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university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 2, spring 2004 J . E D W A R D C H A M B E R L I N Reading and Listening to Postcolonial Literature I’ll begin with a standard literary comment, especially in the Caribbean: the observation that there is nothing magic about so-called magical realism. It is realism writ large, just the way of the world. I want to use this notion to suggest some connections between the way we think about literature and the way we think about life, but first let me stand back for a moment to tell a story of magic, a story about a grizzly named Mediik and a mudslide caused by an earthquake. The Gitksan people of the northwest of British Columbia have lived in the mountains fishing and hunting and farming and trading for thousands of years. They have a story that tells of changes to one of the river valleys, near the mountain called Stekyooden, across from the village of Temlaxam. It was once the centre of their world, one of those places that bring peace and prosperity to the people who live there. This valley nourished the Gitksan people so well that they became unmindful of their good fortune and forgot the ways that the mountains and the rivers and the plants and the animals had taught them. The spirit of the valley, a grizzly bear called Mediik who lived by Stekyooden, warned them and gave them many signs of his anger; but they ignored these warnings until finally he got so angry that he came roaring down from the top of the mountain, bringing half the hillside with him, and covering the valley floor and the village of Temlaxam and all the people there. Only a few survived: those who were out hunting in the high country or berry picking on the opposite slopes. This was just about seven thousand years ago. Over time, the people returned to the valley, and although never the rich and fertile home it once had been, it always held its place in their history; and they remember the great grizzly and the lesson he taught them. Today the stories of the Gitksan move out from that valley like spokes from the hub of a wheel or children from their parents. It is the centre of their lives, the place they came from, and the place to which they return their thoughts and their thanks. Their present-day claims to the territory arise from the claims that the valley has on them, and the story of the grizzly and the slide confirms both claims. Several years ago, when the Gitksan decided to assert their claims in court, they told this story. They told it with all the ritual that it required, for xxxxxxxx 796 j. edward chamberlin university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 2, spring 2004 the stories and songs that represent their past are about belief, and therefore need ceremony. So do all stories, they realized. They also realized that the story of the grizzly and the sacred mountain called Stekyooden and the village of Temlaxam, which in their minds confirmed the presence of their people in that place for millennia, might not be believed by the judge, schooled as he was in stories of a different sort. So one of their leaders, Neil Sterritt, suggested they draw on another storyline to confirm their own. They had geologists drill under the river that still runs through the valley and take a core sample and analyse it. A scientific ceremony. They discovered that sixty feet down there was clay that matched the clay high up on the mountain slope, exposed where the grizzly had taken down the hillside ... or where the earthquake had produced the slide that brought down half the mountain. And the sample was dated exactly when their story said the grizzly grew angry with the people in the valley, seven thousand years ago. The court was inclined to see the scientific story as confirming the legendary one. However, the elders of the Gitksan were at pains to persuade the judge that each story was validated by the other; that...


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