Absolutely love this book, one of the most talked about this year and hopefully will remain for years to come.
Tara Westover’s Educated is a memoir, the story of a woman born and raised in a family of Mormon survivalists.
Wiki describes survivalists as individuals or groups that are part of a movement in which they are actively preparing for emergencies, including possible disruptions in social/political order, and are acquiring emergency medical and self-defense training, stockpile food and water, preparing to become self-sufficient, in order so that it all may help them survive.
It means that often Tara’s father never let the family use the services of doctors or nurses, pulled out a few of his children from schools while some of them were never enrolled, stayed away from what we call ‘the system’, not seeking a birth certificate for Tara, not getting his car insured… etc. It’s kind of like going off the grid, only it’s far more puritanical than that.
So, it’s the Legend of Apache Tears that’s worth sharing from this magnificent book: The story comes up when Tara recalls how she and her brother used to accompany their grandma look for these stones and rocks on the mountain side, which then grandma would like to sell. Apache Tears is the name for black obsidian, so smooth they look soft.
‘According to Grandma, a hundred years ago a tribe of Apaches had fought the U.S. Cavalry on those faded rocks. The tribe was outnumbered: the battle lost, the war over. All that was left to do was wait to die. Soon after, the battle began, the warriors became trapped on a ledge. Unwilling to suffer a humiliating defeat, cut down one by one as they tried to break through the cavalry, they mounted their horses and charged off the face of the mountain. When the Apache women found their broken bodies on the rocks below, they cried huge, desperate tears, which turned to stone when they touched the earth.
Grandma never told us what happened to the women. The Apaches were at war but had no warriors, so perhaps she thought the ending too bleak to say aloud. The word slaughter came to mind, because slaughter is the word for it, for a battle when one side mounts no defense. It’s the word we used on the farm. We slaughtered chickens, we didn’t fight them. A slaughter was the likely outcome of the warriors’ bravery. They died as heroes, their wives as slaves.
As we drove to the trailer, the sun dipping in the sky, its last rays reaching across the highway, I thought about the Apache women. Like the sandstone altar on which they had died, the shape of their lives had been determined years before – before the horses began their gallop, their sorrel bodies arching for that final collision. Long before the warriors’ leap it was decided how the women would live and how they would die. By the warriors, by the women themselves. Decided. Choices, numberless as grains of sand, had layered and compressed, coalescing into sediment, then into rock, until all was set in stone.‘
So then, I went around the Internet looking for more references to The Legend of Apache Tears. And well, this is what it did to me: put into perspective life as it used to be. The fate of the Apache warriors, was it any different from that of all those men and women of my ancient history, who chose to give up their lives rather than fall into the hands of a cruel enemy?
There’s only a small difference – in some such cases, we know the fate of the women. Women in ancient India – mostly led by the Queen herself and members of the royal family – would tell their men to return victorious or die fighting. And, if they did die fighting, the women burnt themselves in a mass pyre. The practice is called Jauhar and palaces to this day display the handprints of these women. They made sure that their enemy, one that killed their husbands, did not even find their dead bodies; their victory underlined by the gruesome reality of deathly sacrifice and destruction. Those handprints tell us the fate of those women even today. Honourable death in the face of dishonourable defeat. It’s only in today’s far more convenient and safer times that India’s IYI (Intellectual but idiot) class calls this history ‘repressive’ and ‘sexist’.
But yes, as far as Tara Westover goes to say it was a choice that was made years before the horses began their gallop, that’s true.
Choices for her, as a woman who had to wait 17 years before she could step into a classroom to seek an education, or for her siblings, most of whom got into jobs that eschewed any education or formal training, or for her mother, who sought no treatment for her brain injury – the aftermath of a serious accident, and even her father, who was ruled by his faith and his ideology, were already made. As she says, ‘They died as heroes, their wives as slaves’.