Ishi: The last yahi
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Key Concepts: Salvage Anthropology; Cultural Translation; Manifest Destiny
Riffe, Jed and Pamela Roberts. Ishi: The Last Yahi. USA: Rattlesnake Productions,
1. Why were anthropologists so interested in discovering a “real and
completely wild” Indian?
- Kroeber wanted to study a native North American that was
uncontaminated by the West.
- He had this idea of cultures as fixed, pure, and whole.
- Pre-historical: “Without history”
- In this view, history belongs to Europeans, who set history in motion
through power and conquest.
- The ideas of social evolution still very strong.
- Treated Native North Americans as “primitives” who could teach us
something about “our” prehistory. Once they had been conquered, clothed,
etc, they were no longer of interest to the early anthropologists, no longer
interesting for science.
2. What was “salvage anthropology”?
- We call this “Salvage Anthropology”, where you try to learn
as much as you can about a way-of-life that will disappear.
- An interest in learning the language, the stories, collecting
- This approach leads to the reification of culture, or turning
cultural forms into “objects” to be placed in a museum, where
it will be “classified”
- Reification is dangerous because you seize to see the other’s
humanity, the other’s historical nature, the other’s shared
history and response to it.
3. Was Ishi “uncontaminated” before 1911?
- Ishi had been “hunted” and in hiding for 40 years, since the
1860s, because of European settlement, violence, and theft.
His way of life was already completely “contaminated”.
- If he seemed “wild”, it is because he was forced to become
wild to survive. He did not want to return to place where he
had hid because it was a place of suffering and death.
4. What surprised Ishi about the museum? What surprises you about Ishi?
- Finding his family’s artefacts must have been shocking.
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