Learning Feminisms with Helen Henderson

(Feature Photo:  Helen with Koukoundi Women, Upper Volta 1979.  Photo by Richard Henderson)

I have spent months writing this essay, and the story keeps changing.  I ask myself:  why persist in this sometimes pleasant but often painful, baffling task?  For this symposium, the aim must be to shed some bit of light on issues of gender, a central political problem of our time.1

So I posed this question:  How did Helen become the person we knew at BARA2 in the 1980s and 90s:  strong scholar/organizer dedicated to needs and goals of  “Women in Development”3? I know for a fact that she didn’t start there: Helen, 1950s undergraduate , told close friends that her main life’s ambition was to “marry an anthropologist and go to Africa”. 

Here’s the difficulty:  it’s safe to say that I know Helen in more detail than anyone else alive, because I knew her for almost sixty years and in times past she told me many stories about her 22 years before we met.  But we never sat down together and said, let’s talk about all these stages of life we have experienced from a “What did it mean” point of view.  We just didn’t — Why?  I think that, as long as she was self-reflective, we were each just too busy getting on with the rather differing directions of our lives. We could have done it, but while she was operational we just didn’t think to try.  So I have to ask myself, looking back at all the “stages”, or “phases” as I will call them:  what were her perspectives at each time? And the more I think about them, the more possibilities seem to arise.

Helen conquers another moment with comedy…..

So to proceed in the face of towering ignorance:  My view of the “how” question is this:  she learned to build strong balance between seeking greater freedoms of action , and its necessary corollary:  increasing capacities for Impulse control.  I see this as her key to good life, bearing in mind that mine is one-view of a “Rashomon” story — others may see it differently.  Here I  propose eight “phases” for her story, but this construction — like any effort of this kind  — must fail, if for no better reason than — if Helen were present here today, in body, with mouth — she would demolish it with humor.

Phase One: “Limited prospects for Her Kind” (Harrisburg, PA)

To begin, Helen’s family had roots in strong patriarchy — her Pennsylvania-German father’s father thoroughly de-selfed his wife — “Quiet, Woman!”, he would say when she tried to join in conversations  — but this harsh version of family culture was altered when Helen was born:

1-A The Kreiders of Harrisburg:  “Late” parents in 19364

Helen in costume, 1942

Helen (age 4) & Nita with Snowman

Helen’s mother Nita overtly conformed to the dominant ethic, but she also ran deep-closet resistance to male domination, aided by her own loving mother who lived just blocks away, and these two  (with some others) helped  Helen escape the worst de-selfings of patriarchy, by forging Helen’s creative, “actor” side5. Helen’s father Homer,  only son of that strong patriarch, a lawyer (later Judge), looked somewhat beyond his father’s views;  he befriended a  newsletter-writer Democrat and these two would discuss, at leisure,  political realities — actual, scheming lives.  When Helen reached “the age of sense”6, they asked her to entertain them by mocking national political figures. 7.  So within this “patriarchy”8,  she found escape hatches, some “new directions” to take.

1-B  Quality Schooling opens more doors

Katherine Sweeney Day School Yearbook 1954, Helen’s senior year: commentaries

Her parents placed her in a remarkable private school: co-ed at the primary level, girls-only from puberty onward, and oriented toward placing their girls in good colleges. Helen acted in plays,  mostly avoided the teenage “sex-game-race”, learned French and  “serious subjects”. 9  More mysteriously, someone  in this school  inspired her to “fall for”  an American Black man now becoming a Major-league Baseball super-star:  when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947,  Helen — known by her friends for both wit and personal intensities, plunged into her first (if virtual) love affair: she  created private rituals to help Jackie’s Brooklyn Dodgers win each game, and  her devotion  convinced her mother to escort her to Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, where she cheered for her hero in public. This major gain in freedom could work because her everyday behavior was impeccable. 10

 

Phase Two:  Syracuse Anthropology, “real love” and Learning

2-A, She didn’t “Go Sorority”: 

In 1954 at Syracuse, Helen avoided this route into social-class fixation — instead joined rooming houses, building life-long friendships with more diverse, intellectually challenging women.11

2-B, In introductory  anthropology,

Helen read Bronislaw Malinowski – a path-breaker who showed the social and psychological functions of the magical rituals Helen herself was doing to help her hero. This revelation  propelled  her  into anthropology, and to say she would “marry an anthropologist and go to Africa.” 12

2-C, Helen was “swept off her feet”  by an actual male,

This was Jilt-day for Helen

a graduate student in psychology, tall, handsome, articulate, clever, an active and overt breaker of “social conventions”. 13  He was highly engaging, except in intimate social interactions, where his view was purely “What’s in this for ME?” He openly bragged of greedy consumption of female bodies14, and he soon jilted Helen, ran off to northern New York State with a job as high-school psychologist.

Heartbroken Helen applied to graduate schools in Anthro, was accepted at Berkeley in the spring of 1958, when this man telephoned her: he was in trouble for getting one of his female students pregnant, and  Would Helen please marry him right now!  Helen replied, “I’m going to Berkeley”, ended the call.  Her room-mate, seeing her distraught, said, “Why don’t you just go up there and marry him?”, Helen bawled, “He’s not good enough for me!” 15

Phase Three: Berkeley Breeds Team-Work

Helen arrived in Berkeley late August  1958, and one of the first people she met there was me.

3-A Dick was different:

Compared with her prior male interest, I was bright perhaps but not “charismatic-brilliant”, quiet, courteous, friendly, interested, but cautious with other people.  I had learned that consideration of female wants should  be imperative in gender-social situations (though I still had much more to learn). She must have been relieved at the prospect.

3-B: Educational Skills differed:

Helen’s 1950s Syracuse provided interesting anthropology, but my New Mexico training was stronger, in light of what we both encountered  at Berkeley 16 , where we now entered a  new-theory dynamo — David Schneider, Robert Murphy, Tom Fallers and Clifford Geertz. I was ready for them; Helen, at first, not so much.17

3-C: Co-Residents, co-students,  eventually co-spouses:

In our first days in Berkeley Helen and I each took a room in the same “Berkeley Shingle” rooming house.18  we grew close by walking to school together, sharing food, and by Christmas we were in love: I had never met anyone like her – open, socially outgoing, excited to explore all kinds of ideas – morally alert and strikingly witty in ways both startling and endearing. From her side, she perhaps thought I “Knew Everything”, and seemed a gentle,  friendly person.  We both actively sought to please the other.19

Helen and Spouse With David and Addie Schneider

By Spring we were both established in the Department, and  I applied for a Ford Foundation Research Grant. In August, we married and had reception at the home of Professor David M. Schneider. It looked like Helen would meet her treasured goal: she had  married an anthropologist, and these two would go to Africa!

Phase Four: Trouble comes to Paradise

4-A:  The Wedding Night

Helen at Agate Beach, the morning after….

I must have decided on my own how we would proceed — drive out camping along the coast of Northern California.  Helen complied, but I would later learn that she never cared much for camping.20  So we went to a campground on the coast of Northern California, pitched our tent and settled in for our wedding night.  I think it rained a bit.  Then a stray kitten entered our tent:  it was coughing, obviously sick.  Helen wanted  to take it in (she was always very fond of cats, as I learned), and I said, No.  I was allergic to cats.  I have no memory of this conversation, but I do know I was adamant about this issue. On the next morning, Helen, now very silent, pensive,  said to me, “Will we be happy?”  The strong, silent man said something like “Of course; why not?”  If I’m to guess her viewpoint, it must have been a late-1950s version of “am I stuck in a patriarchy again?”

 

 

 

4-B:  Complete Male Collapse

In a frame of this altered mood, Helen saw her husband enter psychological-academic collapse in the fall  of 1959 (caused by his carelessness in dealing with the intra-departmental political scene). She stood by him, but — in light of his now-obvious flaws — a Ph.D. of her own became  a strong goal, another degree of freedom obtained through self-control. 21

Despite his failings, her husband won a Ford Foundation grant to go to Africa to study “A City in Transition”.  This gift came directly from the hands of the magisterial political scientist James Coleman, who smilingly said, “Why don’t you go to Onitsha? They say it’s split right down the middle!”.

Phase Five: Uncertain Spouses, “Strong-Male” Cultures

Awta (“Arrow”) Age-Grade men escort the mighty Ijele masquerade, Onitsha Inland Town, Nigeria 1961

So walking-wounded husband and his now more ambitious wife went to Nigeria in late summer 1960.22

5-A The Blob faces Tough People:

Dick entered Onitsha passive, anxious, and nearly inarticulate, but we were well received – most Onitsha people welcomed Americans in the Fall of 1960 – and Helen was stabilizing force. They liked her more than they did me, for good reason: she was congenial and socially quite adept23, while my life-recovery task was to change from friendly-smiling blank who shut down when confronted, into someone more active, aggressive, and self-assertive.  Fortunately, many Igbo-speaking people behaved like first-rate psychotherapists  They couldn’t “cure” my problems, but they pushed me hard and in good directions.24

5-B  What research focus for Helen?

Helen’s role was undefined, but she was told at Berkeley: “Don’t study women; WOMEN HAVE NO CULTURE.” Helen found most Igbo women much less garrulous with her than the men, who would tell her bluntly to leave the room when “important matters” were discussed; she resisted, but stark male/female divisions were there.25

Then she met Robert and Barbara LeVine26, who guided her  to study the tradition of  Onitsha child socialization.  Helen  hired unmarried girls of Onitsha, so she could consult the considerable population of older “Ndi-Onicha” women living there.27

Onitsha Customary Court in action, 1961

“Women’s Wing” of local/national political party donates cow for public sacrifice, March 1961

But Helen also took her typewriter into the Onitsha Customary Courthouse, where she spent part of many months reading and recording Onitsha

Customary Court cases28 dating back to  1910, where she encountered Onitsha women bringing court-cases against men, some of them  testifying “I was the MAN who did this….”  Some distinct points of gender interest entered our data base — women could be more complex.

 

And some women were clearly powerful, in a variety of important contexts.  Helen’s focus stayed on more local, apolitical women.

 

 

 

5-C, System Complexities changed foci, strengthened “Male”:

Corpse of Obi Okosi II on public display, March 1961

Our original research aim was to study a “city that is split right down the middle”, and so this city was in 1960: the native residents — in one of whose villages we now lived –- called themselves “Onitsha Ibos”, or “Ndi-Onicha”,  and in opposition they called the immigrants to the 20th-

century city, “Ndi-Igbo”, a pejorative term meaning “Igbo people” 29,  viewed them as “free-loaders” intruding in “our homeland”. The immigrants, in contrast, called themselves “Non-Onitsha Ibos”, and were grasping power in Onitsha politics30.  We began our work by trying to  research both sides31.

Six months into our stay, the Onitsha King (Obi) – sacred head of the “Onitsha Ibos” — died, setting in motion an interregnum contest that absorbed our time, first, drawing us into ever-deeper research about the past, since the “TRADITIONAL”  ways of succession to Throne now became  pivotal issues, politically charged.

Helen’s cartoon of Demanding Dick, Spring 1962

This pulled us decisively into the orbit of the “Onitsha Ibos”, who now saw me as deserving respect and interest32, while I began to see  “Non-Onitsha Ibos” less often, and  these contacts turned more impersonal and antagonistic.33.  But the upshot was important:  I  became much more like “an Igbo man”:  confident, increasingly confrontational.34 Helen’s 1962 cartoon here illustrates the process.

1962 Helen tracking world events from one available source…

Another massive change was Nigeria, this “New Nation”, moving slowly but with momentum, toward Falling Apart.35

All three of these very complex system-changes challenged our research focus,  and we struggled to grasp the floods.36

Helen detects the preposterous aspects of a Harrisburg story…

To summarize “Phase Five”:   both Helen and her husband matured greatly, and stayed bonded37. Helen’s role had become more secondary, Dick’s character waxed stronger,  a more  “Assertive Man”. Back in Berkeley, their relationship moderated — Dick completed his dissertation in the spring of 1963. Helen worked toward her own Ph.D. exams .38

I then landed a job teaching at Yale in the spring of 1963, and we drove across country to New Haven, Connecticut and searched for housing there.

Phase Six: Diminished Faculty Wife

Above, the back side of 360 Edwards Street — here facing the rest of Yale Campus running downhill to the south — which provided an apartment home for us for almost seven years (1964-70).39

Helen’s social standing now shrank: she became a “Faculty Wife”, quite “out of the picture” in the Yale Academic Scene.

Helen and Dick co-published our first paper in 1966, a monograph on Onitsha Child-training for Ibadan University Press. This careful and competent piece  showed little  of the focus on female tactics and goals that would later erupt in her work.40  By 1964, she surely felt “diminished”41, and her tension-levels were rising as she worked toward her Qualifying exams at Berkeley — which she did accomplish there, and returning home, began writing her dissertation (when she could find time).

6-A, Multi-dimensional Personal/Social/Political/Cultural Dynamics

Helen and I  always differed profoundly, I think, in one very important way:  She was not interested in exploring the wilderness of her own consciousness.42  I was a polar opposite: “opening the doors of perception” became a life-long goal as early as 1951. 43  So when psychedelics blossomed among the students at yale in the mid-1960s, I lept right in, and revelations — social and psychological transformations — immediately occurred (and were permanent).  Helen was “not interested”; not hostile to it, but somewhat perplexed — she simply did not want to explore these domains.  Here she leaned more toward impulse control,  while I leaned sharply toward greater degrees of freedom. The obvious self-transformations experienced by many people at this time shocked the public in the 1960s (including government officials who proceeded  intemperately to demonize all psychedelics). 44

Psychedelics were definitely a Great Transformation for the 1960s, and it’s worth pausing here to consider some of its longer-term impacts:  this “New Age” decisively challenged previous “hard-science” views of “reality”, carrying large numbers of (mostly young) human beings into new interior places in their own brains:  they saw “new realities” that demanded new perspectives on “consciousness”, while many science professors at the time denied consciousness any “reality” status at all.  Fifty years later, our neurological sciences are probing many aspects of this vast domain, often using psychedelics as critical tools.45

In the 1960s, however, this uncontrolled, “free-enterprise” populist consumption of changes in awareness launched movements that “validated” diverse and often weird notions of “Alternative Realities”, assisting the spread of degrees of cognitive disorder far beyond their previous containment inside the various religions of the past.  If our previously-dominant historic religions demonized our worlds before the 1960s, today we confront myriad forms of cognitive (and moral) chaos, now so thoroughly unleashed by the Internet that they threaten to undermine “reality” everywhere:

Below:  “How America Lost its Mind”, by Kurt Andersen (illustration R. Kikuo Johnson), The Atlantic September 2017 Issue:
At Left, Haight-Ashbury 1967;  at right, USA 2017

But we should  also remember that this same freeing of consciousness helped launch what became known as “The Women’s Movement”, a political surge which began to emerge right around  the time when Helen finished her work on Onitsha “Women’s Power” (see below).

The Vietnam War:  by 1966, massive resistance spread in our cities against the War; both Helen and I became actively involved in opposition. 46.

Collapse of Nigeria: the Biafra War: By 1966-7, two military coups ended the New Nation, and Igbo speakers decided to secede.  Both Helen and I chose to work for these people we had lived among, and this absorbed increasing amounts of our time.47  We did meetings in New York organizing the academic community; these failed, but there we met Anne-Marie Shimony, Head of the Anthropology Department at Wellesley College; in 1968 she offered Helen a teaching job at Wellesley (which of course she accepted.) This meant she must commute by train, which she did, at first using mainly teaching materials  Dick had amassed at Yale.48

By this time (Spring 1968) Helen was pregnant ,

Parental pair, February 1969

So in New Haven, the spouses went to Lamaze classes as Helen bloomed out in many ways.49 When twin sons were born February 7, 1969, both parents were magically transformed into loving ones, major social/psychological changes I will not venture to describe50.

A UC-Berkeley Ultimatum Awaited her:

When Helen and the babes arrived home a week later, Dick presented a letter  just arrived for her from Berkeley Department of anthropology officials:  “You will submit to us your completed dissertation by the end of this May, or you will be dropped from our Ph.D. Program, Period.”  So we both mobilized to achieve this immediate goal.51 Helen’s task concentrated both our minds.52

Helen defended her Dissertation at Berkeley, and they accepted it without revisions. Helen’s Thesis Advisor, Bill Bascom, observed to her:  “This is a Feminist Tract.”  Helen did not know exactly what he meant nor did I, but  we now turned in relief to the numerous  other distractions now absorbing our lives.

“The Feminist Tract”:  Some Details

Unfortunately, time constraints dictate that I place this discussion in an Appendix — see the website.  I will simply say this:  Helen surveys religions and rituals from the whole of West Africa down to close readings of women’s roles in Onitsha rituals, draws inferences regarding the social and ecological factors enabling Onitsha women to play active roles within a system where women are, broadly, demeaned.  She examines the ranges of identities available to men and to women, then shows how these crystalize into social-political roles and collectivities.  She measures the ranges and limitations of women’s power, how distinctive strengths may imply weaknesses in other social contexts.  Then finally, she conducts a substantial comparative survey  of other Igbo groups53   The entire work is a tour-de-force account of women’s ways and means of access to political power during the early historical period (given the data available at the time).

This valuable contribution should obviously have been published immediately, but Dick now turned  instead to his own Grand (and necessary) Operations54. Helen’s distractions at this time were even more complex.  So despite the strong positive reception Helen’s work received in universities along the eastern corridor, we missed the implications  —  both and each were too intently focused on Other Things. So55, the reach of her work remained limited.56

Halen & Babe aboard Air France June 1969

Shortly after Helen’s Ph.D. was affirmed, the now-four-members family flew to England for Archival work on early-historic Onitsha. This project dug both of us deeper into the historical side of our research,57

 

Distractions Accumulate:  “The Women’s Movement” (“Women’s Lib”; the “ERA”….), Marches on Washington…

On campus in the late ’60s, undergraduate women were admitted to Yale, and graduate women (and some faculty wives) became openly “feminist” in aggressive, political ways. Some new visiting faculty women seemed hostile to all males. 58 Meanwhile, on the other side of this coin, Anthropology Department faculty considered the prospect of inviting an outstanding female anthropologist to join their ranks. The ranking members belittled her work, and rejected the prospect.

Rioting  broke out in New Haven against the Vietnam war, as Helen stayed with the boys in our hillside home59 while Dick  went  to “combat center”60. Helen attended the historic March on Washington with strong-feminist-anthropologist June Nash.61  What seemed to us a New-Haven-centered combat zone obscured the emergence of carefully-organized Feminist movements like the National Women’s Political Caucus (NWPC), led by people like New York Congresswoman Bella Apzug and Gloria Steinem which by 1971 began to assault the halls of congress with agendas of political change.

Tenure Prospects  Vanish for Male Bread-winner:

1971 Judge Kreider’s Chambers, Harrisburg

Dick is “Tie-dyed” wih Boys 1971

Dick’s own activism in so many extra-academic contexts undermined his rapport with pivotal faculty members who had previously wanted to support tenure, and in 1971 tenure was denied.62  This meant that he must job-search, which he did, giving talks in various venues.   Prospects near the East Coast were inviting, but these entailed Chairmanship of Departments, jobs that Dick knew in his heart he simply could not do. So he leapt at an offer from Arizona, explaining to Helen why he couldn’t stay East, but in reality he hardly consulted her at all: he found himself profoundly eager to go somewhere calmer.

Helen’s responses to this decision are not recorded, though pictures of her at this time suggest a pensive turn.  She made no complaints, and helped the family prepare to move, which we did in June 1972.63

 

 

Phase Seven:  Wellesley Professor Becomes  Tucson “Faculty Wife”

Helen at boys’ Art Class 1974

Here, Helen first worked to get her sons established in the local school, while her husband began offering new courses, often on subjects for which he had done little preparation.

The University had something like a “Nepotism Rule”64 and Helen aroused no interest in the Department. 65 So she began extending her networks wherever she could find people whose interests correlated with her own.  First, she located fellow-mothers who shared her desires to open the eyes of their children — for example she and a new friend designed and presented a course  on Religions of the World for their Sunday-school class at the Unitarian-Universalist Church66.  Second, she built networks among female professors67, and  briefly landed a job teaching at Pima Community College — but full-time doors there were closed.  She commuted for a while to teach at ASU.68  She was not wasting her time:  she  met new worlds riding on that slow-bus to Tempe, enlarging her grasp of “American Culture”: she brought back new ideas to her boys, including new views of “the West”.69 We also travel together to visit my brother and parents in San Diego, richly rewarding  times.

Helen faced some difficult moments in 1975 dealing with her husband’s failures of impulse control, but he apparently convinced her  that he would change, which he did.70

The “Six Trilobite Hunters” celebrate near Antelope Springs Utah 1976

“Mormon Patriarch” and pals near Moab Utah, 1976

In the summer of 1976, the Kreider-Henderson family  embarked on a “round-the-Four-corners-states” trip with our boys plus the two Shimony sons from Wellesley, six of us in our Toyota Corolla station wagon, on what became a transformative adventure for us all.  We camped out in tents along the way, and immersed ourselves in the truly Awesome Creation that is the Colorado Plateau.  This was another step that changed our lives.71

Photo from 2008, near Utah’s Pink Sands

Phase Eight:  “Who Do You Know that You Can Use?”

In 1977, the political ferment which had brewed on the eastern seaboard since the time  of Helen’s dissertation became a dynamic feminist power group in Washington, which pushed successfully, fostering many new acts of federal legislation.   One of these was USAID’s creation of its Women in Development (WID) office in 1974, and this in turn led to programs funding active research into women’s roles in agriculture in West Africa.  These programs were directed at land-grant colleges with strong agricultural faculties, and so “women’s studies” in this dimension reached Tucson and the UA campus in 1977 when the University of Arizona Arid Lands Program was awarded a relevant grant.

Helen had recruited local helpers at the University, so when the  Arid Lands Niger Natural Resources Program went in motion in 1977 she learned about it quickly.  While most of those commanding the project neither spoke French nor knew much about West Africa72, Helen had both of these skills, but when she presented them, the bosses in charge showed minimal interest.

We met a man at a party, where he took keen interest in Helen. She learned that he worked for the project, so she consulted him. He said, “Who do you know that you can use?”  Helen replied, “I couldn’t do something like that, ‘use’ somebody.”  Her consultant repeated the question.  Helen considered the few Washington DC connections we might have, and could only recall one:  “Well, we know Allan Hoben, he works with AID.”  Her new advisor replied, “That is the man who has  the job of evaluating this project!”

Ever-brilliant Allan Hoben, Hot Springs Canyon April 1996

We were old friends of the Hobens, part of our old Berkeley cohort. 73. Dick telephoned Allan and reported our problem, learned that he would  soon fly from DC to California and could  stop awhile Tucson.  We set a date, invited Arid Lands Niger Project officials to join us for a party, and  they attended in large numbers.  Allan circulated freely through the crowd, never mentioning Helen, and a week or so later Helen was invited  to join the project.

 

Here marks a major change in Helen, and here also my task for this Symposium largely ends.  It remains to say:  Helen now “got going”, and74 went off to Africa, while Dick remained at home in charge of her boys (now eight years old), who worried about her a lot and also suffered very low-standard cooking. 75

Helen in Falenko, Niger with her assistant Idi 1977

Helen with the wives of the Falenko Chief, 1977. Helen writes, “These women are cloistered: their husband buys wood and brings water, so they remain in the compound during daylight hours. Because they are cloistered, they do not have to work in the fields. They are dressed alike, since Muslim law requires that all wives be treated equally.” [Thanks to Nancy Ferguson for unearthing this photo.]

 

 

From Helen we  received many air-mail letters, which revealed a strikingly different person:  no longer much joking, more contemplative,  exploring the many meanings of working alone in the field, no longer fretting her  “inadequacies”. The tales she told show that she had found “new ways”.76

Helen and Dick Koukoundi, UV Dec 197

In  the Fall of1978, Arid Lands again sent her to West Africa, this time to Upper Volta77 to work in a remote village for an AID project concerned with the productive activities of women.  Dick  followed her there in December  with the sole aim of  support, where I found her highly respected by everyone, from top AID people in Ouagadougou78 to the small children of Koukoundi, who tended to gather round.  I could see I was dealing with a new Force of Nature.79

That new face….

Helen in her Koukoundi House December 1978

 

 

Grinding millet with Mossi women

From this time onward, Helen became team leader and I her assistant whenever she needed one, though the most striking aspect of her work from this point on was her active networking with women throughout the country and then across the globe, always in pursuit of feminist goals.   While I became a “bit player” after 1977, I’m proud to say we acted as a team for about 45 years, so the growth of our particular versions of  “feminism” was  in part a joint effort. The team faced dissolution only once, and that too was a “feminist learning experience” for each of us.

Afterwords:  Helen’s Book Project and the Research Trip to Onitsha in 1992

Aside from her ongoing work at BARA, Helen continued considering a return to Onitsha, now intending to explore the contemporary lives of Ndi-Onicha women.  When our Onitsha relative Nneka Umunna told us she wanted to go there in order to perform the Ikwa-Ozu (“Second Burial”, “Lamentation”) of her mother’s mother Nne-Ci, we decided that now was our time to return:  with Nneka’s help we could organize meetings for Helen with important people who could further her efforts, and hopefully could observe and record the funeral.

Nkisi Aroli Street; Helen fell farther down this hill. The road was heavily pot-holed.

Our Nkisi-Aroli house. Note the large drainage ditches; Helen fell uphill from here

The story of this journey belongs elsewhere80.  Let it suffice here to observe:  the research process began very well, but ended abruptly in our second night in Onitsha when Helen, accompanying a group of women walking uphill from our house along a deeply pot-holed road in pitch darkness,  fell into a large drainage ditch and broke her ankle. 81 After desperate searching through the darkened city82, her rescue party found her  a haven at St. Charles  Borromeo Hospital (where they had a generator and therefore electric light).  The patterns of our entire stay  in Onitsha were drastically transformed, and Helen’s  plans for book research completely disrupted (though we continued making efforts relating to it into the early 2000s).83

Helen lands in the “Bishop’s Room”! With Nneka (at right), Nneka’s sister, and Francis Omekam (our main guide throughout our visit)

The Ndi-Igbo doctors at St. Charles Borromeo hospital gave Helen excellent care.

Helen escapes her confinement. Everyone remarked about her cheerfulness throughout this experience.

Leaving St. Charles Borromeo in Francis’s car. This vehicle took us everywhere in Onitsha that Francis deemed it was safe for us to go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix:  Her “Feminist Tract” — “Ritual Roles of Women in Onitsha Ibo Society” (1969)

 

Isiokwe Daughters cleanse the feet of their men (One has departed)

Senior Daughter of Umuanyo has the right to purify all lineage houses (New Yam Festival)

This 526-page  volume begins with a broad survey/assessment of the varieties of Anthropological approaches to religion, overviews general patterns in “traditional” West African religious systems, then dives into the religious beliefs and sociopolitical structures of Ndi-Onicha in their prehistorical ecological situation. As she proceeds, she draws continual comparisons and contrasts of the statuses and roles of males vs females.  As she proceeds she observes  that “Some major social structural variables in Onitsha lay a basis for the active role of women in Onitsha society” (in a system where women are, broadly, demeaned).

UmuOrezeabo ritual near Shrine to Mothers (Childbirth)

Shrine to the Ancestral Daughters of Eke-na-Ubene descent group

Virginal Daughters of Umu-Anyo run in anger; one of theirs has died

This structural background in hand, she delves into the variety of roles Onitsha women play in  the rich field of ritual processes, first a chapter on the broad domain of ritual in Onitsha and then a very close study of that immense social and cultural domain of death and funerary ritual in all its profound detail.  She considers the range of beliefs regarding female (and male) identities, the shrines and other objects controlled by women (and men)84, how rights and duties, beliefs and obligations are distributed, enacted and disputed

Virginal Daughters of Umu-Anyo run in anger; one of theirs has died

Village Wives of Umu-EzeAroli gather for a man’s Elevation

during the elaborate stages of Death, Burial, Lamentation, and Reincarnation. In every ritual context, the powers and limitations of various women-identities — as Wives, Mothers, Daughters, traders, and others, and the social groups that form collectivities around these selves are measured and compared — the ranges and limitations of women’s power, how distinctive strengths may imply weaknesses in other social contexts.  Then finally, she conducts a substantial comparative survey  of other Igbo groups85.  The entire work is a tour-de-force, given the data available at the time.

 

 

 

 

 

  1. We live in a world where some people still think that menstruating women give off dangerous toxic fumes — “bleeding in their whatevers” is one obvious example; that menstrual blood can drive away thunderstorms, that sex with a virgin can cure a man’s STDs; that a raped, unwilling woman can’t get pregnant; that if pregnant women have bad thoughts, these will ruin their babies; that women can’t, or maybe just shouldn’t, think too much – it makes them angry and infertile. These are just a small sample; we live in a world where sociopolitical policies and practices still find strong grounds in such nonsense, and all of this — beliefs, policies, practices — must change. [Return ↩]
  2. Bureau of  Applied Research in Anthropology, University of Arizona [Return ↩]
  3. a field  still largely ruled by men, but not entirely, in part thanks to her. [Return ↩]
  4. Homer and Nita thought they would never have children;  40-year-old Nita’s husband’s father (the patriarch), a homeopathic doctor, insisted she merely had “a floating kidney”; Helen’s birth disconfirmed this hypothesis. [Return ↩]
  5. One of Nita’s (only slightly realized) ambitions was to do eccentric things:  for example, she would amuse her husband’s colleagues at parties by playing the role of a gypsy fortune-teller. [Return ↩]
  6. Here we’re looking somewhat later, to her teens [Return ↩]
  7. One memorable act was to don her father’s suit-jacket and walk downstairs for her “Dwight Eisenhower Press Conference”, aping the great man’s way of avoiding Preess Corps questions by elaborately meandering speech. [Return ↩]
  8. And throughout her father’s lifetime to some extent it was. [Return ↩]
  9. This school was located close by Kreider house, so Helen could “host” her friends, with a “stage” at recess or lunch. [Return ↩]
  10. Obviously, this was an unlikely “first-love”-engagement for a middle-class white girl in the early 1950s:  a strong “skewing of consciousness” away from her family. Her father, and most other relatives, were quite racist, and shocked by this “craze”, but her mother trusted, hence actively supported her daughter. Later, when one of her college roommates visited the family while these rituals continued, Helen’s father took her aside and expressed his worry  — this strangeness, what “mental disorders” may they be suffering? [Return ↩]
  11. She briefly palled around a bit with Joyce Carol Oates (they would ditch P.E.), and  while Helen planned to write her “Great American Novel”, Joyce Carol of course did (and more than once). [Return ↩]
  12. Some might sneer at such talk a bit in 2017,  but for her at the time this is both perspective-expansion and forging a new long-term goal.  Dick today worships Malinowski — he’s on my screen-saver! — and partly for this reason. [Return ↩]
  13. When Helen questioned  his slugging down gin while driving his VW bug (tossing the empties out on the streets as he went), he replied “because driving is so boring”. [Return ↩]
  14. He drew for her a quite sophisticated cartoon, displaying himself as a “Yogurth Beast” eating his way through an eager crowd of “shmoo-like” beings, hopping-ready to be chewed alive into his gut. [Return ↩]
  15. Here, Helen “put down” her feelings, focused instead on  interpersonal commitment, and  she never recontacted this person, though for a time she retained that “Yogurth Beast” cartoon — she later showed it to me. He also appeared on the national news a few times, as a fringe New-Age Guru. [Return ↩]
  16. New Mexico in 1958 has provided a link  to Harvard’s Department of Social Relations, then-new integrator of social and behavioral sciences.Harry Basehart arrived at UNM in 1955; he was deeply invested in research on African societies and cultures, and as his student I  was committed both to going there and to this “newly systematic social science”. [Return ↩]
  17. I also had a decent grounding in linguistics, which Helen lacked and which she did not get even at Berkeley, which had a separate Linguistics Department. This weakness remained a limitation for her in all her fieldwork. [Return ↩]
  18. This was a redwood-covered and redwood-tree-yarded, 3-storey building containing a mix of male and female students and former-student hangers-on. People on each floor shared bathrooms, and on my second-floor we shared a kitchen as well. Helen moved into the third floor and had her own kitchen. [Return ↩]
  19. One way we did this was to go camping.  On one long trip into the Marble Mountains of Northern California, she spoke with passion about our “primitive” moments together. [Return ↩]
  20. Her motives for the earlier enthusiasms seem dubious. I think in the courting situation she used some tactics learned from her mother  — see Phase 1-A.  In later years, we camped a few times; I think in all these other cases the social bonding made the effort seem worthwhile to her. [Return ↩]
  21. A standard mantra of Helen’s was “Character is fate” — a revealing comment about what people can (or maybe can’t) do about what may befall them — and she clearly had a sense of what her own character should be. [Return ↩]
  22. They had no time to research Igbo culture, but stopping enroute in Helen’s hometown Harrisburg, Helen’s grandmother, who everyone regarded (with good reason) as a warm-heart-saint, smiled in meeting Dick and gave him sage advice:  “Be sure to stay away from the Blacks!” [Return ↩]
  23. At one point in our social lives there, she  began finishing my sentences when I lost words. [Return ↩]
  24. Among speakers of Igbo, we now met new social, cultural, and personal forces. The late Stanley Diamond, a gifted anthropologist who knew and admired the Igbo earlier, observed in a paper – he was drawing a contrast between the modern world ruled largely by what he called “dissociated men”, who turn real living action into abstractions, with people -– as he put it, “Reality BLAZES for them”.  We now dealt with many people obviously alive with,  and expressive of, their emotions. And over the course of nearly two years, it changed us. But it changed me much more, I think. Helen didn’t have to go so far. [Return ↩]
  25. Since she lacked language facility, she found it hard to engage women. It did seem that most women had much less to say. This was an illusion, but a real gulf in Western Education access for women made it seem so, and she did not succeed in breaking these barriers. [Return ↩]
  26. Workers on the Six Cultures Study of Child Socialization at Harvard under John Whiting. [Return ↩]
  27. Dick also worked this task, consulting the males. [Return ↩]
  28. A very substantial corpus, all of the books somewhat–termite-ridden but on the whole legible. [Return ↩]
  29. These latter mainly came from nearby towns and spoke differing dialects of the Igbo language. [Return ↩]
  30. Power in which had previously been angled by British authorities toward the “natives'” favor [Return ↩]
  31. and in fact I persisted in this aim for many  struggling, eventually partly “wasted” years. [Return ↩]
  32. “Ndi-Onicha” thought I might have hidden connections with the still-influential British officials who continued to occupy decisive positions in the Government which would stand to resolve the issue of who the next king would be. [Return ↩]
  33. This was partly due to big changes on the international level  too complex to discuss here.  Colonial Collapse was everywhere: Patrice Lumumba was killed in the Congo, and  local protesters gathered on the streets of Onitsha, held militant marches, and European]-looking people became open targets of abuse. [Return ↩]
  34. “Be assertive, don’t back down, be bold and open, call a spade a spade!”  This new-selfing was a lifelong change, if later placed under better impulse control. [Return ↩]
  35. we watched, with some dismay. Together, the national and international scenes drew us together, despite our obvious interpersonal tensions. [Return ↩]
  36. Helen continued her court cases, and she also became the primary typist of our many fieldnotes.  Helen’s mother Nita would have been appalled to learn this; she pointedly warned Helen: “Don’t let any man know that you can type!”  But I think Helen enjoyed this; it took her into worlds of male activity otherwise closed. [Return ↩]
  37. Our fieldwork experts  had told us that husband-wife fieldwork is a supreme test for any marriage, and we passed that test. A return-vacation in Rome, Cologne, and London was thrilling, sharply altering our social contexts. [Return ↩]
  38. Clifford Geertz was there, she took a course from him.  Geertz participated in progressive national-political protests in Berkeley at that time, but we stayed single-minded, side-showed  these oppositions to the “House Un-American Activities Committee”, budding “Free Speech movements, the stirring of “Black Power” movements, etc. [Return ↩]
  39. this 19th-Century Mansion had been converted into  a number of apartments, reserved  mainly for visiting faculty.  Our  rooms were inside the white structure at top right, part of the 4th-level “Servants’ Quarters”, while six or seven other renters lived about, including in the former kitchen at far right base, which still had the remnants of a dumb-waiter that led upstairs to what was once the “dining room”.  (the Fire-escape ladder was added after we had moved out.) For a considerable time Helen acted as “Super” for this building, a task she performed quite  effectively and memorably including  some marvelous cartoon-notices that gave gentle direction to new residents (some  of whom were outlandish by Yale standards). Thrilling memories reside in this house; at one point, an undergraduate friend and I successfully brewed multi-bottles of sparkling hard cider in the basement, while a huge oil-burning furnace chugged fiercely nearby — observe the mighty chimney serving it at top right. [Return ↩]
  40. While writing this paper, I have examined it carefully for evidence of Helen’s distinctive views, but found little – she provided lots of data (as did I), but very little perspective on female power. [Return ↩]
  41. Though in fact she made contributions in several domains,  acquired more life-long friends while drawing her social-commentary cartoons along the way. [Return ↩]
  42. I have lots of evidence for this from my own viewpoint, though others who knew her may remember differently.  One example, but in retrospect, typical:  when Helen’s Alzheimer’s became obvious after 2000, she steadfastly refused to face it: looking into that prospect was just off-limits.  This is just one case example among many. [Return ↩]
  43. As a late-teen-ager in an Air Force barrack, I read Sigmund Freud and Aldous Huxley, and  Huxley’s views became an obsession, opening new directions to follow.  I yearned for Peyote in 1950s New Mexico,  but had no clue where or how to find it. [Return ↩]
  44. I find it gratifying — albeit 50 years late — to see widespread scientific recognition of their value. [Return ↩]
  45. the works of Oliver Sachs provide just one example of how far cultural-psychological has progressed since that time. [Return ↩]
  46. We both did  workshops and marches against the Vietnam War, which intensified through all our remaining years at Yale. I helped monitor massive, potentially explosive demonstrations on campus.   Helen worked locally in support of anti-war candidates, and went to The March on Washington in 1967, riding in June Nash’s car.  June Nash, one of the earliest and strongest true feminists I  met, sometimes extended herself so much that she forgot “trivial things”,  to her misfortune.  On this occasion, June had forgotten to update her vehicle registration when a D.C. policeman stopped her car; she and Helen ended up at a police station where  a fine was assessed, but neither Helen nor June had thought to bring money.  June was bound for Jail until Helen remembered a friend in Bethesda who she called and who came promptly providing Bail. [Return ↩]
  47. in 1968 Helen and I organized a Relief Fund for Biafran Children and I organized both protests against Federal Policies toward the Biafra War, and a symposium offering prominent speakers on the topic. I also provided substantial research materials to a student group at Yale wanting to research the issue, but “their house burned down”, along with  the documents inside it. [Return ↩]
  48. Hillary Clinton was there; ’68 was her junior year, when she supported Eugene McCarthy for President.  Helen voted for him; I thought that foolish, and was right, given the outcome. (I have no idea if Wellesley campus politics that Fall touched Helen in any way.) Hillary spoke at her own graduation in 1969, receiving a 2 minute ovation. (I don’t think Helen attended that event.) [Return ↩]
  49. At one class — these are held for new parents to prepare for childbirth– Helen, far advanced by this time, asks me, “Are those others as big as I am?” Yes, I reply (though they aren’t, not nearly). Later, as she’s examined by her main doctor, he observes bruskly, “Too Many Limbs”; she is X-rayed, then he cryptically states, “Two complete fetal skeletons.”  This was definitely a “Doctor of Few Words”, but also competent in his job. Helen also “bloomed” in warmth, calm, and energy in these times. [Return ↩]
  50. Bonds both intensify and expand [Return ↩]
  51. We obtained new space in our 3rd-floor “Servants’ Quarters” residence::   while we both willingly attended the  needs of our two new homebodies, we must also write our necessary books.My “King in Every Man”, poking along like a lumbering tortoise, must awake, while Helen had her Deadline.  Since work-time became critical, we moved the boys’ beds into a separate room with a Monitor telling us when they were awake. [Return ↩]
  52. She wrote, I criticized. I poorly remember most of this time, but I do vividly recall the Deadline Night, May 30, 1969, when the entire manuscript was finished: a Friday, so Helen’s working typist (Evelyn Middleton, our Anthropology Departmental Secretary), was gone.  Helen collapsed well into the night when she finished the Ending, so I sat down and — I swear this is true, though it’s hard to believe even for me — I typed out the last remaining text of her manuscript, quite a number of pages without error — though normally I am a rather sloppy typist.  We then mailed the full, errorless Dissertation off to Berkeley on Saturday. [Return ↩]
  53. and even briefly considers the Yoruba. In all these cases  she asks what factors appear to favor political strength in one domain, for example (Collective Wives), and weakness in another (lineage Daughters), and so on. [Return ↩]
  54. Putting together The King in Every Man was a huge logistic task.  In 1970 “cut and paste” editing really meant that — processes were glacially slow, and scholars working solo faced  extended delays. It was “one thing after another”  I made most of my own diagrams. [Return ↩]
  55. although it was always available in Microfilm [Return ↩]
  56. I am struck by this today, as I read  in a wide-ranging new volume, Being and Becoming:  Gender, Cutlure and Shifting Identity in Sub-Saharan Africa, edited by Chinyere Ukpokolo (an Igbo woman) and published in 2016 by University of Ibadan Press.  For example, in a brilliant article by Sabine Jell-Bahlsen dealing with a masquerade in an Igbo village, I see residues of the doors Helen opened in 1969:  Sabine-Bahlsen closely examines and and analyses complex rituals, largely controlled by men, yet  shows how their social and cultural implications also enhance important powers of women. Many of the exciting research directions explored in this book have roots in Helen’s focus on Igbo (and also Yoruba) women.  (Our son Michael and I began to  edit and transpose it some years ago, and in 2016 we published our edited version in Helen’s Chapter of this larger, Onitsha-oriented document, in which you are reading  a page right now  — amightytree.org. [Return ↩]
  57. The great symbolic anthropologist Mary Douglas found us an apartment there.  We had an au pair from New Haven, Barbara Tapper, who tended our two strapping boys; Helen would work in one archive, I in another. We all took a side-trip motoring past Stonehenge and through Ireland at this time, powerfully bonding our group. See the comments on “Awesome” experience in the Footnote ending Phase Seven, below. [Return ↩]
  58. The sparkling physical anthropologist David Pilbeam  joined our department, and on one (and only one) occasion I encountered his wife, who made a sarcastic remark about “my MCP”. Confused, I asked what that acronym meant; she replied, laughing along with her female cohort, “Male Chauvinist Pig!” Horrified, I leapt to defend David:  “He’s no MCP!” (though in fact I knew nothing of their family relations). Calling people “pigs” still offends me. [Return ↩]
  59. A faculty wife friend calmed her fears, “Don’t worry, Helen, crowds never run uphill!” [Return ↩]
  60. working as a “crowd marshall” trying to prevent the kind of disorder that will summon the National Guard troops waiting for their orders while undulating, banner-waving “Hippies” fill the New Haven Green. [Return ↩]
  61. This trip almost lands June in a DC jail, Helen stranded there.). June was one of the first (and to my mind most memorable) strong feminists ever (a brilliant progressive scholar — see her research on struggling miners in Peru). [Return ↩]
  62. I do not imply that political activities caused my failure to get tenure  — that was due mainly to the always-glacial rate of Dick’s publication. The nay-sayers were right, in my opinion. [Return ↩]
  63. A stop by Harrisburg was precluded by the Susquehanna River flood. This isolated the city, and the Kreider home was flooded — as it had been in March of 1936, when 2-month-old Helen was carried out from that same home in a boat. So  we crossed the Bridge on the Turnpike and had quite a fun time on our 5-day trip across the country, with “Dark Side of the Moon”, Country Joe & the Fish, et al, musically transporting the foursome. [Return ↩]
  64. excluding spouses of faculty from holding positions, though the Department of anthropology did boast one husband-wife pair of professors. [Return ↩]
  65. Although Titile IX, the Educational Amendment banning sex discrimination, passed in 1972, feminism appeared to have little hold in Tucson at this time and  “Faculty Wives” were of no more relevance here than at Yale. [Return ↩]
  66. Claire Scheuren was an essential support  for Helen’s self-worth at this time.  For the children who experienced their course, some eyes must have been widely opened indeed. [Return ↩]
  67. Myra Dinnerstein always acted as an especially valuable  and influential friend. [Return ↩]
  68. That too was not a viable prospect. [Return ↩]
  69. Helen encountered some “Sons of the Pioneers” on this bus, and one time chanced to sit beside Shadow Ray, my old  Casper (Wyoming) Basketbell Coach,  who now Snow-birded between Wyoming and Coolidge, and spoke of old times in the Casper of 1949. [Return ↩]
  70. This brief statement elides what was in fact a decisive year for us: we had to decide about the future of our marriage, and full commitment was the issue we  did resolve.  Loyalty accrued for good things past must also have been a strong factor in our remaining together, up to now. [Return ↩]
  71. Ever since, that region has been Holy Ground for me (and Helen and I returned to it thereafter many times).  See the 29 July 2017 issue of New Scientist for a useful discussion of how “Feeling Awe Makes People Happier and Less Stressed”, that is, how the experience of awesome environmental immersions — like good Psydelelics — can both expand and calm fevered brains. We never related better than after we experienced this enormous, mostly silent, endlessly-embracing place. [Return ↩]
  72. One senior figure always spoke knowingly of  “The African farmer, he….”;  another, possessing no facility with French whatever, created some very comical moments, for example when he boldly typed out a Program for a meeting with visiting Niger officials, sprinkling his few French words through the text in most bizarre fashion. [Return ↩]
  73. I gave him decisive job support in 1972 when he needed it (and he deserved it — in my experience he was one of the most brilliant anthropologists in our discipline). [Return ↩]
  74. after much networking  preparation with everyone else in the project [Return ↩]
  75. My first effort was a chicken soup which I managed to burn badly on the bottom.  My sons were quite courteous:  “It’s all right, Dad — we’re not really hungry right now”.  So I enrolled in a Chinese cooking class, learned that art from a real expert, and we three male “widowers” soon found ourselves eating very well. [Return ↩]
  76. We have somehow misplaced all these letters — I hope to find them sometime as we continue exploring her “archives”, recalling more about this time. [Return ↩]
  77. now Burkina Faso [Return ↩]
  78. The Director of the project, who met her at a party, observed her in action, leaned close and said, “Vous et Unoubliable“. [Return ↩]
  79. While there I became known as “Gorko Madame” — “Madame’s Man”; Helen gained great renown in these villages for her medical expertise, –after providing “Where There is No Doctor” help to a man gored by a cow, part of her task became “no-doctor” first aid to streams of ailing people who arrived at her door. [Return ↩]
  80. see the Aftermaths Chapter in AmightyTree, where it is outlined but not yet developed. [Return ↩]
  81. Dick was guiding the group along the road with our sole flashlight; Helen had left her glasses behind, and apparently “saw” the ditch as a smoother pathway. [Return ↩]
  82. One person recommended the “Evolution Hospital” where there was said to be a “good bone doctor”.  Driving there, we found a massive three-storey building, entirely dark except for what appeared to be a single candle burning far upstairs.  Helen said to Nneka, “Please don’t put me in there!” [Return ↩]
  83. See “Scatterings of Truth” in Chapter 8 “Asides” in Amightytree, where Dick recounts one of his own brief adventures during this time. [Return ↩]
  84. The religious “identities” of women have permanence beyond death (as do those of men); mothers may be incorporated into shrines (like men). Men are required to bring in ghosts of their mothers (as well as those of their sisters/daughters). Powers of influence flow through ancestral women to their descendants. [Return ↩]
  85. and even briefly considers the Yoruba. In all these cases  she asks what factors appear to favor political strength in one domain, for example (Collective Wives), and weakness in another (lineage Daughters), and so on. [Return ↩]