By Robert Bringhurst

The Haida international is a misty archipelago 100 stormy miles off the coasts of British Columbia and Alaska. For 1000 years and extra sooner than the Europeans got here, an exceptional tradition flourished in those islands. The masterworks of classical Haida sculpture, now enshrined in lots of of the world's nice museums, diversity from beautiful tiny amulets to extraordinary large housepoles. Classical Haida literature is each piece as a variety of and effective. It extends from tiny jewels crafted via grasp songmakers to tricky mythic cycles lasting many hours.

The linguist and ethnographer John Swanton took dictation from the final nice Haida-speaking storytellers, poets and historians from the autumn of 1900 during the summer season of 1901. His Haida hosts and associates have been raised in a totally oral international the place the mythic and the non-public interpenetrate thoroughly. They joined forces with their customer, consciously making a nice treasury of Haida oral literature in written shape. Poet and linguist Robert Bringhurst has labored for a few years with those century-old manuscripts, that have waited previously for the extensive attractiveness they deserve.

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Extra resources for A Story as Sharp as a Knife: The Classical Haida Mythtellers and Their World

Sample text

After some time, they had nothing to eat, so they went again to the sea islands for berries. Wherever they chose a spot on which to alight, One-Side appeared and frightened them away. At last they found a place full of berries. They descended and laid aside their wings. They picked so many berries that they could hardly carry them all. They went back to the place where they had left their wings. The wings of the youngest daughter were gone. They looked for them a long time. At last, evening came and the sun went down.

5 Six years later came a severe epidemic of measles, lethal to many more native people up and down the Northwest Coast. 6 From that point on, the time he might have spent on the traditional professions of an adult Haida male – fishing, seahunting, woodworking, trading – went largely into listening instead. Even in his forties, he possessed extraordinary skill as an oral poet and extraordinary insight as a scholar of the seen and the unseen. In the midst of continuous death, evacuation and destruction, followed by aggressive transformation of his culture, Ghandl collected the remnants of an old and fundamentally celebratory tradition.

One of these occasions is the sky pillar itself. The other four – symmetrically arranged around the pillar – involve extra­ ordinary beings. indd 52 01/12/2010 2:54:51 PM c ha p ter t wo : Spoken Music system of musical modes or keys, which can work by a mixture of statement and suggestion. Ghandl has to tell us that the salmon roe is used in combination with the mouse skin, but the other gift, the marlinspike, is never directly mentioned a second time. A reference to cedar-limb line and spruce-root cord is enough.

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