Handbook of Contemporary Animism, 14



Moral Foundations in Tlinit

Fritz Detwiler


p. 167 cultural restoration

"The Tlingit of southeastern Alaska ... have developed ... a lifestyle ... based on the principles of propriety and reciprocity ... from moral covenants which they establish with the non-human world. [p. 180, n. 1 : "Martin (1999) reports ... moral covenants between humans and non-human persons ... among several other Northwest Coast and Alaskan peoples."] ...

Beginning with ... the eighteenth century, traditional Tlingit ways of thinking, speaking and enacting their sacred rituals have been under pressure by Christian missionaries ... . ...

In response ..., many within the Tlingit community are seeking to restore their cultural traditions and recover the basic values upon which the traditional Tlingit life was based."

"Tlingit culture ... focused on ... the deeper cosmological and ontological foundation of the Tlingit cultural matrix ... . Contemporary Tlingit elders ... understand that cultural restoration requires the restoration of the worldviews upon which the culture was traditionally based." [p. 180, n. 2 : "Kan (1989) and ... Emmons & de Laguna 1991 ... Worl (1998), ... Thornton (2004) and ... Cruikshank (2005)".]

Martin 1999 = Calvin Luther Martin : The Way of the Human Being. New Haven (CT) : Yale Univ Pr.

Thornton 2004 = Thomas F. Thornton : "Geography of Tlingit Character". In :- Marie Mauzé; Michael Eugene Harkin; & Sergei Kan (edd.) : Coming to Shore : Northwest Coast Ethnology, Traditions, and Visions. Lincoln : Univ of NE Pr. pp. 363-84.

Cruikshank 2005 = J. Cruikshank : Do Glaciers Listen?

pp. 168-9 mythologic cosmogony

p. 168

"all the beings ... lived together ..., all related to each other (Welker 2004) ..., with all beings able to communicate and change forms with each other rather easily. In order to bring light into the world ..., Raven opened the Box of the Sun ... . However, the light frightened the human and non-human persons and they dispersed into their own separate communities, with some going to the waters ... and others to the land (Emmons & de Laguna 1991:34). ...

p. 169

Each type of person (e.g. humans, bears, seals, otters, glaciers, cedar trees, mountains, etc.) lived in their own "communities" or domains. These communities were specific to a type of being living at a specific location ... . Not only did each domain have its specific members and location, it also had its own ... protocols ([Worl 1998]:83)."

Welker 2004 = Glenn Welker : "Tlingit Creation Story". http://indigenouspeople.net/creatlingit.htm

Emmons & de Laguna 1991 = George Thornton Emmons & F. de Laguna (edd.) : The Tlingit Indians. ANTHROPOLOGICAL PAPERS OF THE AMER MUS OF NATURAL HISTORY 70. Seattle : Univ of WA Pr.

Worl 1998 = Rosita F. Worl : Tlingit AT.O`OW. PhD diss, Harvard Univ, Cambridge (MA).

p. 169 ontology of otherness

For the Tlinit, "personhood extended to all domains of life and included both the living and the dead.

All persons, including oceans, glaciers and mountains,

{Such phrase as /oceans, glaciers and mountains/ is a metonymic expression for /divine denizens of oceans, glaciers and mountains/.}

possess consciousness, intelligence, volition, agency and language. Non-human persons are intimately aware of themselves and their interactions with humans, are capable of experiencing feelings, and have the capacity to choose how they interact with humans. [p. 180, n. 4 : "For a discussion of these characteristics as they apply to glaciers, see Cruikshank (2005:3)."] ...

Tlingit stories also suggest that ... humans living in

non-human communities

{supernatural communitities, to be encountred in dreaming}

might see their hosts anthropomorphically, while the hosts see humans as similar in form to the hosts."

Cruikshank 2005 = Julia Cruikshank : Do Glaciers Listen? Vancouver (BC) : Univ of BC Pr; Seattle : Univ of WA Pr.

p. 170 bones of dead animals

"In Tlingit stories, the bones of {land-}animals and fish are reborn with flesh and skin.

Even the bones of the dead ... have the capacity to remember

{The memory is that held by a supernatural bone-spirit divinity (who can be met in a dream).}

how they were treated by others and could bring those memories when they were reincarnated. If humans treated the bones well,

the reincarnated beings might show reciprocal respect by offering their flesh to the humans

{The deities who enable the "beings" (animals) to redincarnate may shew the grace of offering the animals controlled by them to be slain by hunters who had shewn respect to those deities by revering the bones of the praeviously-slain same animals controlled by those deities.}

while, at the same time, not offering themselves to those who had shown disrespect."

p. 170 approach of small animals (to persons) is guided by ghosts of persons' dead friends

"The kaa toowu, or "mind", is the centre from which thoughts and feelings arise ... related to moral {ethical} character ([Kan 1989]:105). ... . ... "the kaa toowu could be personified {read instead : /able to attract small wild animals to a person/}, for example,

as a chickadee

{I have experienced a wild bird's allowing itself to be handled by me, before its flying away.}

or a spider spinning its web close to one's head, seen {understood} as

the loving thoughts of a friend, including those of a deceased one, which were believed to linger near the corpse and could even appear some time after its funeral" (Kan 1989:52)."

{Besides appearing visibly as an apparition, a ghost of a dead friend might (through that friend's "loving thoughts ") influence a small animal to approach one's self as proof of the friend survival after death.}

p. 170 ghost & spirit

"The kaa yakgwaheiyagu ("ghost") and the kaa yahaayi ("spirit") are two other non-material elements of personhood. The first appears to be a soul which remains at the site where the body is buried. Both the "ghost" and "soul" also travel to their lineage house in the distant land of the dead. According to Kan,

the "ghost" remained in the land of the dead forever.

{Alike unto all other non-material elements, the "ghost" would eventually also recycle (redincarnate), though not necessarily in conjunction with the "soul" along with which it was co-occupying a body in its praevious life.}

The "spirit", however, eventually returns as one of the deceased's close matrilineal relatives (see de Laguna 1972:755-9; Kan 1989:53-4; Worl 1998:86)."

de Laguna 1972 = Frederica de Laguna : Under Mount Saint Elias : the History and Culture of the Yakutat Tlingit. SMITHSONIAN CONTRIBUTIONS TO ANTHROPOLOGY, 7. Washington (DC) : Smithsonian Institution Pr. https://repository.si.edu/handle/10088/1356

Kan 1989 = Sergei Kan : Symbolic Immortality : the Tlingit Potlatch ... . Washington (DC) : Smithsonian Institution Pr.

p. 170 personal guardian spirit {guardian angel}

"Every human being also possesses a guardian spirit which ... resides above the person's head. Such a guardian spirit either can come to a person by the spirit's volition or the human can seek it out (Jonaitis 2006:60). The purpose of the spirit is to grant protection to the human and to grant the human help in a number of ways relating to the well-being and success of the human. ...

The more the human lives a morally virtuous life, the longer the guardian spirit remains. However, the guardian spirit can also threaten to leave a human who lives an unclean or immoral life (R. Dauenhauer 2000:163)."

Jonaitis 2006 = Aldona Jonaitis : Art of the Northwest Coast. Seattle : Univ of WA Pr; Vancouver : Douglas & McIntyre.

Dauenhauer 2000 = Richard Dauenhauer : "Syncretism, Revival, and Reinvention : Tlingit Religion, Pre- and Postcontact". In :- Lawrence Eugene Sullivan (ed.) : Native Religions and Cultures of North America. NY : Continuum. pp. 160-80.

p. 172 good luck

"those who exhibit high moral {ethical} character generate

laxeitl or "good luck".

{favorable karman}

... "Thus the nonhuman beings of the world were seen as reciprocating with laxeitl in return for respectful treatment by human beings" (R. Dauenhauer 2000:162)."

p. 172 mythic time

""originating narratives" ... of various clans ... embody tlakw or "eternal time" in which the creative processes extend back to the events of creation and forward to the present and into the future. It is spatial ... in ... that these events occur in particular places which are well known to the Tlingit and that the events of these places

continue to occur through personal encounters ... ."

{personal encountres with deities in dreams}

pp. 174-5 Tlinit legend of how a pubertal girl caused a glacier to advance

p. 174

["History of Glacier Bay", in Dauenhauer & Dauenhauer 1987, pp. 245-59] "a young girl, Kaasteen, who was beginning her menstruation, was isolated ... for a period of three years. ...

p. 175

After two years, she ... decided to entertain herself by teasing the glacier like a dog. ... Meanwhile, ... the edge of the glacier ... was getting closer and closer to the village. ... it was growing faster than a running dog. ... They made songs to try to stop it. ...

The grandmother, Shaawatse`ek ... offered to take the place of the offender, Kaasteen. ... .

{"the goddess [Artemis] substituted a [she-]bear as victim in place of" Iphi-geneia (DCM, s.v. "Iphigenia", p. 236a).}

... the whole village ... packed up the boat and barely made an escape."

{"the expedition was under way the fleet put in" (DCM, s.v. "Agamemnon", p. 24b).}

Dauenhauer & Dauenhauer 1987 = Nora Marks-Dauenhauer & Richard Dauenhauer : Haa Shuka`, Our Ancestors : Tlingit Oral Narratives. CLASSICS OF TLINGIT ORAL LITERATURE, 1. Seattle : Univ of WA Pr; Juneau : Sealaska Heritage Foundation.

p. 175 Tlinit legend of how a male bear came to cohabit with a woman

["Woman Who Married the Bear", in Dauenhauer & Dauenhauer 1987, pp. 195-217] "Teikweidi women went out to collect Indian celery. ... The young woman slipped and fell on the bear's "leavings" {faeces}. ... Toward evening ..., ...

The bear-man told her he would marry her ... . ... So they moved up the mountain."

{Cf. Korean myth of male bear cohabiting with woman as being progenitors of mankind.}

p. 176 Tlinit myth of how a man was transformed into an eagle {cf. the Cymry myth about how a hero became an eagle}

["Story of the Eagle Crest of the Nexa>di^", in Swanton 1909] "an eagle ... took him to the eagle's community. ... He ... lived with them a long time, marrying one of the eagle women. The man's eagle brothers-in-law gave him a coat and put it on him.

By wearing the coat he became ... an eagle.

{The hero Llew Llaw Gyffes "flew up in the form of an eagle" (ChGuM, p. 429).

After a long time, ... the eagle sat on a branch and told them its name, which was the name of the missing man."

Responding to being called "Llew Llaw Gyffes", "the eagle came down until he was on the lowest branch of the tree" (ChGuM, p. 431).}

Swanton 1909 = John R. Swanton : Tlingit Myths and Texts. BUREAU OF AMERICAN ETHNOLOGY BULLETIN 39. sacred-texts.com/nam/nw/tmt/tmt094.htm

ChGuM = Lady Charlotte Guest (translatrix) : The Mabinogion. London : Bernard Quaritch, 1877. http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/mab/mab26.htm

p. 178 "X-ray art"

"several authors refer to the Tlingit art style as X-ray art (Kan 1989:50; Malin 1999:120-21). ... The bones, once buried and properly treated, later take on ... flesh and are reincarnated.

{"X-ray art includes sacred images of ancestral supernatural beings ... in the western part of Arnhem Land in northern Australia. ... . ... X-ray images depict the backbone, ribs, and internal organs of humans and animals. " ("X-RSAL")}

In the interim, they report to the other salmon the moral character of the person who caught and ate them. Such ... reports" have a direct impact on whether that same hunter has "good or bad luck"."

Malin 1999 = Edward Malin : Northwest Coast Indian Painting : House Fronts and Interior Screens. Portland (OR) : Timber Pr.

"X-RSAL" = "X–Ray Style in Arnhem Land Rock Art". http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/xray/hd_xray.htm

p. 179 praeparation of an at.o`ox (art-object depicting some mythic deity); consecration-dedication of the at.o`ox at a koo.e`ex

"While the women spin the wool [of mountain-goats], they also sing songs ([Emmons & de Laguna 1991]:224-33). These are songs of empowerment ... related to the originating events. ...

The final stage of the process is the presentation of the blanket ... at a koo.e`ex ... . ... koo.e`ex ... literally means "invite" (T. F. Thornton 2008:39) ... the opposite clan{-moiety} ... to acknowledging the items presented as at.o`ox (Worl 1998:107)."

Thornton 2008 = Thomas F Thornton : Being and Place Among the Tlingit. Seattle : Univ of WA Pr; Juneau (AK) : Sealaska Heritage Institute.

p. 180 rules of propriety from puissant divinities

"The originating events ... describe "the moral {i.e., consuetudinous} order of the universe universe" which continues tol be maintained through ... a

"set of rules for proper thinking, speaking, and behaving, vis-a`-vis its nonhuman inhabitants,

{rules transmitted to mortals during their dreaming, emanating}

from the especially powerful spirits ..." (R. Dauenhauer 2000:163)."


Graham Harvey (ed.) : Handbook of Contemporary Animism. Acumen Publ, Durham; ISD, Bristol, 2013.