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1 Deg Hit’an Deg Hit’an means ‘‘people from here’’ or, as linguist James Kari translates it, ‘‘people of the local area.’’ That area comprises a section of the lower Yukon River, the lower Innoko River (a tributary of the Yukon), and the middle Kuskokwim River. Deg Hit’an refers to both the people and their language, and it is their preferred term for both. Until fairly recently, they and their language had been labeled ‘‘Ingalik.’’ Chapman classified Deg Hit’an stories as creation stories, Raven stories, and vapid children’s tales. He also thought that the Deg Hit’an seemed to have little sense of history in their oral traditions. In his assessment, Chapman may have been influenced by Jetté, whose published collection of Koyukon tales he knew, and who also discerned three categories (‘‘inane’’ stories, myths ‘‘intimately connected with what may be considered as their historical records,’’ and stories ‘‘analogous to our works of fiction’’). Despite Chapman’s views, it appears that Deg Hit’an oral tradition does establish two distinct genres: historical and distant-time narratives. In both Deg Hit ’an and its neighboring Athabaskan language Holikachuk, xudhoyh is the word for the distant-time genre. Osgood reports that such stories were often told in the kashim (community house) and that they were accompanied by audience comments. He also notes that it was unwise to tell a story twice in the same year because it might lengthen the winter (Social , Mental ). Belle Deacon was born September , , and died November , . The daughter of John and Ellen Young, she spent most of her life in the vicinity of the lower Yukon River. At fourteen she received her first formal education at the Anvik Mission school. Chapman had been at the mission a little over thirty years and was to stay a little over ten more. Ironically, the sixty-year-old missionary was engaged in his studies of Deg Hit’an storytelling at the same time that the teenage girl, hearing Bible stories at his  Deg Hit’an mission, was also learning xudhoyh as part of the oral tradition from her maternal grandmother, Marcia. All through her formative years, Mrs. Deacon spent much time with her grandmother and from her learned not only storytelling but also craftwork. After her first husband died, Mrs. Deacon began to support herself by making baskets. Later she married John Deacon, whose native language was Holikachuk. The couple lived together for forty-one years, first at the village of Holikachuk on the upper Innoko River and eventually at Grayling on the Yukon, after all the people of the Holikachuk village moved there. Mrs. Deacon was the mother of ten children and was honored frequently for her exceptional basket making, often being asked to demonstrate or participate in museum shows. In  she was named a National Heritage fellow and honored in Washington. A number of the stories that Mrs. Deacon recorded were told in both Deg Hit’an and English to Karen McPherson as part of the Alaska Library Association ’s Native Oral Literature Project. A selection of these stories is presented in Engithidong Xugixudhoy (Their Stories of Long Ago). The tapes are archived in the Oral History Department of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Rasmuson Library. James Kari transcribed the tapes, and Mrs. Deacon and Kari did the translations. In , , and , Kari recorded more stories. Those we have chosen are English translations of Deg Hit’an transcriptions . Mrs. Deacon suggests that the story titled ‘‘Polar Bear’’ takes place in Yup’ik Eskimo country. Deg Hit’an territory borders the lands of Yup’ikspeaking people. The history of cross-cultural borrowing includes narratives as well as elements of material and social culture. While the story deals with the personal actions of jealousy and abandonment, it also explores the nature of social roles and the communal effects of violating implicit and explicit prohibitions. The final transformations express the basic assumption that the animal and the human worlds are not so far apart when spiritual power comes into play. ‘‘The Man and Wife’’ is a richly textured narrative that casts Raven in the role of beneficent spirit guardian. Guilt and loss start the action moving, but the story quickly extends its scope to address attitudes toward the accumulation of possessions and personal happiness. While the marital roles of husband and wife ground the listeners’ concerns, the nature of the interaction between spiritual beings and humans is also being defined. The story, which starts in imbalance, is...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780803202368
MARC Record
OCLC
607194129
Pages
394
Launched on MUSE
2012-07-10
Language
English
Open Access
No
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