization program, and was translated by the young people themselves.
Falconi concludes her analysis—much of which has to be omitted in a brief review such as this—by explaining how the collection of such stories by young people forms a “grand historical epic.” She writes (p.632) that “youth reading and translating these tales will be led through a series of increasingly complex Zapotec lessons about the mundane and sacred meanings contained within the myths.”
Falconi, Elizabeth. 2013. “Storytelling, Language Shift, and Revitalization in a Transborder Community: ‘Tell It in Zapotec!’” American Anthropologist 115(4) (December): 622-636
News and reviews of publications relating to peaceful societies—and sometimes to related topics—are normally posted here on Thursday mornings (U.S. time) and are kept on this page for one week. Older news and reviews for 2014 are listed below, and ones from previous years are listed on the News and Reviews 2004-2005 page, the 2006 page, the 2007 page, the 2008 page, the 2009 page, the 2010 page, the 2011 page, the 2012 page and the 2013 page. All stories are also included in the News and Reviews Subject Listing. Recent ones are listed at the bottom of each society entry in the Encyclopedia of Selected Peaceful Societies, after the heading: Updates: News and Reviews. News and reviews about peacefulness in general are referred to from the bottom of the Facts page, while news stories about this website are linked from the About This Website page. News and Reviews can also be found with the Google search bar.
October 16, 2014. Nubian Resettlements May Move Forward
October 16, 2014. Tristan Lobsters Accepted by the EU
October 9, 2014. Electricity in a Ladakhi Village
October 9, 2014. Gathering Non-Timber Forest Products [journal article review]
October 2, 2014. Horse Manure
October 2, 2014. Gender Inequality among the Lepchas [journal article review]
September 25, 2014. Deaths of Pregnant Fipa Women
September 25, 2014. The Ju/’hoansi Address Global Climate Change
September 18, 2014. The Fate of the Lost Franklin Expedition
September 18, 2014. The Trap of Rural Thailand [journal article review]
September 11, 2014. The Ladakh Project: An Audiovisual Mashup
September 11, 2014. The Peaceful Ju/’hoansi Mistreat their Dogs
September 4, 2014. Amish Hate Crimes Convictions Reversed
September 4, 2014. The Baybayin of the Buid
August 28, 2014. Inuit Plural Marriages
August 28, 2014. Zapotec Women Push Changes [online magazine article review]
August 21, 2014. Violence in a Yanadi Community
August 21, 2014. Frog Woman and Her Moral Code [anthology chapter review]
August 14, 2014. San Hunters Versus Botswana
August 14, 2014. Conflict Resolution and Gender Equality in Lepcha Society [book review]
August 7, 2014. Amish Self Concepts—Prisoners Relate their Experiences
August 7, 2014. Inuit Self Concepts—Are They Satisfied with Life? [journal article review]
July 31, 2014. Conviction for Corruption Upheld against Flosse
July 31, 2014. Uses and Customs in Oaxaca [online magazine article review]
July 24, 2014. Schooling for the Semai
July 24, 2014. Political, Religious, and Community Tensions in Ladakh [journal article review]
July 17, 2014. Rural Thai Children Threatened by Absence of Parents
July 17, 2014. Official Concern for Birhor Wanes
July 10, 2014. Police Remove Yanadi before Modi Visit
July 10, 2014. Children Learn to Be Peaceful the Batek Way [anthology chapter review]
July 3, 2014. Amish Volunteerism
July 3, 2014. Birthday Wishes for Glenn Paige
June 26, 2014. Atlas of Inuit Trails
June 26, 2014. The Challenges of Lepcha Identity [journal article review]
June 19, 2014. Nubians Waiting for Fair Treatment
June 19, 2014. Homeless Fipa Children
June 12, 2014. Huarime Festival in a Piaroa Community
June 12, 2014. Soups and Such from Hutterite Kitchens
June 5, 2014. Zapotec Affected by Wind Project
June 5, 2014. Reports of Violence in Thai High Schools [journal article review]
May 29, 2014. The Birhor and the Bees
May 29, 2014. Traditional Ways on Huahine
May 22, 2014. Lancaster County Amish Consider Leaving
May 22, 2014. Rat Hunting Holiday on Tristan
May 15, 2014. Ladakh Makes the Effort to Vote
May 15, 2014. A Visitor on Ifaluk
May 8, 2014. Yanadi Abandon Traditions, Modernize
May 8, 2014. Inuit Sale of Game Meat Questioned—and Defended
May 1, 2014. Paliyans Proud to Vote
May 1, 2014. A San Complains about Rotten Treatment
April 24, 2014. Birhor Boycott National Elections
April 24, 2014. Kadar Boycott National Elections
April 17, 2014. Hutterite Colony in Japan
April 17, 2014. Raging Violence, Nubians Versus Arabs
April 10, 2014. Paliyans Exploited in Tamil Nadu
April 10, 2014. Storytelling Preserves Traditions of the Lepchas
March 27, 2014. Presentation on Tristan Coming to Toronto Area Library
March 27, 2014. Philippine Conference Promotes Indigenous Languages
March 20, 2014. Proposed Port Threatens Yanadi Villages
March 20, 2014. A Jewish Scholar Visits an Amish Family
March 13, 2014. Seminar Presentation on Rural Thai Culture
March 13, 2014. Ladakh Political Status Challenged
March 6, 2014. Inuit Languages Celebrated
March 6, 2014. Rules for Maintaining a Peaceful Society [journal article review]
February 27, 2014. Zapotec Linguistics Analysis
February 27, 2014. Schooling for the Lepchas
February 20, 2014. Endangered Species and the San
February 20, 2014. Drive-by Horse Shooting
February 13, 2014. Nubians Recognized in Egyptian Constitution
February 13, 2014. Inuit Sex Trafficking
February 6, 2014. The Semai of Pos Betau
February 6, 2014. New Dictionary for Ju/’hoansi Children
January 30, 2014. Preserving Lepcha Culture
January 30, 2014. Rural Thai Culture of Rice Farming
January 23, 2014. Hutterite Colony School Burns Down
January 23, 2014. Batek Suffering from Logging
January 16, 2014. The Tamaraw and the Buid
January 16, 2014. G/wi are Being “Treated Like Dogs”
January 9, 2014. Central California Zapotec Festival
January 9, 2014. Birhor Poverty Finds Relief in a Picnic
January 2, 2014. A Semai Christmas
January 2, 2014. Nubian Recognition in New Egyptian Constitution