A GUIDE TO B.C. INDIAN MYTH AND LEGEND: A SHORT HISTORY OF MYTH COLLECTING AND A SURVEY OF PUBLISHED TEXTS
Volume 11 Number 4.
For days I had been searching for a particular Kwakiutl whale myth. When this book arrived, it seemed like the answer to prayer. However, the title is initially misleading; the subtitle tells all: A Short History of Myth-Collecting and a Survey of Published Texts. So, far from being an index to British Columbia myths (which I wish somebody would provide), it is a critique of the existing collections of myths, the manner of their collection, and the collectors thereof.
The arrangement is roughly chronological. Maud begins "before Boas" and spares not "the scholars" nor "the freelancers" nor "the museum men" in his brisk commentaries on the way myths were gathered and the excellencies or otherwise of the collectors. He insists that, to be meaningful, stories need both social context, i.e., the identity and status of the storyteller, the uses and status of the story, and good telling. He does not find either of these attributes in Boas or his students.
Maud, a professor at Simon Fraser University and a teacher of Indian oral tradition, has obviously done much homework. His footnotes alone constitute an annotated bibliography. He is exceedingly conversant with the archives of several ethnological societies and the location and present state of early field notes and other original or unpublished material.
When I had grasped the structure and purpose of the book, apprehended the author's thesis, and savoured his prose, I might (two days past the deadline for this review) have skimmed rapidly over the latter part of the book. I did not do so. Unlikely as it may sound, the book is great fun to read. The early pioneers of ethnology come to life in letters written by or about them. Boas refers to Hill-Tout as having "a most remarkable ability of exasperating everyone with whom he comes in contact." Presently, Maud begins to deal in deliciously devastating language with the books I know and have on my shelves. He has brought "damning with faint praise" to a fine art: "Actually, Indian Nights has the genuine psychology of a Victorian lady water-colourist. . .it can, because of the superior distribution methods of Macmillan, be found on bookstalls today where better collections would never be seen..." and "the way in which she adapts. . .is indicative of a fairly inoffensive hand." (I find myself quite agreeing with his opinions of the books I know.)
Maud's book ends with a list of his ten favourite collections, plus a table of twenty-three ethnographers, the field trips made in B.C., and the resulting publications. The blurb says the book is "a valuable reference tool for. . .students of anthropology." So it is, but its appeal is much broader than that, although not, perhaps, a first purchase for schools.
Grace E. Funk, Harwood E. S., Vernon, BC.
1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995
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