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Ainu Spirits Singing

Ainu Spirits Singing: The Living World of Chiri Yukie’s Ainu Shin’yōshū

Sarah M. Strong
Copyright Date: 2011
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    Ainu Spirits Singing
    Book Description:

    Indigenous peoples throughout the globe are custodians of a unique, priceless, and increasingly imperiled legacy of oral lore. Among them the Ainu, a people native to northeastern Asia, stand out for the exceptional scope and richness of their oral performance traditions. Yet despite this cultural wealth, nothing has appeared in English on the subject in over thirty years. Sarah Strong'sAinu Spirits Singingbreaks this decades-long silence with a nuanced study and English translation of Chiri Yukie'sAinu Shin'yoshu,the first written transcription of Ainu oral narratives by an ethnic Ainu.

    The thirteen narratives in Chiri's collection belong to the genre known askamui yukar,said to be the most ancient performance form in the vast Ainu repertoire. In it, animals (and sometimes plants or other natural phenomena)-all regarded as spiritual beings(kamui)within the animate Ainu world-assume the role of narrator and tell stories about themselves. The first-person speakers include imposing animals such as the revered orca, the Hokkaido wolf, and Blakiston's fish owl, as well as the more "humble" Hokkaido brown frog, snowshoe hare, and pearl mussel. Each has its own story and own signature refrain.

    Strong provides readers with an intimate and perceptive view of this extraordinary text. Along with critical contextual information about traditional Ainu society and its cultural assumptions, she brings forward pertinent information on the geography and natural history of the coastal southwestern Hokkaido region where the stories were originally performed. The result is a rich fusion of knowledge that allows the reader to feel at home within the animistic frame of reference of the narratives.

    Strong's study also offers the first extended biography of Chiri Yukie (1903-1922) in English. The story of her life, and her untimely death at age nineteen, makes clear the harsh consequences for Chiri and her fellow Ainu of the Japanese colonization of Hokkaido and the Meiji and Taisho governments' policies of assimilation. Chiri's receipt of the narratives in the Horobetsu dialect from her grandmother and aunt (both traditional performers) and the fact that no native speakers of that dialect survive today make her work all the more significant. The book concludes with a full, integral translation of the text.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6012-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
    Sarah Strong
  5. CHAPTER ONE Chiri Yukie and the Origins of the Ainu Shin’yōshū
    (pp. 1-44)

    On a page of a small, paperbound notebook, now fragile with age and carefully preserved in the home of Yokoyama Mutsumi in Noboribetsu, Japan, there are a set of phrases—not sentences, but pieces of sentence—written in a quick, cursive Japanese hand. A glance at the text suggests that the phrases are fragments of the writer’s private thoughts, never intended for anyone but their author’s eyes, and without sufficient context to allow a second party to follow their meaning. But thereisa title, “Dream Talk” (Yume no hanashi), and a subtitle, “My Grandmother’s Voice That Spoke, Passing on...

  6. CHAPTER TWO The Living World of the Ainu Shin’yōshū
    (pp. 45-80)

    The thirteenkamui yukarchants recorded in written form in theAinu shin’yōshūwere each iterations of oral traditions that had been passed on in the Horobetsu dialect in what Yukie dreamed of as an unending river of song flowing to her generation from a long-distant past. In many ways these chants belong to the Noboribetsu area, its landscape, animals, and climate. While it is likely that individual chants may have originated elsewhere and circulated into the area through the sharing of oral performance among different Ainu communities, some perhaps as distant as Sakhalin and the Kuriles, we know that...

  7. CHAPTER THREE The Ainu Social Landscape
    (pp. 81-104)

    As a culture based primarily on hunting, fishing, and gathering, the traditional Ainu of Horobetsu, as we have seen, lived in intimate relationship with the natural world (including its spiritual dimensions). Not surprisingly, their social structures reflect this close engagement. In traditional society, norms for social interaction involved both human-human relations and, because thekamuiare alive and responsive just as human beings are, human-kamuirelations, that, as explained, were at the same time human–natural world relations. These two sets of interactions and social structuring are not highly distinct; the two were interrelated, modeled upon each other, and governed...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Weighty Animal Spirits and Important Game Animals
    (pp. 105-138)

    This and the following chapter look closely at each of the thirteenkamui yukarof theAinu shinʾyōshūand at the animal spirits whose story is told in them. As a matter of convenience, thekamui yukarare referred to by the English word “chant” and numbered in the order in which they appear in the volume edited and translated by Chiri Yukie. In eleven of the thirteen chants the first-person narrator and protagonist is an animal with both somatic and spiritual dimensions. The animal spiritual beings featured as first-person narrators in the volume are the fish owl (two chants),...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Symbolic and Ordinary Animal Spirits
    (pp. 139-192)

    In this chapter I examine the remaining two categories of animalkamuiin theAinu shinʾyōshū, those I have called symbolic and those that the Ainu call light or ordinary animal spirits. As in chapter 4, for each section I first discuss the pertinent animals in both their somatic and spiritual dimensions before moving on to an examination of key features of each chant. In the case of the category of “symbolic animal spiritual beings,” in order to facilitate the comparison of like and unlike qualities among the animal spiritual beings, the discussion of the chants is arranged in the...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Chiri Yukie’s Ainu Shin’yōshū
    (pp. 193-248)

    These translations are based on the facsimile edition of the 1926 version of theAinu shinʾyōshū(Collection of Ainu chants of spiritual beings) (Chiri Y. 1976). In that edition Chiri Yukie gives the Ainu text and her Japanese translation on facing pages. Each line of the Ainu text includes, on average, three phrases of the sung chant. In the transliterated Ainu, Chiri Yukie indicates the division between these phrases with a double space. Her Japanese translations follow the Ainu very closely, with the order of the original syntax preserved (something that, unfortunately, the constraints of English usage frequently do not...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 249-288)
  12. Works Cited
    (pp. 289-300)
  13. Index
    (pp. 301-314)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 315-321)