Monday, April 23, 2007

HUM 221: Russian Orthodox Natives in Alaska

Today we'll complete a circle. One of the first Native cultures we looked at, back in the winter, was that of the Unangan Aleuts who live on islands in the Bering Sea. Today we will read -- and post journals to the blog -- about the related Yup'ik Eskimos of western Alaska and the Alutiiq people of Kodiak Island and other points along the coast of Southcentral Alaska.

The Alutiiq are also known in their native language as Sugpiaq and in English as "Aleuts" (which is what the Russians called them), and many Alutiiq, especially older people, still prefer the term. Alutiiq or Sugpiaq culture was strongly influenced by the Russians, and they are still Russian Orthodox even though Alaska hasn't been Russian for 150 years. The Smithsonian Institution has an online exhibit on Alutiiq culture that gives the basics. The first section, called "About the People," is an especially good overview. Also click through the pictures in the section on "Our Beliefs," for a survey of traditional beliefs before the Russians came.

In Alaska, Russian missionaries behaved differently than Americans did in the "Lower 48." The Russians left after Alaska was sold to the United States in 1867, but many Native Alaskans are still Russian Orthodox. "At the sale of Alaska, everyone thought that orthodoxy would disappear because all the Russians left," Bishop Nikolai, the Russian Orthodox bishop of Alaska, told BBC News. "Actually quite the contrary has happened - we are now the largest church in Alaska." An online Library of Congress exhibit on The Russian Church and Native Alaskan Cultures explains how Russian schools embraced Native languages instead of trying to eradicate them like American schools did. After the Americans came, Alaska Native children were punished any language other than English in school -- just like children in the Lower 48 -- and the other languages are dying out now. But for many years they flourished because the Russians encouraged literacy in more than one language:
Local parish schools offered reading, writing, and arithmetic, Biblical history, penmanship, music, and, at times, as many as four languages simultaneously: Russian, Old Church Slavonic, English, and a Native language. Indeed, the stories of the many remarkable graduates of the Church system, mostly Creoles [people whose mothers were Native Alaskan and whose fathers were Russian] like the priest Iakov Netsvetov ... are among the most moving in the history of Russian America.
Netsvetov is also known as St. Iakov or, more commonly, St. Jacob. He is, to my knowledge, the only Native American who has been canonized in a Christian church.

Russian Orthodox churches put a lot of emphasis on art and music, and Native Alaskans were soon composing hymns for the Russian Orthodox liturgy. We will hear a couple of selections. First, go to the page of links to Alaska Orthodox Texts compiled by All Saints of North America Orthodox Church in Hamilton, Ont., and scroll down to Aleut Orthodox Liturgical Music collection recorded in Anchorage in 1980-1981 and on St. George & St. Paul Islands in 1980. Click on the hymn "Christ is Risen." (It's near the bottom of the page, in the first set of links under "Audio Resources." To listen in class, you'll have to use earphones.) The language is Unangan Aleut, but the hymn sounds very Russian, especially in its complex harmonies.

Our other musical selection is a "troparion" (a type of Orthodox hymn) to St. Jacob Netsvetov (click on the mp3 file included in the CD "Yup'ik Orthodox Liturgical Music from the Kuskokwim, Vol. 2). In another window, you can see an icon (holy picture) of St. Jacob and read the troparian in English translation.

Do the melodies of the Easter hymn "Christ is Risen" and the hymn to St. Jacob remind you of anything? Congregational hymns in the West, the portions of Catholic (and some Protestant) services that are sung? Gregorian chant? What is the purpose of music among groups of people? How does Western music function like the singing and drumming we heard on the pow wow video? How is it different?

Another Russian Orthodox saint, St. Herman of Alaska, came to this country from Russia in 1794. But he is revered by Alaska Natives, and he is considered the father of Orthodoxy in America since the Russians were in Alaska before Russian immigration began to the Lower 48 in the late 1800s. The Rev. Andrew Tregubov, an Orthodox priest in New Hampshire, tells of a pilgrimage to St. Herman's shrine, when he sailed
... on a fishing rig made up primarily of Alaskans. Over the roar of the giant engines and the ocean wind came a spontaneous singing of the tropar [hymn] “Blessed Herman of Alaska, North Star of Christ’s Holy Church,” that went on during much of the trip across the open sea. The deck was covered with over a hundred people singing with joy to their beloved Herman. They sang and talked about him in the present tense, as if, no – not as if, but because he was with them and for them right then and there.
On the website with his sermon, Fr. Andrew shows an icon of St. Herman, and cites two people who believe St. Herman appeared to them. One was a fishing boat skipper who says St. Herman guided him out of the water when he got drunk and fell overboard, and the other was a hiker who believes St. Herman appeared to him on Mount Denali (McKinley), warned him of bad weather coming and thus saved his life.

Do the stories that are still told about St. Herman today suggest anything about the role he and other Russian missionaries played in the transmission of Native cultures? Why do we tell stories about saints, anyway? How are they like the stories that Native Americans tell? How are they different? What role do stories, in general, play in the transmission of culture?

Painter Helen Jane Simeonoff, who is of Sugpiaq or Alutiiq heritage, has her artwork on sale in the Alutiiq Museum and Archaeological Repository in Kodiak. She consciously tries to restore traditional forms of expression, including the Sugpiaq langauge which was repressed in the schools after tbe American education system came to Alaska. So her work features seals, puffins, masks, hats, Russian Orthodox churches and other traditions. Study her work, and answer the last question.

How does an artist like Simeonoff blend Native, Russian and 21st-century American artistic traditions in their work. What does this tell you about the transmission of cultural expressions?

Saturday, April 21, 2007

HUM 221: Art of the Northwest Coast

Unlike any other Native American cultural area is that of the Northwest Coast, which would include Oregon, Washington, the Canadian province of British Colombia and the Southeast coast of Alaska. They consisted of several tribes, of whom the Tlingit (pron. KLINK-et) of Alaska are perhaps the best known in the United States. But they all had certain cultural traits in common. They had plenty of food available, and a technology well suited to deep sea fishing. Their canoes, were for example, were seaworthy and beautifully ornamented. And the artistry they put into the marine technology whereby they earned their living extended into other parts of their lives. Their culture was complex, and their totem poles in particular are known worldwide as examples of the highest artistic achievement.

For background, pay a virtual visit to the Grand Hall of the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa. There you will see replica housefronts and totem poles of four Canadian people in this cultural area. Click on the housefronts for more information about the houses and people, and on the links below for a variety of other information. Notice the painted decorations, the carvings, the design that goes into the Haida "button blanket." (It is related to the Chilkat blankets of Alaska.) For more background on the Northwest Coast cultures, you can read this University of Washington overview of the Tlingit and related peoples of Alaska and British Columbia. It will tell you how climate and geography affected the culture Be sure to click through to the pictures of totem poles (one is mislabeled, it shows you a man and a dog, but the others show a remarkable art form). Pay special attention to sections on housing and the matriarchal clan system.

Then visit the the website for Totem Poles: An Appreciation by Canadian author Pat Kramer. She's plugging a book, but she has a good explanation of what totem poles are, and what they mean. Some good thumbnails, too. Totem poles are still being carved. For links to several Alaskan and Canadian artists doing totem poles todaygo to the Native Languages website. The website (one of the best on Native American subjects) advises, "If you're looking for something less expensive, why not visit our Native American sculptures page instead, where there are some nice collections of beautiful Indian woodcarving ..." Good advice. Let's go there and see what we find.

But first a tangent, an important one: Are you getting a good feel for how important a traditional art form woodworking is for the First Nations of the Northwest Coast? Good. In that case you're ready to read this from the report of the superintendent of the Siletz Indian Agency in Oregon on Aug. 28, 1882. He was especially proud of a new sawmill:
... The labor in the mills is all performed by Indians with a single exception. I am pleased to say that a number of Indians, so far as I know for the first time, cut their timber, drew their logs, and sawed their own lumber without the aid of government, thus proving themselves on the road to self-support and independence, a thing of which they feel a pride.
He added:
The Indians here I find are not very unlike white people; some are willing to labor for what they have and others think they ought to be supported in their idleness. ... The Indians here as a rule learn the trades easily, perhaps more readily even than farming. There are goodly numbers who can perform service in the shops or mills, and show evidence of rapid advancement in mechanism.
No wonder! They'd been building cedar plank houses and working with wood for centuries.

In the 21st century, the art of the Northwest Coast peoples is still alive. Visit the Coghlan Studio and Gallery near Vancouver, B.C., for a highly commercial but culturally aware approach to the art. Be sure to read the history of carving and other arts, the essay on raising a new totem pole at the Royal Museum Of British Columbia in Victoria. But most Northwest Coast art now is smaller, and it branches out into other media. Surf around the Coughlan Gallery's website, visit the gift shop and the gallery to see more. Click on the thumbnails to see larger pictures of the art, or to read artist's biographies. How much are the artists charging? (Prices that say "$ ... cdn" are Canadian, and "$ ... usd" are U.S. dollars. But you would have figured that out anyway.) Think about it, review what you've read and answer this question: How have Native American artists of the Northwest Coast adapted their traditional art forms to a market economy? What strikes you most about their art? What in your background and/or taste makes you feel that way? What specific features in the design and execution of the art speak to you across cultures? What suprises you about it? Post your answers as comments to this blogpost.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

HUM 221: People, architecture of the desert

We're not even going to try to cover the different styles of architecture evolved by Native American peoples in the week we've got left. Instead, I'm just going to link to a few generalizations ... and then to some examples of especially distinctive styles of architecture. Today we'll look at some adaptations made to a desert environment in Arizona.

And, of course, I'll ask you a couple of questions. Post your answers as comments to this blogpost.

Generalization. MSN's online Encarta encyclopedia says this about Native architecture: "In traditional Native American culture, the dwelling was far more than a physical shelter or what Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier called 'a machine for living.' For many Native Americans the house was a physical and spiritual representation of the universe." That's true, and it's important. But there's an endless variety of ways the universe can be represented.

Here are a few:

In Arizona, the Hohokam people developed irrigated communities with cities on platform mounds. One, along Salt River just off the Hohokam Expressway ("the 143") in what is now Phoenix, Ariz., is called "Pueblo Grande" (which means big town in Spanish: We don't know what the Hohokam called it). But here's an artist's conception of what it looked like. It's on the title page of a book that tells, in a lot of detail, how the Hohokam adapted their agriculture to the Sonoran desert. Notice how green the picture is. That's how green it was back in the day. Really.

In 1998 a Science, Technology and Culture class at the University of Denver constructed a virtual Hohokam village that explains their farming, irrigation, housing, religion, crafts and recreation. (It's ingenious. Click on the irrigation canals, for example, to read about how they watered their crops.) The Hohokam vanished during the 1400s or 1500s and left no written records. So we don't know how they saw the universe. Study the virtual village, and give it your best guess. Based on what you've learned about them, how do you think they saw the universe?

(The Hohokam, by the way, gave their name to the baseball park in Mesa where the Chicago Cubs play during spring training. The name we use for them comes from the Tohono O'odham people, who may be descended from them, and it means "the old ones" or "the ones who are used up." Cubs fans will have to decide for themselves what to make of that fact.)

Another remarkable style of architecture emerged in the same part of the country when Spanish priests founded missions where they taught Christianity and European methods of cattle ranching to the indigenous people. The mission of San Xavier del Bac (pronounced "sahn hahv-i-yer") on the Tohono O'odham reservation near Tuscon is both a functioning Catholic parish and a monument of Spanish mission architecture. The official mission website tells the history of the mission, and of the Tohono people. Read especially how Native culture and Catholicism coexist today. There's a striking set of photographs by Helga Teiwes, with text by Bernard Fontana, that shows the outpouring of artistic and religious expression at San Xavier. Read about the mission, look at the pictures and answer the question: What does the mission art tell you about the way people at San Xavier see the universe?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

HUM 221 -- research project

Guidelines for paper:

1. Length is 3-5 pages, typed, double-spaced, 12pt.

2. Documented. Either MLA or APA style. Don't get obsessive-compulsive about it, but do indicate the sources of your information with a signal phrase. For example: According to the Cherokee Nations website, ..." or "Osage poet Duane BigEagle writes ..." List Works Cited at the end at least by by author, title, address.

3. Give your reaction, your response to whatever poem, story, legend, dance, type of jewelry, etc., you write about. There are several tip sheets on reader response linked to my blue faculty page.

4. Have a thesis. Make it say something. You'll never get away from English 111-112.

5. It is due Friday.

HUM 221: Cultural traditions, grandparents

Here's a website I just discovered that gives reaction to Navajo traditions by students at Huafan University in Taiwan. The traditions are in Luci Tapahonso's "Remember the Things They Told Us," which we have written about. English language students in instructor Chang Hong Bin's class were asked to journal:
Think about the stories youu have been told by your parents and grandparents, advice , stories and
rules you have been given to live by (especially if the rules were not
explained... see [stanza or paragraph] #5 in the poem). List as many stories, advice, rules as you can think of and write them down ...
The students' comments are posted below the poem. A student who gave his/her name in Chinese characters posted this:
When I was a child, elders ever told to me at the dinner table about that I should make away with rices in my bowl, or I will marry a cat-wife. I didn't ask them why they speaked so in that time, but now I realize that rice is what to them that the effort of hard working all years without rest, so we shouldn't squander it and we should treat it as precious.
I'm not sure what a "cat-wife" is (and Google wasn't any help). But it sounds like a folk tale about kids who didn't clean up their plates and married cats. Click on some of the other comments, and see what Chinese children are told by their grandparents.

How does the Chinese lore compare to the traditions in the poems by Tapahonso and Duane BigEagle we have read. How do all three compare to what you were taught from your grandparents? (My grandfather, for example, taught me the only kind of poker men ever played was five-card draw, and only girls and wimps ever called a hand with wild cards. I'm not sure what he would have thought about watching Texas hold'em games on television, but I think it's probably a good thing he didn't live to see it.) How do traditions, values, etc., handed down in families differ from those of popular culture?

Monday, April 16, 2007

HUM 221: Values, dance

Here are the questions:

1. How does "My Grandfather Was a Quantum Physicist" raise the same issues as a powwow?

2. How does the poem relate to Luci Tapahonso's poem about Navajo traditions?

3. What values do all three have in common?

Post as comments to the blog.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

HUM 221: Reader response/assignment

Write a 3- to 5-page paper (750-1,200 words double-spaced in 12pt type) in which you give your response to the poem "Sháá Áko Dahjiníleh: Remember the Things They Told Us" by Dine (Navajo) poet Luci Tapahonso. We will read the poem in class today, and you can get started on your response. Linked to my faculty page are a tip sheet on how to write a reader response and a sample essay I wrote as a model of how I would do one.

As you read the poem, be asking yourself what stands out in your mind. That may be the main point of the poem, but it doesn't have to be. In "Remember the Things They Told Us," Tapahonso seems to be talking about a wide range of things she heard from her elders. Some of them are important, others I'm not sure about. That's OK. I'd focus on the ones that meant something to me. (I like the part about praying at dawn, but that doesn't mean you have to. You're not me, and the paper is about your response to the poem, not mine.) Then I'd ask myself what it is in my background that makes me feel that way. And I'd be sure to quote the passage in my analysis of the poem.

There's a three-part outline that I find helps my students engage with a poem, a painting, a song or any other work of art. (Think "engage" like gears meshing.) You'll see it in more detail as you read my tip sheets, but here are the basics:
1. Circumstances. Since you're writing about your response to a work of art, your mood and surroundings enter into the response. Do you feel the same about a song when you hear it by candle-light or when it's on the car radio in rush hour traffic? I like it, because it helps you focus on what you're feeling about the work instead of parroting what the book says about it.

2. Background. Especially when you're responding to a work of art from a different culture, you ought to say a little about the artist and his/her cultural traditions. Here it's probably enough to say Tapahonso is Navajo (with some detail about her career, etc.), and she's talking about Navajo traditions here. If you follow the link to her website, you'll find more information about her.

Analysis. This is the main part of the paper. Quote from the poem, explain what it means to you and analyze your response to it. Remember to back up your generalizations with quotations, examples and detailed analysis. Remember: An unsupported generalization is SUDDEN DEATH in college writing. You'll get more ideas for how to do the analysis part by reading my sample essay on Kinky Friedman's song.
The final paper is due the day after Easter break, April 9, at the beginning of class.

Monday, April 02, 2007

HUM 221: Proposals due Wednesday

On Wednesday, April 4, we will do two things:
1. I will collect your term paper proposals. Details below.

2. You will write the first draft of your reader response to a poem that I select for you.
But first, your proposals. Here is what I want you to do for them. In a page of double-spaced 12pt type, please tell me:

Who and/or what you plan to write about. In other words, what's your topic? If you know what you're going to say about it -- i.e. your working hypothesis -- be sure to let me know what it is. If not, a research question will do just fine.

Why did you choose that topic -- in other words, why does it interest you? Notice that this question is very similar to the first and second of the three questions I suggest that you ask yourself when writing a reader response.

You may get some ideas for what to say in your proposal by consulting an assignment sheet for the research proposal in Humanities 223, the roots music class I offer fall semesters, although it calls for a longer and more elaborate paper than I'm asking you for this semester in HUM 221.

HUM 221: Quiz on Duane BigEagle

Review Duane BigEagle's poem "Pull" on pages 59-60 in today's reading for class. Write a brief reader response and post it as a comment to this blog. Answer these questions:

1. What do you get out of the poem? What does it say to you? What stands out in your mind (which may or may not be the main theme of the poem)?

2. What in your cultural background, taste, values, etc., helps you respond to the poem? What stands as a barrier?

3. Analysis: What specific passages in the poem make you feel that response?

Take about 5 minutes to think it through, then post your answers

Sunday, April 01, 2007

HUM 221: More research paper ideas

One thing I want to encourage you in your papers is to do a reader (or listener or viewer) response. Here's a tip sheet on writing one about literature and one on writing a listener response to music. Both are linked to my faculty page, and both are absolutely brilliant -- right? -- because I wrote them. Both tell you when you engage, or respond to, a work of art, you ask yourself three questions:
1. What stands out here? What's my main impression? What do I get out of this work? What speaks to me? It may be the main theme of the work, or it may be something else that's particularly relevant to your experience.

2. What in my background makes me feel that way? Especially if you're responding to something from another culture, what is there in my culture, my world view, etc., that enables me to reach across cultures and respond to it?

3. What, specificually, in the work do I respond to? This is where you get into your analysis. Especially when you're responding to it across cultures, you may want to get into its meaning in its original culture (a healing chant, for example) and its meaning in ours (perhaps an aesthetic statement).
Here are some more writers that would lend themselves to a reader response:

Joy Harjo. She's of Creek/Muscogee heritage, writes poetry and plays tenor sax in what has been described as a "tribal, jazz, reggae, and rock" style. Often she strikes a note of self-discovery and reconciliation.

Simon Ortiz. A Pueblo Indian from New Mexico, a lot of Ortiz' poetry on line. For what it's worth, he's my favorite poet. Also the only poet I know of who has published a poem that is also a chili recipe. Maybe the two facts are connected.

Sherman Alexie. A Spokane and Coeur d'Alene novelist, poet, filmmaker and satirist of . Very funny, with a sharp edge to his humor. If you can't laugh at yourself, you may not enjoy him. But if you keep reading (or watching), you'll learn to laugh at yourself. And that's a skill we all need to develop!

Tony Hillerman. He isn't an Indian, but he writes mystery novels about the Navajo Tribal Police in northwestern New Mexico and northeastern Arizona. Some Native writers think he expropriates their culture and doesn't give back enough. (Alexie is one of his critics.) But his novels are critically acclaimed, and they're based on careful research into contemporary Navajo culture.

Navajo Blessingway. This is a traditional Navajo (Dine) song that brought blessings to those for whom it was sung. It has influenced many writers (including Joy Harjo and Tony Hillerman), and is often found in translation as a poem. It has also been expropriated as sort of a New Age baby shower, especially in northern California, but without the approval of traditional Navajo people. The traditional blessingway is deeply grounded in Navajo spirituality, as Sr. Pamela Clare CSF points out in Franciscan magazine.