[from the Sunny of the Old Southwest Western historical series blog]
Only a reader or two were surprised at the 'intelligence' of my three native women in this five volume series. It may be natural to view people from and formed by a simpler culture and lifestyle as surely being not as smart as those from a more advanced society. But it is not level of intelligence that is different; it is simply the level of education and experience that differs. Thus, should a native girl be raised with many challenges in her own cultural experiences, as was my character Jóhonaá (Sunny), she would grow up just as smart as any other American girl of that era, such as a 'white' girl, or black or Mexican. But she would be smart in some different ways and areas of knowledge. Innate, biological level of intelligence is an important factor as well; and Sunny and her two cousins share a high level of that trait in their family.
If some academic educational experiences were added to any capable, historical, native girl's formation, a similarity with girls in America's frontier 'white' world is formed, and even a similarity to those in the more civilized Eastern culture of that day. Thus Sunny, a Navajo, fits somewhat comfortably, in volume 4, among the academics at the University of Virginia.
There is logic to a smart and farsighted father, such as Sunny's, teaching and encouraging his daughter to read and write, when those cultural elements had been available in their Spanish and Mexican dominated region for centuries. All he had to do was cultivate positive relationships with the good members of the clergy, military, and civil government around him. He does this with the Americans as well when they come into the region after the Mexican War. That conflict was fought in 1846-47, just before and during the period when his daughter and her cousins were born. With her closeness to the two sisters, Naadáá (Natty) and Dahiná (Dani), her cousins, apparently some of her European influence rubbed off on them, making it slightly easier for them to marry white men, when no others were available after they found themselves in Texas. This also helped Natty to eventually become a regionally notable writer.
In order to compare reality to fiction, I have found historical evidence of two native women who became very modernized [rather than saying 'civilized'] in a European way. Many native women were already civilized in many ways. Granted my two examples were part white and part native. They were, however, basically raised native, though they were also educated in European subjects. But, then, Sunny was as well in a sense. She learned to read and write to some degree in English and Spanish. And she was given the opportunity, by he father, to meet and interact with Mexican and American officers and traders, and with Catholic priests as well. To use a descriptive phrase used by Betty Keller, one of the biographers of E. Pauline Johnson (Canada's "Mohawk Princess"), both Johnson and Hawaii's Princess Ka'iulani (last heir to the Hawaiian throne) were seen by whites as: "... both the cultivated lady and the princess from the primeval forest." This phrase is my character Sunny and her cousins, especially, certainly Natty the writer. The phrase essentially defines them. In a politically correct modern world (which I totally reject, by the way), the phrase may seem condescending, but it is really a compliment. Pauline Johnson cultivated that image as a writer and in her performances across Canada and on trips to Europe as "The Mohawk Princess". Her father was an important Mohawk chief and came from a line of very historically important chiefs.
This view, valid or not from individual case to case, is part of the mystique and appeal of the native woman to the white men who marry them even now in our era: that is to say_ men who marry women of cultures with closer ties to the more simple and pastoral life of past eras and cultures that today might still have close ties to that lifestyle such as in Africa, South America, Southwest Asia, and Southeast Asia (as well as the far North regions of North America). Such women can often be among the world's most sophisticated, yet their slightly distant sisters in the hinterland can have their ear to the earth. It is a positive cultural truth to be proud of, not a negative. And, even when the woman is quite modern and sophisticated, there is an older reality that sometimes peeks through, a reality of a native earthly knowledge (depending on the individual girl of course).
My Filipino wife is in very many ways more sophisticated than me, a simple Appalachian, suburban, country boy, she being from a city dwelling family of the medical and business world. And yet, from years of visiting her grandparents' and aunts and uncle's pastoral plantations and following her mother's dealings with medical treatments in sometimes rustic settings, she can often come up with some obscure, folk practice that usually makes the food taste better, the wound heal quicker, the baby laugh louder, etc. Well, you get the idea.