Lakota Myth

Lakota Myth

Lakota Myth

Lakota Myth

Synopsis

James R. Walker was a physician to the Pine Ridge Sioux from 1896 to 1914. His accounts of this time, taken from his personal papers, reveal much about Lakota life and culture. This third volume of previously unpublished material from the Walker collection presents his work on Lakota myth and legend. This edition includes classic examples of Lakota oral literature, narratives that were known only to a few Oglala holy men, and Walker's own literary cycle based on all he had learned about Lakota myth. Lakota Myth is an indispensable source for students of comparative literature, religion, and mythology, as well as those interested in Lakota culture. Elaine A. Jahner (1942-2003) was a professor of English and Native American studies at Dartmouth College and the author of Spaces of the Mind: Narrative and Community in the American West (Nebraska 2004). Raymond J. DeMallie is a professor of anthropology at Indiana University and the editor of The Sixth Grandfather: Black Elk's Teachings Given to John G. Neihardt (Nebraska 1984).

Excerpt

The project that led to the publication of Lakota Myth (1983) and two other volumes of James R. Walker’s previously unpublished manuscripts—Lakota Belief and Ritual (1980) and Lakota Society (1982)—began with a discussion at Indiana University one spring day in 1975. Elaine Jahner was writing her doctoral dissertation in folklore based primarily on stories she had recorded from members of the Cannon Ball community on Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota, and she had invited me, a new faculty member in anthropology who had also studied at Standing Rock, to serve on her doctoral committee as an outside advisor. I was happy to accept, and when she finally placed on my desk the completed draft of “Spatial Categories in Sioux Folk Narrative,” I read it eagerly. It was an ideal dissertation, brimming with data and ideas and offering a literary and language-based perspective on Sioux oral literature.

In enumerating the types of Sioux oral traditions, Elaine had written: “Myths about the establishment of cultural order are rare among the Sioux who did not concern themselves with systematic data about mythopoeic times …” (Jahner 1975:228). In relation to this, during the course of the dissertation defense, Elaine brought up the Walker myth texts published in his monograph on the Sun Dance (1917) as the exception. Those stories relate to the creation of time and space by “gods” oddly called by truncated forms of Lakota names, and although they are aesthetically appealing to western readers for their comprehensive narrative structure, they are anomalous in the corpus of recorded Sioux oral tradition. Because they are so atypical I expressed my sense that, regretfully, they could not be accepted as authentic without locating the original texts on which Walker said they were based. Elaine, on the other . . .

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