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Questions and Key Concepts of Ishi The Last Yahi

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Donna Young

Riffe, Jed and Pamela Roberts. Ishi: The Last Yahi. USA: Rattlesnake Productions, 1992. 1. Why were anthropologists so interested in discovering a “real and completely wild” Indian? • - After an uncontaminated person who was never introduced to english • preserve and salvage primitive and dying civilizations that were about to disappear • Idea about culture: as something that was pure, fixed, and whole. • Yahi culture was a “thing” - language, myth, economy, kinship structure, people wanted to study these people as a pure isolated group. • Traits and habits of original and uncontaminated indian americans, to fully comprehend • some people seen as “pre-historical” - lived as isolated people and the “West” had history • linked to evolution and social evolution • Ishi seen as an earlier form of mankind, and not contemporary (which he was) • people implied that human cultures have evolved, if they could understand Yahi, they can understand their own pre-literate history (false notion) • Evolution is wrong to think about with regards to human culture • They treated native north americans as primitives to teach us something about our own history. Once they were clothed, they were no longer intersting for anthropologists, nor history. 2. What was “salvage anthropology”? What was “armchair anthropology”? • “salvage anthropology” - capture it forever before it disappeared forever, focus on disappearance not on survival • wanted to “COLLECT” Yahi stories, grammars, artifacts; not “UNDERSTAND” it • assumes that onc you are exposed to another people or once you change to seize to be that anymore – no longer valued as “yahi”, you've been contaminated • cultures DON'T disappear (except with what happened to the Yahi); cultures change 3. Was Ishi “uncontaminated” before 1911? • The anthropologists thought he was because he was untouched by the “West” • he was hunted and was hiding since the 1860's; his way of life had been thoroughly contaminated and altered beyond survival • what does it mean to be “wild”? - people do what they need to survive, we should think of him as a pursecuted person 4. What surprised Ishi about the museum? What surprises you about Ishi? • saw his families belongs (bows, arrows, etc.) stored in the museum that could have helped his people survive – objectifying • these artifacts had value in the livelyhood of the Yahi, however, were mere objects in the museum • bone room: he felt the soul of his ancestors were there (which is why food was stored there is taboo) – for Ishi, the bones had social and emotional value, not just objects • did not show bitterness towards the people 5. Why was it so difficult for Kroeber and others to learn Ishi’s language? • could not understand Ishi's language • would not talk to anyone about his people (no community of speakers) • to learn a language, you have to be part of this community • language has a lot of historical reference that get layered over time 6. Why was it impossible to make sense of Ishi’s myths, e
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