Twana Narratives: Native Historical Accounts of a Coast Salish Culture. by WILLIAM W. ELMENDORF. University of Washington Press, Seattle; and UBC Press, Vancouver, 1993. lv + 306 pp, plates, maps, bibliography, indexes. $49.95 (cloth). Reviewed by Brian Thom in Anthropos 1995) 90 (1-3):256-257]
My hope is that this analysis may reveal something, if only a hint, about the thought-world of the Twana Indians of a century and a half ago. (Elmendorf 1993:liv)
This book provides fascinating insight into the ethnography of the Twana, a Coast Salish group from the Hood Canal area of northwestern Washington state. This book is a remarkable work, as it presents the ethnography of this Coast Salish society in the voice of actual participants in that society. The book contains a large number of narratives told by two Twana men, Frank and Henry Allen, during Elmendorf's field studies in the Hood Canal area between 1934 and 1940. Elmendorf has painstakingly transcribed the narratives given by Frank and Henry Allen during the time when he was interviewing them. The introduction gives some background the lives of Frank and Henry Allen, and to the history of Elmendorf's research project. Elmendorf then sets out the narratives into seven categories or chapters: movements and contacts; classes and class functions; society and the individual; war, feud, and murder; spirit power; shamans; souls, magic and ritual. Each narrative has at the beginning, an estimate of the date of the events described by Frank or Henry Allen. Some of these accounts are of datable events, others are general accounts of society, and others still are traditional or "semi-mythic" accounts. These dates are often very interesting when considering the difficult questions of post-contact culture change Datable accounts are noted from as early as the late 18th century, while some of the oral traditions have cultural significance much further back into antiquity.
The first section, entitled Movements and Contacts, is a discussion by Frank and Henry Allen of the regional interactions of the Twana people and the surrounding village groups, the origins of the Duhlelap Twana, and the introduction of missionaries and Shakers into the area. The importance of ceremonial and potlatch relations among these Coast Salish groups over a wide geographic region becomes immediately clear. These detailed descriptions provide insight into the importance of maintaining social relationships between individuals and families. Additionally, the native narratives of contact provide a fresh and distinctive view of the historical events described in other historic documents such as the notebooks of missionary Myron Eells (see: Eells, Myron The Indians of Puget Sound. george Castile, ed. University of Washington Press, Seattle. 1985).
Classes and class functions are the categories used to describe a number of narratives which deal with potlatch relations, slaves and secret societies. The importance of the potlatch as a focus of social relationships, economy, and connection to the spirit world is discussed in detail here. The social positions of different family and village groups (often referred to as 'tribes' in the narratives) are understood in a broad regional and temporal context, with stories covering a large number of tribes, over a period of at least 100 years.
Society and the individual are discussed with reference to marriages, names, menstrual taboos and burials. The narratives in this section give the reader a sense of the important things that a Twana individual would have to know to function properly in the wider world. Relationships between individuals, families and the spirit world are all important features of being a successful participant in these Coast Salish communities.
Frank Allen, Henry Allen and William Elmendorf were all fascinated with the idea of war, feud and murder, which had been virtually halted in Coast Salish communities since the 1850's due to colonial military and missionary pressure. Frank and Henry recount various scales of fighting among the different tribes of the Puget Sound, and between groups as distant as the Cowichan and the ye'kwItax (Kwakwaka'wakw from northeast Vancouver Island). In each case, "war power", the spirit power used to help with such fighting, is the critical element in deciding the battle. The narrative of "Leschi's war against the whites" (p. 153) provides another Native perspective on a well known historical event (also see Eells as mentioned above).
The final three sections entitled: Spirit Power; Shamans; and Souls, Magic, and Ritual take the reader into the spiritual realm of Coast Salish life. Frank Allen was an important spiritual man in his community, and provides intimate details of the relations of Salish peoples to the spirit world. Throughout the book, we are made aware of the importance of the tanánamis (guardian spirit power) in the daily life of the people of these communities, however, the presentation of specific knowledge of individuals like Frank and Henry Allen provides the contemporary reader a rare opportunity to understand the complexities of Salish spirituality.
Detailed ethnographic material is found in every narrative, like the following except from a story discussing the social relations between two important Skokomish and Satsop families:
After a while, here comes ta'l'qad again, and he goes into cel'qwe'l'qwaB's house, crying, and he hollers, "Oh! Oh! What am I going to do? I've broken my bow, and now I can't hunt!" They say he was a good hunter, but he didn't know how to make anything. ta'delct said, "That man has given us meat. Now let's give him a bow, and I'm going to give him an armful of arrows." So ta'delct went and got one good bow and gave it to ta'l'qad. "Here, you don't have to cry. here's a bow for you." And they brought him an armful of arrows. Their slaves were busy all the time making arrows, and they gave ta'l'qad a big armful of good hunting arrows, with barbed bone points that came loose. So ta'l'qad got his bow and arrows. "Oh, thank you, thank you!" And he went home. (Elmendorf 1993:11)
As in the entire book, this narrative quotes verbatim the story told by Elmendorf's native colleagues, including phonetic renderings of words and names given in Twana. These rich narratives are given without any anthropological interpretation. Elmendorf has made exhaustive references to his other publications where his anthropological discussions have drawn from these original narratives. Ethnic, place and person names have also been extensively indexed and annotated in two appendices. This level of detail provides the reader with a full complement of sources and context from which to draw interpretations of the narratives provided. The way these narratives are presented, in a large volume of their own, helps sidestep the problem of losing the voice of "the other" in the text of the anthropologist.
One problem with the book is that the reader never knows Elmendorf's involvement in the discussion of the narratives. In his effort to present the native voice, he has managed to completely mute his own, by not mentioning the context of the conversations the narratives were given in. I often wondered why a particular story was mentioned, or what comments Elmendorf made during their conversations. This kind of detail would provide the reader with a more subtle understanding of the meaning of the stories in relation to the individuals telling them. Elmendorf presents the stories as a kind of "raw data", which likely suits the kind of analysis he provides in his previous publications. However, another entire volume could be written to give the individual contexts for the telling of each story, and was likely beyond the scope of Elmendorf's current project (for an example of this kind of writing on the Northwest Coast see: Haa Shuká, Our Ancestors: Tlingit Oral Narratives. by N. and R. Dauenhauer. University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1987).
This book is clearly one of the most important and detailed pieces of Coast Salish ethnography to have been published, and should appeal to anthropologists and indigenous peoples interested in the lives, history and ethnography of the Northwest Coast.