People of Darkness (1980)

People of Darkness (1980)

cactus buttons

Most likely a reference to peyote, a small, spineless cactus that contains, among other compounds, mescaline, a psychoactive alkaloid that can alter one's perception and induce hallucinations. Peyote has been significant in many Native American medicinal and spiritual practices. It is still taken as a ritual sacrament by followers of the Native American Church ceremonies.

Although it can be found and harvested as far north as the Chihuahuan desert, in southern Texas and northern Mexico, it is unlikely that individuals would be able to find peyote as far north and west as the Zuni reservation in New Mexico and Arizona.


The front, enclosed part of a pickup truck.


Butte is a French term meaning “hillock,” which is generally a very high hill with a flat top and steep sides. Buttes usually are bordered by flat plains and are common geologic features in the semi-arid American Southwest.


Often seen with the Anglicized spelling of "concho," a concha is a traditional Native American jewelry design that resembles a concha, which means "shell" in Spanish. Conchas are about the size of large shells, and can be flat or domed plaques, usually made of silver. They are used primarily to decorate leather belts, although can be seen in necklaces, bracelets, or pins. The Navajo in particular, using highly detailed silversmithing skills, have created intricate designs for belt conchos that were often studded with turquoise stones.


One of the most significant words in the Joe Leaphorn/Tony Hillerman lexicon.

The term refers to apparently random, often serendipitous, set of occurrences that are seemingly unrelated but that are aligned in a mix of happy accident and/or corresponding incidents. Sometimes coincidence is likened to "fate" or "fortune," events that come into being through forces that are beyond human control.

Joe Leaphorn, a savvy, experienced, and pragmatic lieutenant, does not believe in coincidence. Things happen for a reason, or come into alignment for a reason, and it's up to the perceptive investigator to recognize covert machinations that seem belied by overt, if allegedly random, connections.


An interrelated social group, whose connections derive from parentage as well as kinship. For different indigenous groups, clan structures develop and are expressed uniquely. For example, in Navajo culture, which is matrilineal and matrilocal, after the four original clans were established by Changing Woman, women who came into the tribe's membership either brought a clan name with them, or were assigned a clan on acceptance into the tribe. Some were existing clans from other tribes, while others were created out of circumstance. Today, the total number of clans represented is calculated in to be over one hundred and forty, from twenty-one major groups. K'é—the Navajo clan system—is the strength of the People. It keeps the Navajo people together.

For the Zuni and other pueblo communities, however, clans and kinship are partly expressed through membership in various kiva and medicine societies, although this is not exclusively true, as one can be elected into some kiva societies, while one is born into others. The Zuni clan system overlaps and interlocks with kinship and religious systems to enforce, regulate, and, to a degree, control the socioreligious behavior patterns of the Zuni.


A cigarette, often spelled cigaret in Tony Hillerman's mystery novels, is a small amount of finely cut dried tobacco rolled in small squares of thin paper into a torpedo-shaped tube for smoking.

Quite often, characters in Hillerman's novels smoke together or offer cigarettes to one another. The exchange and shared experience of smoking cigarettes, which is a common cultural phenomenon, is in some ways evocative of indigenous ceremonial practices of exchanging pipes, breath, and words. Not to over-simplify the effects of smoking cigarettes, especially those produced by large companies, Hillerman warns his readers through one of his main protagonists, Joe Leaphorn, that smoking is "never good. It hurts the lungs. But sometimes it is necessary, and therefore one does it" (Dance Hall of the Dead 13).


Also spelled chʼįį́dii in Navajo, a “chindi” is the spirit of a dead person. Navajos are taught to avoid contact with the dead or enclosed places, like a hogan, where someone has passed to avoid coming into contact with chindi and contracting ghost sickness. Navajos believe that when a person dies, everything that is bad or out of harmony with the person will be left behind as a kind of malevolent spirit that has power to harm the living. For this reason, any hogan or structure inside which a person has died potentially contains chindi and must be abandoned. If a Navajo contracts ghost sickness by coming into contact with a site to which a chindi is still attached, the proper ceremonies must be performed in order to restore balance to the living.


An American-made brand of car, affordable and very popular.


A plant common to the U.S. Southwest, cactus grows in habitats that regularly experience drought. Most cacti are considered succulents, meaning that they store water above ground in their flesh, water they scavenge from their harsh climate with their extensive, wide-spreading root systems. As a result, many cacti grow spines, which are modified leaves, which can prick to the touch. These spines protect the plant against herbivorous predators on the hunt for water during the brutal dry spells that help to characterize their desert environs.


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