World-Making Stories: Maidu Language and Community Renewal on a Shared California Landscape

World-Making Stories: Maidu Language and Community Renewal on a Shared California Landscape

World-Making Stories: Maidu Language and Community Renewal on a Shared California Landscape

World-Making Stories: Maidu Language and Community Renewal on a Shared California Landscape


Published through the Recovering Languages and Literacies of the Americas initiative, supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
World-Making Stories is a collection of Maidu creation stories that will help readers appreciate California's rich cultural tapestry. At the beginning of the twentieth century, renowned storyteller Hanc'ibyjim (Tom Young) performed Maidu and Atsugewi stories for anthropologist Ronald B. Dixon, who published these stories in 1912. The resulting Maidu Texts presented the stories in numbered block texts that, while serving as a source of linguistic decoding, also reflect the state of anthropological linguistics of the era by not conveying a sense of rhetorical or poetic composition. Sixty years later, noted linguist William Shipley engaged the texts as oral literature and composed a free verse literary translation, which he paired with the artwork of Daniel Stolpe and published in a limited-edition four-volume set that circulated primarily to libraries and private collectors.

Here M. Eleanor Nevins and the Weje-ebis (Keep Speaking) Jamani Maidu Language Revitalization Project team illuminate these important tales in a new way by restoring Maidu elements omitted by William Shipley and by bending the translation to more closely correspond in poetic form to the Maidu original. The beautifully told stories by Hanc'ibyjim are accompanied by Stolpe's intricate illustrations and by personal and pedagogical essays from scholars and Maidu leaders working to revitalize the language. The resulting World-Making Stories is a necessity for language revitalization programs and an excellent model of indigenous community-university collaboration.


The purpose of this chapter is to share a history of some of the central figures of Maidu language revitalization during the past 120 years and to pay tribute to their dedication. I also introduce some ideas about the variety of Maidu language work accomplished during this period, which I hope will inspire the reader to assume his or her handle on the oar we all pull together.

There have surely been other projects not cited in this brief summary that have yielded many works of much importance. For Maidu readers, if you would like to share the work of a language keeper, we invite you to do so via the Maidu Summit Consortium website ( /home.html). All past and present efforts made in the direction of the ongoing language renaissance among the Maidu people are respectfully invited and acknowledged and I feel should be celebrated with lasting applause and support. Wéjeˀebìs!

Live by the language

On the wall of the Maidu Summit Consortium, a mural designed by the late Farrell Cunningham reads: “May these sacred and aboriginal words you shares artwork and his philosophical approach to teaching Maidu language in concert with extending Maidu environmental stewardship with respect to traditional Maidu lands. His mural at the consortium expresses an idea with many components to explore. Sacred? That’s a start. What is sacred about a language that now lives on the lips of so few, those who can be counted on two hands? What does knowing this language mean for the Maidu people, the people who so graciously gave me life and now call me kin? Yes, even some of our Maidu people at times scoff at the spiritual significance that others attribute to knowing one’s tribal language. Or how about the word aboriginal? Does this mean the language literally derives from the place where . . .

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