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Anguish Of Snails

Native American Folklore in the West

Barre Toelken

Publication Year: 2003

After a career working and living with American Indians and studying their traditions, Barre Toelken has written this sweeping study of Native American folklore in the West. Within a framework of performance theory, cultural worldview, and collaborative research, he examines Native American visual arts, dance, oral tradition (story and song), humor, and patterns of thinking and discovery to demonstrate what can be gleaned from Indian traditions by Natives and non-Natives alike. In the process he considers popular distortions of Indian beliefs, demystifies many traditions by showing how they can be comprehended within their cultural contexts, considers why some aspects of Native American life are not meant to be understood by or shared with outsiders, and emphasizes how much can be learned through sensitivity to and awareness of cultural values.

Winner of the 2004 Chicago Folklore Prize, The Anguish of Snails is an essential work for the collection of any serious reader in folklore or Native American studies.

Published by: Utah State University Press


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pp. v


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pp. vii

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Dedication and Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-x

This book is dedicated to the many Native American people whose traditions and expressions have illuminated my life and professional work.Some have died, and I need to acknowledge my debt to them in absentia: Tsinaabaas Yazzie (Little Wagon), my adopted Navajo father, who said he could drive his wagon to the moon as long as I would help push it out of ...

She Comes Along Carrying Spears

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pp. xi-xii

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Prologue The Snail’s Clues

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pp. 1-8

As you can see from the lengthy dedication, The Anguish of Snails is more than a book about Native American folklore in the West: It is a work of obligation to those from whom I have learned about everyday Native American life and custom—many of them members of my own family and the Navajo family who so readily adopted me in 1955 when I was a lost...

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1 Cultural Patterns in Native American Folklore An Introduction

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pp. 9-24

So the snail shell is our governing metaphor in the following chapters.We can see that the ongoing responses of the living snail have been recorded in the structure of the shell over time, forming patterns with which we want to become more fully acquainted. We believe that the markings before our eyes have meaning, and we want to explore the clues....

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2 Visual Patterns of Performance: Arts

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pp. 25-80

When I began making baskets, I could feel the fingers of those long-On August 12, 1868, just-retired Secretary of State William H. Seward (who had earlier urged Congress to buy Alaska from the Russians, a deal later labeled “Seward’s folly”), visited Sitka, then the capital. In his brief speech, he praised the beauties and resources of Alaska, predicted the ...

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3 Kinetic Patterns of Performance: Dance

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pp. 80-109

When I dance with all my regalia on—animal skins, feathers, shells,ermine furs—(it’s not a costume, you know), I feel like all the living beings of the world are with me. There are the wingeds, the four-A powwow is like dancing to your heartbeat with all your friends. Why do people dance? Obviously, it’s a form of artistic expression, but that...

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4 Oral Patterns of Performance: Story and Song

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pp. 110-145

Early in the Navajo creation story, First Man and First Woman (who are depicted as gendered holy beings made up of colored light), hear a strange noise on a nearby mountain shrouded by clouds. Apprehensive about what this unknown noise may signify, but feeling a need to investigate, First Man rejects First Woman’s advice to avoid the dangers, saying:...

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5 Patterns and Themes in Native Humor

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pp. 146-164

Still alive in the oral traditions of elderly Native people in the Pacific Northwest are stories about negotiations between the United States government and the many tribes around Puget Sound. Large, outdoor meetings were held so that tribal members could hear what offers (or threats) were being made, and a principal speaker at these events was Isaac Stevens, the army major appointed governor of the newly created...

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6 Cultural Patterns of Discovery

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pp. 165-190

Just about everything the old-timers knew, it was given to them by Roger, if a treasure is lost, it isn’t gone. It’s still there, where it has always been. . . . The knowledge isn’t lost. We are. The truth never sleeps . . . but for a moment we don’t know about it—just as it was Some years ago, when I taught at the University of Oregon, I was asked...

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Epilogue: “Gleaning” and the Active Audience

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pp. 191-197

All that remains is for us to take a look back over the vast array of implicit and explicit cultural meanings we have been discussing and contemplate how Native people derive significance from performed texts, artifacts, and movements which don’t announce their meanings openly. How do they know what they mean — and more problematic — how can we be sure we...


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pp. 198-202

E-ISBN-13: 9780874214758
Print-ISBN-13: 9780874215564

Publication Year: 2003