Anguish Of Snails

Anguish Of Snails: Native American Folklore in the West

Barre Toelken
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Anguish Of Snails
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-87421-475-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  4. Dedication and Acknowledgments
    (pp. IX-X)
  5. She Comes Along Carrying Spears
    (pp. XI-XII)
  6. Prologue: The Snail’s Clues
    (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 nineteen-year-old uranium prospector who came down with pneumonia in their canyon. It is also a work of obligation to my colleagues in folklore and anthropology, many of whom, I believe, have inadvertently...

  7. 1 Cultural Patterns in Native American Folklore: An Introduction
    (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. We start here, not with the snail’s sensitive innards. As outsiders, we may not initially understand what the many-patterned expressions of Indians “mean,” either, but we can be certain that they mean something, and whatever it is must...

  8. 2 Visual Patterns of Performance: Arts
    (pp. 25-79)

    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 territory would one day become a state, and then resumed his voyage. Standard biographies of Seward do not mention what the makeup of his Sitka audience was, but oral history, buttressed by a local Native art form, provides us a much fuller picture of this apparently trivial event. Tlingit chiefs, clan leaders, family...

  9. 3 Kinetic Patterns of Performance: Dance
    (pp. 80-109)

    Why do people dance? Obviously, it’s a form of artistic expression, but that begs the question: Why do we do it? What does it accomplish that we could not do for ourselves some other way? And why do different cultures understand dance in different ways? There must be a lot of possibilities but let me suggest one: Dance, as a conscious organization of human body movements, is a kind of kinetic “italics”; everyday movements of the arms, legs, head, and torso are extended, foregrounded, exaggerated, and reorganized to mean something beyond mere practical human motion. Though some forms of modern...

  10. 4 Oral Patterns of Performance: Story and Song
    (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:

    Do not be afraid . . .

    Nothing will go wrong. For I will surround myself with song.

    I will sing as I make my way to the mountain.

    I will sing while I am on the mountain.

    And I will...

  11. 5 Patterns and Themes in Native Humor
    (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 Washington Territory. Apparently, Stevens was self-conscious about his short stature and made up for it with long, impressive orations where he called the Indians “our children” and referred to their leader, Suiattle, as...

  12. 6 Cultural Patterns of Discovery
    (pp. 165-190)

    Some years ago, when I taught at the University of Oregon, I was asked to join a group of colleagues who were visiting high schools to speak with seniors about coming to the university. Among other things, we suggested courses they might take in high school to prepare themselves for the university experience. Aaron Novick, director of the university’s Institute of Molecular Biology and one of the country’s foremost scientists, astounded everyone by telling the students that if they anticipated going into the sciences, they should take every literature and art class they could get. “For one thing,” he said,...

  13. Epilogue: “Gleaning” and the Active Audience
    (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 know? After all, Native Americans do not go around giving explanatory lectures to each other, mostly, I presume, because the interpretations are seldom perceived consciously. I have been arguing that knowing more about a culture’s assumptions and traditions helps us—...

  14. Index
    (pp. 198-202)