The Pacific Northwest

Although in a Canadian context this region might better be called the "Pacific Southwest," we discuss the region from a North American viewpoint. There is ample evidence in the rich folklore and traditions of this area to indicate the inte-gretation of astronomy into the lives of the people. This is clear from the work of Miller (1992) and Lévi-Strauss (tr. Modelski 1982).

Among the Kwakiutl of northeastern Vancouver Island and adjacent mainland of b.c., the year was divided into two parts: bakus (spring and summer) and tsetseka (fall and winter) (Lévi-Strauss 1982, p. 62). Their society changes dramatically from one period to the next: Proper names, songs, and musical styles change. In the bakus period, the secular ("profane") clan structure predominates. The clans were descended from people who came from the sky (Miller 1992). The entire tsetseka period is given over to rites performed by secret and religious societies (Seals, Cannibals, War Spirit, and Sparrows, the latter subdivided by ages into Puffins, Mallards, Killer Whales, and Whales). The higher ("superior") groups (Seals and Cannibals) are subdivided into three grades, each taking 12 years to pass through. Half of the group does not take part but are the "audience" for the rites and dances, often involving elaborate masks. The secret societies have parallel men and women organizations.

Among the Salish (in the southeastern part of Vancouver Island and the opposite mainland), the origin of the Swaihwe masks, used in many ceremonies, differs from island to mainland (Lévi-Strauss 1982, p. 30). On the island, the ancestor of the mask falls from the sky; in the mainland version, it comes from the sea.

Among the Quinault (a Salishan tribe in Washington), the old men had special seats where they observed sunrise and sunset, usually with respect to a designated tree or pole. The December solstice was named xa'Ltaanm, "come back, the sun," and the June solstice was observed but not named. Measurements were made with a marked horizontal stick on which the tree or pole cast its shadow (Miller 1992, pp. 194-195). Similar observing seats are reported to the north among the Tlingit and the Tsimshian. All Tsimshian groups sent representative astronomers to a sort of council at a high hill called Andemaul, "seat of native astronomers." They sat together in their fixed seats and discussed the meaning of particular portents as they were observed. All tribal members descended from the "Children of Heaven." The usual name for an astronomer among the Tsimshian was Gyemgat, "moon reader," and his primary objective was to determine how much food would be available in a particular season (Miller 1992, pp. 204-205).

Among the Wasco ("Chinook of the lower Columbia"), two brothers kill the Sun (a Sun that was unbearably hot for humans). The elder becomes the Sun, and the younger, the Moon. Ever since, the Sun is less hot and "the heavenly bodies alternated regularly in the sky" (Lévi-Strauss 1982, p. 113).

Some myths involve the son or daughter of the Sun. Among the Nimkish (Vancouver Island Kwakiutl), the first human to live on earth "after the deluge" had a son named "Giant" who married the Sun's daughter (Lévi-Strauss 1982, p. 78). The detailed myth has strong affinity with that of the Nootka.

There are many myths involving copper and the Sun. The Thompson (inland Salish) "make a character dressed in copper The son of the sun"—the same term used to refer to a beetle with bright bronze color (Lévi-Strauss 1982, p. 113). Among the Tlingit, a princess escaping from a grizzly bear finds a magic boat that takes her to the Sun. The Sun's sons fall in love with her, kill their present wife (a cannibal), and are accepted by the heroine. She bears a son and takes husbands and son back to her village, where she is abandoned (with her son) for allowing herself to be wooed by a villager. Some time later, the son finds "his father's" solid copper boat, cuts it up, and builds a house of copper that attracts a wife. Gifts to his father-in-law provide the Indian people with copper (Lévi-Strauss 1982, p. 119). Among the Menomini of the Great Lakes, the Sun stops at midday to contemplate the Earth through a long cylinder of copper (Lévi-Strauss 1982, p. 132).

According to Levi-Strauss (1982, p. 131ff), there is a widespread belief throughout North America that "the cylinder" has a role consisting of "capturing, fixing, and putting into direct communication terms that are very far apart." On the Pacific north coast, shamans have "soul catchers," often tubular shaped objects of ivory or carved wood. Among the Tlingit, the trickster, Raven, warned the Indians before leaving them that when he returned, anybody who looked at him with the naked eye would be turned to stone; henceforth, he would have to be looked at with a rolled-up leaf of skunk cabbage. It is reported that in 1786, the ships of the French explorer La Pérouse were examined by Tlingit through hastily made "telescopes"; they had misinterpreted the sails of the ships as the wings of the Raven. Among the Alaskan Inuit, large and bulging eyes are associated with piercing, or perhaps, night-penetrating vision. The shamans of Algonquin-speaking tribes in eastern Canada have "magic telescopes" of hollow juniper wood wrapped in white caribou skin and are said to enclose themselves in a white "shaking tent" designed like a cylinder to permit "an infinite view, far above and below" during trances. The Tucano of Vaupès (in South America) have a similar belief (Lévi-

Strauss 1982, p. 133). Finally, the masks of the b.c. coast Indians show protruding eyes: Swaihwe masks with protruding bulges in place of eyes or Dzonokwa masks with eyes in deep set sockets (Lévi-Strauss 1982, p. 131). These descriptions are suggestive of some sort of viewing device. Any sort of tube might have been useful in viewing planets closer to the Sun.

In some cosmic myths, a hero rises to Heaven after spectacular exploits. Among the Tlaskenok of northwestern Vancouver Island, a hero kills an ogress who had kidnapped his brothers, resurrects his brothers, and rises to heaven (Lévi-Strauss 1982, p. 77). There are several varieties of this myth, which can have elaborate detail of the hero's exploits. According to Levi-Strauss, the several varieties of this myth involve the ascension of the hero into the sky to marry the daughter of the Sun. They all seem to involve two female protagonists: a subterranean creature (the ogress) representing darkness and the Sun's daughter, "a celestial creature whose home and ancestry all place her on the side of daylight" (Lévi-Strauss 1982, p. 79). Among the Tenaktak (inland Kwakiutl), the hero marries both the daughter of the ogress and the daughter of the Sun and Moon. In some versions, the wives remain enemies, and in others they are reconciled. Most have the hero attempting to return to Heaven with his second wife but falling to his death on the way. In one variation, he is brought back to life by the Sun, his father-in-law (Lévi-Strauss 1982, pp. 80, 81).

Among the Tlingit, a man is ashamed of his sister who had taken a lover. The brother drags her into the sky where he becomes the Moon and she becomes the Sun (Lévi-Strauss 1982, pp. 195, 203).

In other myths, origin of the Sun involves the theft of copper. Among the Cowlitz (inland Salish), the Sun (and rainbows) originate from a copper ring stolen by a boy who is either lame or covered with sores; among the Skokomish, that it was at first a copper hoop toy owned by "the rich," while the poor "had nothing to amuse themselves," but stolen, "it rises into the sky" where it can be enjoyed by all (Lévi-Strauss 1982, p. 114).

According to the Tlingit, at the beginning of time, "when darkness still reigned on earth," all animal species were undifferentiated. A culture hero stole and opened a box in which the Sun was "locked up." At the sight of its splendor, the animals dispersed in all directions, where they acquired their present characteristics as the environment dictated (Lévi-Strauss 1982, pp. 129, 130).

Telescopes Mastery

Telescopes Mastery

Through this ebook, you are going to learn what you will need to know all about the telescopes that can provide a fun and rewarding hobby for you and your family!

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment