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evolving concepts of tlingit identity and clan Richard and Nora Marks Dauenhauer It is generally asserted and accepted that the clan is the basic social unit within Tlingit society. This certainly was true for traditional Tlingit culture of the 19th century and remains true for an ever-diminishing number of elders in contemporary Tlingit culture at the start of the 21st century, but we question the extent to which the statement applies and still holds true for the majority of the Tlingit population today. Does the clan truly function as the basic unit of Tlingit personal identityand sociopolitical discourse today? We suggest that while many symbols and emblems remain the same or similar, their perception, function, and patterns of use have changed, and that we are witnessing a fundamental reorientation in the thinking and social organization of most Tlingit people. We have been gathering examples of the present topic for years, because the elusive phenomenon of change in Tlingit social structure, specially the clan system, continues to affect our other projects.We are trying to learn how to step back and look at this frame in which all of our other work operates. While our previous publications (especially Dauenhauer and Dauenhauer 1990, 1994, 1995, 1998, 1999, 2003) address closely related and tangential aspects, this is our first essay to deal directly with the concept of changing clan identity.1 We do not wish to be negative regarding change and innovation. We do not want to judge what is ‘‘authentic.’’ Rather, we want to observe and analyze as dispassionately as possible a process in which we are emotionally involved personally and professionally, and by which we are often bewildered. As we describe elsewhere (Dauenhauer and Dauenhauer 1995) our cultural mentors were of the generation of traditionally raised elders born between 1880 and 1910, now mostly departed. Our work of more than a quarter of a century has been informed and shaped by their desires and cultural dynamics , and we often find ourselves confused by the emerging—and conflictTseng 2004.8.9 07:12 7132 Mauze / COMING TO SHORE / sheet 293 of 548 ing—changes in patterns of cultural discourse and demands from younger generations. The examples indicate a fundamental change in concepts of personal identity and sociopolitical organization to ways that are now more congruent with Euro-American patterns than were the Tlingit patterns of previous generations. Because this phenomenon and our culture-specific, Tlingit examples are not unique, we consider some general concepts first, after providing some general background. Background Cultural Background For a more complete background of Tlingit culture, see our various publications (Dauenhauer and Dauenhauer 1987, 1990, 1994) and other works cited therein. Space limitations demand that we restrict our comments here to those essential to our thesis of evolving concepts of identity and clan. Tlingit society is organized in two moieties (an anthropological term meaning ‘‘half’’). The names of the moieties are Raven and Eagle, sometimes also referred to as Crow and Wolf. The moieties themselves have no political organization, leadership (other than some ceremonial titles), or power but exist only for the purpose of exogamy. In precontact time, and well into the 20th century for conservative families, one was required to marry into a clan of the opposite moiety. A person is born into his or her mother’s clan but maintains a complicated ceremonial relationship with the father’s clan. The basic sociopolitical unit was the clan. Each moiety consists of several clans, some of which are historically connected. Clans owned houses and property, had leaders, conducted trade, and made war and peace. The term moiety, or ‘‘half,’’ is appropriate, because clans operate (or at least traditionally operated) in reciprocal relationships and patterns of exchange of goods, services, and marriage partners with clans of the opposite moiety. Marriage partners came from the opposite moiety; love songs and oratory were composed and are still performed across moiety lines. Ceremonial exchange is at the heart of traditional spirituality and folklife. The most important aspect of this is in the funeral cycle, in which clans of the opposite moiety of the deceased offer assistance, and are repaid through potlatch, when the clan of the deceased hosts guests of the opposite moiety and gives them food and gifts. During the ceremonies, the guests respond to lamen254 dauenhauer and dauenhauer Tseng 2004.8.9 07:12 7132 Mauze / COMING TO SHORE / sheet 294 of 548 tations and oratory of the hosts with supportive songs and speeches...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780803204324
MARC Record
OCLC
57447374
Pages
508
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-11
Language
English
Open Access
N
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