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Voices from Four Directions

Contemporary Translations of the Native Literatures of North America

Brian Swann

Publication Year: 2004

Storytelling and singing continue to be a vital part of community life for Native peoples today. Voices from Four Directions gathers stories and songs from thirty-one Native groups in North America—including the Iñupiaqs in the frigid North, the Lushootseeds along the forested coastline of the far West, the Catawbas in the humid South, and the Maliseets of the rugged woods of the East. Vivid stories of cosmological origins and transformation, historical events remembered and retold, as well as legendary fables can be found in these pages. Well-known Trickster figures like Raven, Rabbit, and Coyote figure prominently in several tales as do heroes of local fame such as Tom Laporte of the Maliseets. The stories and songs entertain, instruct, and recall rich legacies as well as obligations. Many are retellings and reinventions of classic narratives, while others are more recent creations.

Award-winning poet and critic Brian Swann has gathered some of the richest and most diverse literatures of Native North America and provides an introduction to the volume. In addition, each story is introduced and newly translated.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Series: Native Literatures of the Americas

Title Page, Copyright, Frontispiece

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pp. vii-xi

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pp. xiii-xxii

This volume is a follow-up and extension of Coming to Light: Contemporary Translations of the Native Literatures of North America.1The present collection continues both the format and the method of Coming to Light. The introductions that preface each translation give readers as much information as possible so that they...

Part 1. North

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Raven Tales from Kamchatka

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pp. 3-24

Raven is the main mythological cultural hero of the Koryaks and their Chukchi neighbors to the north and their Itelmen neighbors to the south. Although these people are indigenous to Kamchatka and Chukotka, in Russian northeast Asia, their mythology has remarkable continuities with mythologies of Native American peoples across the Bering Strait, especially on the North Pacific coast. Some...

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Raven Stories

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pp. 25-41

Raven stories comprise the comic genre in Tlingit oral literature, in contrast to the clan histories and legends, which might be compared to tragedy. Raven is a trickster figure, and in Tlingit tradition the trickster role merges with that of culture hero or demiurge. As the accompanying stories demonstrate, the Tlingit Raven cycle contains both elements, and this combination has frustrated two centuries...

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The Young Woman Who Disappeared

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pp. 42-50

This story was told byMinnie Gray (Aliitchak) to her sister, Clara Lee (Paaniikaaluk), in Ambler, Alaska, on August 28, 1999. It was transcribed in Iñupiaq (the language of the Northern Alaskan Iñupiat) and translated by Minnie Gray and Tadataka Nagai. The village of Ambler is located at the confluence of the Kobuk and Ambler Rivers in northwest Alaska and is called Ivisaappaat...

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Two Children Adrift

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pp. 52-79

Iñupiaq is part of the Inuit language, a continuum of dialects that extend all the way across the American Arctic from Unalakleet to Nome to Kotzebue to Barrow to Barter Island in Alaska; from Aklavik, Northwest Territories, to Rigolet, Labrador, in Canada, and into all of Greenland.1 The Inuit language is called Kalaallisut...

Part 2. West

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pp. 83-104

While myth and poetry have received the lion’s share of the attention granted to Native American oral literature, on the north Pacific coast at least, nonmythic narratives are also an important part of indigenous literary traditions.1 Among the Kwakwaka’wakw of coastal British Columbia (also known as the Kwakiutl), true narratives were traditionally divided into...

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The Sea Lion Hunter

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pp. 105-120

Ghandl of the Qayahl Llaanas was a Haida-speaking myth teller, born about 1851 in the village of Qaysun, on the exposed west coast of the Queen Charlotte Islands, off the coast of British Columbia and Alaska. The Haida people, who have lived in these islands for thousands of years, live in them still, and the archipelago...

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The Blind Man at Island Point Town and the One Who Went around the Sea as a Halibut

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pp. 121-133

Adam Bell was born in 1905, the son of Giid Xiigans (Phillip Bell) of the Ts’àahl ’Laanaas clan and Jad Quyaag (Elizabeth Bell) of the Yahgu Janaas clan. He died in 1987, the last man in Masset to have relatively full knowledge of the old ways. He was a renowned storyteller and boasted about once having told traditional stories for a six-hour stretch in the bar in Masset. That he frequented bars does not mean...

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Prophecy at Lytton

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pp. 134-170

The ethnographic archive for south central British Columbia is a valuable source for studying Aboriginal oral narratives. There are hundreds of stories in collections compiled more than a century ago by Franz Boas, Charles Hill-Tout, and James Teit; and there are additional stories in volumes assembled more recently...

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Coyote and His Son

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pp. 171-194

‘‘Coyote and His Son’’ was recorded in 1962 by Martha Lamont for Thom Hess, then a graduate student in linguistics at the University of Washington. Hess was documenting and analyzing the Lushootseed language, the language of peoples native to most of the Puget Sound watershed, extending thirty to sixty miles from the present city of Seattle, Washington (see Suttles and Lane 1990, 323). Martha...

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pp. 195-208

In the mid-1980s, Larry George, a Sahaptin artist and storyteller fromToppenish, Washington, sent a cassette titled ‘‘Celilo’’ to my husband and me. The note that accompanied it said simply, ‘‘Do what you do with this.’’ For this paper I have done ‘‘what we do,’’ that is, verse analysis; I have ‘‘translated’’ an oral text into a written one in a way that shows the poetic artistry of the original...

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Two Tales of Power

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pp. 209-225

The following two texts, ‘‘Gambler and Snake’’ and ‘‘Wind Woman,’’ were recorded by Elizabeth D. Jacobs (1903–83) from her Upper Coquille Athabaskan consultant, Coquelle Thompson Sr. (ca. 1849–1946) in the late fall of 1935 at the Siletz Reservation in western Oregon. Jacobs worked with Thompson for about...

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How Coyote Remade the World

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pp. 226-239

It is an honor to contribute a translation of a Lake Miwok sacred text to this collection, intended to awaken awareness of the literary merit of Native American narratives. There is desperate need for such a volume. As a beginning professor, I remember my dismay when a professor of French asked me why I spent my time on languages ‘‘with no literature and only a few speakers.’’ Although I was used...

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pp. 241-243

The Miguelino Salinan story that follows is one of the eleven written down by J. Alden Mason on his second trip to the Salinan Indians in 1916. In 1910 J. Alden Mason had transferred from the University of Pennsylvania to the University of California to complete his graduate work in anthropology. He had no experience with linguistic fieldwork and only a sketchy acquaintancewith Spanish, but he was...

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Young Blue Jay’s Journey to the Land of the New Moon

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pp. 245-267

Little is known of Sam Batwi, the narrator of this tale, and that little is quickly told. He was one of the Yanas, the ‘‘People,’’ and spoke the Gataa’i dialect of his language, which makes him what we today would call a Central Yana. (Apparently he spoke a more southern dialect as a child, though by the time he dictated

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Old Lady Sanyu·xáv

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pp. 268-280

The Quechan (also known as Kwtsaan orYuma) people once lived along the floodplain of the lower Colorado River, between Blythe, California, and the Colorado Delta. Their population is estimated to have numbered between four and five thousand at the time of first contact with whites. Today the Quechan Indian Nation occupies the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation...

Part 3. South

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He Became an Eagle

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pp. 283-201

‘‘He Became an Eagle’’ is a story about desire, transformation, journeys between worlds, marriage, separation, and loss. It is set among the Western Apache people ‘‘in the old days,’’ when people lived in mobile village encampments across the mountains of Arizona and New Mexico. Apache marriage conventions required that husband and wife come from distantly related clans, each associated conceptually...

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The Flight of Dzilyi neeyáni

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pp. 303-316

The accompanying passage comes from a project now underway—an attempt on my part to recast in a viable literary form Washington Matthews’s English rendering of the Navajo Mountain Chant narrative, originally published in 1887 in the Fifth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology. At first glance the effort would seem futile, for on one level it is impossible...

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Coyote Stories

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pp. 317-326

I trotted into Coyote the other day. Really, I did. And following is more or less what Coyote and I chatted about.
‘‘Do you really want to get to know me,’’ he commands. He does not ask; he demands. I don’t even want to know him. He just happens to be there, right in front of my path. And he dares to demand that I get to know him.
‘‘No,’’ I say...

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The Oekuu Shadeh of Ohkay Owingeh

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pp. 327-339

The Tewa Pueblos of northern New Mexico maintain a vibrant ceremonial tradition that encompasses music, dance, poetry, costumes, and ritual. The gestures and words of Tewa dance ceremonies symbolically order space by referring to the four cardinal directions and to the point at which they intersect, which is the village center. Dance movements, series of movements, even entire dance...

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Whirlwind Songs

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pp. 340-349

The traditional song-poetry (ñe’i) of the O’odham of southern Arizona is a dreamt-nature poetry. Lyric content, the defining feature of this people’s songpoetry, revels in the verbal representations of the natural world. It is a nature poetry because it describes gorgeous landscapes that contain mountains, deserts, and oceans inhabited by plants, animals, birds, insects, the sun, rain, lightning...

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The Red Wolf Story

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pp. 350-356

Among the most important expressions for Kiowa people today is song. As the Kiowa language continues to decline in its everyday use, song is emerging as a dominant symbol for articulating Kiowa heritage and identity. Yet song cannot be stripped of its narrative context; for many Kiowa singers, in particular, story...

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Thunder and the Ukten

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pp. 357-367

I returned to Oklahoma in 1979, after a long absence, to work with Wesley Proctor, an old friend who was fluent and literate in both English and Cherokee. He showed me some issues of The Cherokee Nation News in which ‘‘Thunder and the Ukten’’ was printed serially in Cherokee syllabics. I had known its author,Willie Jumper, or Sigwanida Dihltadegi, another bilingual Cherokee who died in 1977...

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Trickster Tales

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pp. 368-382

For a host of reasons, the Yuchis (alternatively Euchees) occupy a unique place among the Native societies of eastern North America. Yuchi is one of only a small number of language isolates, a term used for a language that is not demonstrably related to any known language, still spoken in the Americas and the only one still surviving in the eastern part of the continent...

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Four Fables

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pp. 383-394

The Catawbas are one of the few indigenous groups of the southeastern United States that continue to live on ancestral territory. Their current reservation along the Catawba River in Rock Hill, South Carolina, is only a few hours walk from where the tribe was located in the 1520s when Spanish galleys captured Indians from the Carolina coast and sold them into slavery...

Part 4. East

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Double-Face Tricks a Girl

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pp. 397-407

Until the 1988 publication of her posthumous novel Waterlily, Ella Deloria’s reputation rested on her achievements in linguistics and ethnology. Few readers realized the literary talents that had produced the little-known collection of sixty-four traditional stories titled Dakota Texts (1932), because most assumed that Deloria simply transcribed and translated tales that elderly...

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Rabbit Frees the People from Muskrat

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pp. 408-422

The Ioway-Otoe-Missouria tribes were at one time a single nation with the Winnebago (Hochank) in the area of the Great Lakes; they separated as a single group in the area of Green Bay, Wisconsin. They migrated southward through the area of Wisconsin and Minnesota to the Mississippi River. Those who became known as the Ioway people remained at the junction of the Iowa...

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Two Winter Stories

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pp. 423-467

Presented here are translations of two winter stories written in the Meskwaki language by Alfred Kiyana in the second decade of the last century.
Alfred Kiyana was born in 1877.1 His surname is from his Meskwaki name kya·na·wa, which belongs to theWar Chief lineage of the Fox Clan.2 Kiyana’s father died when he was still a child, and he then lived at different times with his father’s...

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Red Swan

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pp. 468-485

Menominee is an Algonquian language still spoken by a small number of elders on the Menominee Reservation in Wisconsin. This story was told to Leonard Bloomfield in the early 1920s by Nyahto Kichewano (Nayaehtow in Menominee) and published in Bloomfield’s Menomini Texts.1 Unfortunately, Bloomfield does not tell us anything about the narrator, beyond making the point that none of the...

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The Birth of Nenabozho

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pp. 486-514

The four stories in this section were told a century ago by Waasaagoneshkang, an Ojibwe man whose name, according to William Jones, the original transcriber and translator of the stories, means ‘‘He Who Leaves the Imprint of His Foot Shining in the Snow.’’1 As with many authors of oral traditional literature, we know almost nothing about him. He is described very briefly in introductory notes to the original...

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Creation Story

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pp. 515-531

One of the great classics of Iroquois oral literature is an account of how the world came to be as it is—the origin of the most salient components of traditional Iroquois life, analogous in some ways to the Genesis story in the Judeo-Christian tradition. As with many other oral traditions, transmission of this creation story from one generation to the next declined during...

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The Origins of Man

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pp. 532-545

Andrew Beechtree was one of approximately fifteen Wisconsin Oneida men and women who participated in a unique wpa project from 1938 through March 1942. These people were hired to collect and record linguistic, folkloric, historical, autobiographical, and ethnographic material from their own culture and society. Working under the direction of university...

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The Legendary Tom Laporte

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pp. 546-560

At the time of the first European incursions into their territory, early in the seventeenth century, the Maliseets occupied most of the region that is drained by the Saint John River and its tributaries in what is today New Brunswick and northern Maine. Early European accounts describe them as living in large villages along the river during the summer months, fishing and tending their gardens...

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Three Stories

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pp. 561-571

‘‘The Floating Island,’’ ‘‘The Mìgmaq Cinderella,’’ and ‘‘Bapkubaluet the Gambler’’ examine the themes of power and society’s relationship to the ‘‘unseen’’ world from a distinctly Mìgmaq perspective. In particular the three tales portray the importance of perception and vision from youth to death, a concern that is reflected in the subject matter of the stories...

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pp. 572-590

‘‘Umâyichîs,’’ which translates loosely into English as ‘Little Shit Man’, belongs to the âtiyûhkin (traditional tales) genre of Algonquian oral literature. This version of ‘‘Umâyichîs’’ was narrated by the late John Peastitute, a Naskapi elder, in the summer of 1968 at the Naskapi community of John Lake, near Schefferville, northern Quebec...


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pp. 591-602


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pp. 603-617

Further Reading

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E-ISBN-13: 9780803204003
E-ISBN-10: 0803204000

Page Count: 619
Publication Year: 2004

Series Title: Native Literatures of the Americas