restricted access When the Northwest Coast Haunts French Anthropology: A Discreet but Lasting Presence
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when the northwest coast haunts french anthropology A Discreet but Lasting Presence Marie Mauzé To speak of French anthropology and the Northwest Coast is first of all to point out the general lack of fieldwork research in North America by French scholars. This might be the result of French intellectuals’ lack of interest since the end of the 18th century with questions and problems regarding the former French possessions of Canada and Louisiana. From the 1870s onward French Americanism primarily involved the study of Mesoamerican archaeology , mainly pursued by amateur scholars who belonged to the Société des Américanistes (founded in 1893) and contributed to its journal, the Journal de la société des Américanistes (originally published in 1895). The first international meeting of Americanists was held in Nancy in 1875. An international school of American archaeologyand ethnology was created in Mexico City in 1910 under the auspices of France and Germany (Descola and Izard 1991:52) and the United States, thanks mainly to Franz Boas’s efforts. Today, Americanism is well developed in other regions of Latin America such as the Andes and Amazon Lowlands (Descola and Taylor 1993). North American studies have always represented a poor relation in French anthropological research. When French anthropology became professionalized with the creation of the Institut d’ethnologie de l’université de Paris in 1925, students who were to undertake fieldwork chose the French colonies of Africa and New Caledonia.1 As Lucien Lévy-Bruhl wrote in 1926, the institute was to ‘‘work for the progress of the ethnological science’’ while at the same time ‘‘putting the results of this science to the disposal of our native policy when needed’’ (Fournier 1995:62, my translation).2 It was only in the 1960s and 1970s that a few anthropologists undertook fieldwork among native societies in the United States and Canada.3 Some, notably Bernard Saladin d’Anglure and Dominique Legros, finally Tseng 2004.8.9 07:12 7132 Mauze / COMING TO SHORE / sheet 103 of 548 chose to pursue careers in Quebec. Today ‘‘North Americanism’’ is represented byonlya handful of professional researchers, each working in a different cultural area (Northeast, Plains, Southwest, Northwest Coast, and Arctic ). There was an attempt at fieldwork earlier in the century when Henri Beuchat, a student of Marcel Mauss, was to study ‘‘the language, manners, customs and religious beliefs’’ of the Eskimos in the Canadian Arctic (Barbeau 1916:109–110; Jenness, 1991:9).4 Beuchat, who had collaborated with Mauss in the publication of ‘‘Essai sur les variations saisonnières’’ (1906), was recommended by Marius Barbeau, one of the first members of Edward Sapir’s team in Ottawa to set up the Canadian Artic Expedition of 1913– 16.5 The expedition was to be led by Gustav Stefansson (Darnell 1990:67; Fournier 1994:308). Beuchat and Barbeau had met in Paris while they both attended Mauss’s lectures at the Ecole pratique.6 Unfortunately, in January 1914 the boat on which Beuchat was traveling, the Karluk, sank. The young French ethnographer who could have become an expert on Eskimo culture died of cold and hunger on Wrangell Island off the coast of Alaska. In an ‘‘In Memoriam’’ piece Mauss wrote: ‘‘Beuchat ranked among the best of Americanists. . . . He was a remarkable linguist and observer. He knew many things and knew them well’’ (Mauss 1925b:20, my translation; see also Barbeau 1916). Beuchat’s participation in the Canadian Artic Expedition could have been an incentive for younger generations to undertake fieldwork. His tragic death may have put an end to the development of French research in North America. The French Discovery of the Northwest Coast: Early Observations The Northwest Coast became known to the French public at the close of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th through the publication of the journals of French explorers and traders reporting on various aspects of native life and trade relations. The accounts by Jean Galaup de Lapérouse (1785–88 [1985]), Etienne Marchand (1791) (see Gunther 1972; de Laguna 1972), and Camille de Roquefeuil (1816–19) provide descriptions of the Tlingits , Haidas, and Nootka. Lapérouse, who commanded the Astrolabe and the Boussole, was the first to reconnoiter Lituya Bay, which he named Port des Français. He briefly comments on the Tlingits’ clothing, ornaments, and body decorations but is not very informative on native art and crafts. In contrast to Lapérouse’s rather laconic observations on the Tlingits, those of 64...