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People Of The Rainbow: Nomadic Utopia Paperback – October 22, 1997


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The Rainbow Nation is a loosely knit group of countercultural activists ("hippies") that has organized gatherings in remote rural areas since 1972. Drawing on the methodology of participant/observer, Niman (American studies, SUNY at Buffalo) offers a sympathetic profile outlining the group's guiding mission to uphold and practice the values of nonviolence and cooperative living and to provide an alternative to the urban rat race. While he suggests that the tribe has been largely successful in terms of adhering to its founding ideals, Niman also points out that individual gatherings have been marred by poor group dynamics and disruptive behavior. One of the more notable features of Niman's approach is his effort to link the Rainbow to earlier utopian movements. "Rainbow ideology syncretizes Euro-American traditions with Thoreauvian pacifism, simplified 'New Left' politics, and the 'Eastern' religious ideas that flooded America in the years just prior to the first Gathering." The text is accompanied by several photographs by Gabe Kirchheimer, whose work has also appeared in the New York Times. Recommended for American studies collections.?Kent Worcester, Social Science Research Council, New York
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Book Description

Since 1972, the Rainbow Family of Living Light, a loosely organized and anarchistic nomadic community, have been holding large gatherings in remote forests to pray for world peace and create a model of a functioning utopian society. In People of the Rainbow, Michael I. Niman offers the first comprehensive study of this  countercultural group, also known as the Rainbow Nation or Rainbow Family. Niman's insightful and compelling profile describes the origins and recent history of the Rainbows and explains the eclectic philosophy of environmentalism, feminism, peace activism, group sharing, libertarianism, and consensus government they espouse.

A fictional re-creation of a day in the life of a Rainbow character named Sunflower begins the book, illustrating events that might typically occur at an annual North American Rainbow Gathering. Using interviews with Rainbows, content analysis of media reports, participant observation, and scrutiny of government documents relating to the group, Niman presents a complex picture of the Family and its relationship to mainstream culture—called "Babylon" by the Rainbows. Niman also looks at internal contradictions within the Family and examines members' problematic relationship with Native Americans, whose culture and spiritual beliefs they have appropriated.

The nomadic nature of the Rainbow Family has long exasperated the U.S. government--especially the Forest Service--and has baffled the media. Niman places the Rainbow Family's gatherings in a historical context by framing the group's activities in terms of the long tradition of intentional communities and utopian experimentation within the United States. Concluding with reflections on the successes and limitations of the Rainbow movement, People of the Rainbow provides an extensive ethnography of this intriguing subculture and provides fresh insights into the ongoing legacy of utopian communalism.

The Author: Michael I. Niman is an adjunct assistant professor of American studies at the State University of New York at Buffalo and a lecturer in the communication department at Buffalo State College.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 274 pages
  • Publisher: Univ Tennessee Press; 1 edition (October 22, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0870499890
  • ISBN-13: 978-0870499890
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,744,163 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 9, 1998
Format: Paperback
Michael Niman's book is the most objective and comprehensive study to date of the Rainbow Family of Living Light. Professor Niman utilizes numerous interviews with Family members, Forest Service officials, and other participants to present a well-rounded view of a complex social system. Of particular interest will be his comparison of the Rainbow Family to other Utopian societies of the past and present.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 19, 1997
Format: Paperback
Having been to a few Rainbow Gatherings in my past, Niman's book caught my interest. However the book is not written only for those familiar with the Rainbow Familiy. Using a combination of participant observation and comparison to other utopian societies, Niman shows the complexity of this community of choice.
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For several years now I've attended Rainbow Gatherings, month-long intentional communities set up in forests and dedicated to peace and harmony, veganism, ecological living and disconnecting from technology. I share few of the values of most people there, but I love to attend because the events are a remarkable and rather paradoxical spectacle: in spite of no formal organization, thousands of people have managed to convene regularly for four decades in a decided place and set up needed infrastructure; in spite of a ban on commercial activity, thousands are fed; in spite of the wildly different religious and political beliefs of attendants, Rainbow Gatherings are generally harmonious events where *everyone* is made welcome.

But while I've participated in Gatherings in Europe, Turkey and Israel, I knew little about Gatherings in the place it all began: the United States. Michael I. Niman's PEOPLE OF THE RAINBOW: A Nomadic Utopia is an ethnographic study of the North American Rainbow phenomenon, based on the author's own involvement in this community. The book was originally published in 1997; this second edition leaves the earlier text unchanged, but adds a new epilogue discussing recent developments.

Niman begins the book in perhaps the best possible way: an account of one typical day at a Rainbow Gathering. Through the eyes of Sunflower, a character based on the author, we follow Rainbow life from waking up in the morning to falling asleep at night. Sunflower passes through the usual places set up at gatherings, such as kitchens, communal fires and music-making circles, he engages in leisure or volunteering for tasks that need to get done (activities which are not necessarily distinct from each other at Rainbow), and he interacts with folks from a diversity of backgrounds.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By RR on November 2, 2011
Format: Paperback
As someone who traveled with the Rainbow for a little over a year in the early 1990's, this was spot on! An avid hitchhiker, I built seed camps, kitchens, helped with clean ups and a number of other things. When I went back into "regular society" I did reminisce those days and think about them often. Most everything I've read about Rainbow has been colored with personal opinions or prejudice and I was very happy to find this book. Michael Niman did an excellent job of portraying and explaining what goes on at a Rainbow gathering. If you've ever wanted to know what it was about, I highly recommend this book. That is, if you can't get to a Rainbow gathering yourself!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By David Rivas on August 5, 2011
Format: Paperback
This book is an interesting account of one of North America's best kept secrets: The Rainbow Family. People of the Rainbow describes the everyday life of a subculture that still appeals to the best and simplest emotions of human nature. It is well written and the author's and character's voices jump at you with gusto. If you looking for something different and interesting to read, buy this book.
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