Monday, March 26, 2012

THE WILL OF THE TRIBE by Arthur W. Upfield





“The Aboriginal culture is like a well to the bottom of which no white man has ever descended to the water of complete knowledge, and because of the ever-expanding influence of an alien white race, no white man ever will. . . . Today it isn’t possible to determine what are the legitimate legends and what the fabrications of imaginative white men.”
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Arthur W. Upfield’s The Will of the Tribe is an anthropological mystery novel. It is more anthropology than mystery.

The pilot of a passing airplane spots a body in the Wolfe Creek Meteorite Crater in Western Australia. Authorities send Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte to investigate.

As you may remember, Bonaparte’s father was white and his mother was Aborigine. He is the perfect person to investigate this case.

Oddly enough, the body is the only place in the area it could logically be. That’s what helps Bony solve the mystery.

The case revolves around the meaning of Aboriginal legends. True legends and false legends intertwine. In the end, clearly the new tribe is not the original tribe. The new tribe is a mixture of white settlers and the indigenous Aboriginal group which is not the wildest of the Aborigines.

In other words, the intermingling--more than intermingling, assimilation--has begun.

One young woman chooses between the tribe and the white settlers. Others have already made the choice, and all know that eventually, the whites will own and run it all.

I read somewhere that Upfield’s stories influenced Tony Hillerman's writing. I can see how that could happen. Both men write about a clash of cultures.

The Will of the Tribe is an interesting story, not so much as a mystery, but more as a book that preserves the memory of a changing way of life. I recommend the book.

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