Karuk Indian Myths

Karuk Indian Myths

Karuk Indian Myths

Karuk Indian Myths

Excerpt

Indian myths are valuable as literature in direct proportion to the faithfulness to the old style Indian linguistic form in which they axe told. Volumes of mythology distorted by being told loosely in English will be of only secondary usefulness in the future, when ethnology and mythology have become more exacting sciences. The only proper method for recording mythology is to obtain the services of a good mythologist and then to take down syllable by syllable in his own language, with unrestrained literary freedom, the story as he tells it, and as nearly as possible as he heard it from those a little farther back in the lines of elders.

These ideal conditions were fulfilled in the following series of texts. Caught exactly as naturally dictated by Mrs. Phoebe Maddux, Indian name 'Imkyánva'an, meaning Wild Sunflower Greens Gatherer, 65-year-old full-blood Indian woman of the Karuk Tribe of northwestern California, they not only constitute Karuk as it is spoken and narrated, but Karuk literature, which when its syllables are analyzed and the exquisite force and balance of the elements appreciated, ranks well with the literature of any language.

The Karuk, whose name means "upriver" Indians, hold a stretch of the central course of the Klamath, the most like the Columbia River of any of California's streams. Along the banks of the central Klamath lived the Karuks, their villages of rows of well-built plank houses hugging the stream. Here they knew and named every rock and pool by the river, every gully and fallen tree upslope. With customs leaning on those of the downriver Indians, the Yuruk, and the somewhat more inaccessible Hupa, and with language on the other hand distantly related to that of the upriver Indians, the Shasta, neither of these relationships impressed the Karuk as it does the white investigator, and they regarded themselves as something quite sui generis, the one tribe who held the middle of the world and which followed rigidly the mandates of the Ikxareyavs, the Indians who lived in the country before the Karuk came and who have turned into . . .

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