Coming to Light: Contemporary Translations of Native Literature of North America


The vitality of the spoken word is essential to Native American cultures. Because of their dependence on oral performance, the stories, songs, legends, and ceremonies of a Native people often died with the last speaker of the language. Of the two hundred or so native languages in North America today, perhaps forty-five are spoken by over a thousand people, in contrast to pre-Columbian times, when there were as many as five hundred distinct tongues spoken by millions. But now, with the revival and heightened ...
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Coming To Light: Contemporary Translations of the Native Literatures of North America

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The vitality of the spoken word is essential to Native American cultures. Because of their dependence on oral performance, the stories, songs, legends, and ceremonies of a Native people often died with the last speaker of the language. Of the two hundred or so native languages in North America today, perhaps forty-five are spoken by over a thousand people, in contrast to pre-Columbian times, when there were as many as five hundred distinct tongues spoken by millions. But now, with the revival and heightened awareness of this vital tradition, more of the surviving literatures are being studied and translated into English so that they can be enjoyed and appreciated anew. Brian Swann, professor of English at the Cooper Union in New York City, has collected many of the new translations in Coming to Light, and in his introduction provides an overview, detailing changing attitudes toward the cultures of Native Americans, and the state of those cultures today. Coming to Light is a showcase of stories, songs, oratory, and prayer of the indigenous peoples of the continent. Unlike in previous anthologies of Native American literature, each of the translations is placed, through the use of individual introductions by respected scholars, in its appropriate cultural and linguistic context.

Here is the first anthology of Native American literature to present accurate, vivid translations in their historical and cultural context. Drawing on 200 existing languages and tribes from across the United States and Canada, Coming to Light will be an essential text for the study and enjoyment of Native American literature for years to come.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Swann (Smoothing the Ground: Essays on Native American Oral Literature) provides a solid entree to American Indian mythology in this mammoth, sweeping volume. Focusing on the oral tradition, he has collected new translations of more than 50 ancient stories. Translators include both Indians (Calvin W. Fast Wolf, Larry Evers, Darryl Babe Wilson) and noted non-Indian experts in the field (William Shipley, William Bright, Dennis Tedlock). Divided into seven geographically oriented sections, the book presents tales from a wide variety of tribal traditions from the Arctic to the American Southwest. The familiar trickster Coyote is represented in stories from the Navajo of the Southwest and the Kalapuya of the North Pacific Coast. But less well-known trickster figures are also included-Raven and Wolverine of the far north; Nanabush of the Ojibwe of the Eastern Woodlands; Fox of the Atsugewi of California. There is celebration, as in a thanksgiving song from the Iroquois tradition; there is also an explanation of death, from the North Pacific Coast. The being usually known as ``Monster Slayer,'' a principal figure in Navajo and Apache mythology, is given fresh life through translations that call him ``Enemy Slayer'' and ``He Triumphs Over Evils.'' Swann's knowledgeable introduction sets the translations in historical context and discusses the oral tradition; individual translators provide introductions to their own work. (Feb.)
Library Journal
Swann (English, Cooper Union) continues his work of presenting Native American literatures. He has already edited several well-received collections (e.g., On the Translation of Native American Literatures, Smithsonian, 1992) of this still poorly known American art form. In a vast but geographically uneven collection (half the stories are from the Subarctic, Alaska, and the Southwest), he attempts to place these new translations in their respective cultures. Swann has gathered intact texts from storytellers, singers, and orators. Arranged by region and tribe, each set of translations is prefaced by a lengthy introduction by the translator that sets the stories in context. The focus varies, depending on whether the translator is a linguist, anthropologist, or educator and whether he or she is a Native speaker, of which a fair number are. This wide-ranging collection goes far toward achieving Swann's goal of presenting a collection of reliable translations placed in their cultural and historical environments. Recommended both for general readers and specialists.-Lisa A. Mitten, Univ. of Pittsburgh Lib.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679743583
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/28/1996
  • Series: Vintage Series
  • Pages: 848
  • Product dimensions: 5.23 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.46 (d)

Table of Contents

Two Stories from Tikigaq [Inupiaq] 3
Mary Kokrak: Five Brothers and Their Younger Sister [Yupik] 15
Two Tellings of the Story of Uterneq: "The Woman Who Returned from the Dead" [Yupik] 37
The Boy Who Went to Live with the Seals [Yupik] 57
"The Moon's Sister" and "Song of the Atkan Aleuts" [Aleut] 75
The One Who Kicked His Grandmother's Head Along [Koyukon] 82
"Raven" and "Fog Woman" [Denaina] 92
Six Selections from Peter Kalifornsky's A Denaina Legacy [Denaina] 110
The Girl Who Married the Bear [Tagish/Tlingit] 124
How the World Began [Tagish/Tlingit] 138
"Glacier Bay History" told by Amy Marvin and "Speech for the Removal of Grief" delivered by Jessie Dalton [Tlingit] 151
Dunne-za Stories [Dunne-za] 176
Mistacayawasis, Big Belly Child [Rock Cree] 190
Wolverine: An Innu Trickster [Innu] 208
John Sky's "One They Gave Away" [Haida] 225
Night Hunter and Day Hunter [Kwakiutl] 250
The Sun's Myth [Kathlamet Chinook] 273
Coyote, Master of Death, True to Life [Kalapuya] 286
Seal and Her Younger Brother Lived There [Clackamas Chinook] 307
Hilda Austin's Telling of "[actual symbol not reproducible]: A Traditional [actual symbol not reproducible] Legend" [Thompson River Salish] 313
Blue Jay and His Brother-in-Law Wolf [Colville] 332
Fish Hawk's Raid Against the Sioux [Cayuse/Nez Perce] 346
Poetry Songs of the Shoshone Ghost Dance [Wind River Shoshone] 357
Three Skiri Pawnee Stories [Skiri Pawnee] 377
Two Roads to Leadership: Grandmother's Boy and Last-Born Brother [Lakota] 403
Wilderness Mentors [Lakota] 423
Wakinyan and Wakinyan Wicaktepi [Lakota] 432
Nanabush Stories from the Ojibwe [Ojibwe] 443
Two Tuscarora Legends [Tuscarora] 464
The Iroquoian Thanksgiving Address [Cayuga] 476
Tales of the Delaware Trickster [Delaware] 489
The Indian Devil, Mischief-Maker [Passamaquoddy] 503
Running the Deer [Yaqui] 521
Pima Oriole Songs [Pima] 541
Ethnopoetic Retranslation of a Zuni Ritual Song Sequence [Zuni] 564
Because He Made Marks on Paper, the Soldiers Came [Zuni] 580
Coyote, Skunk, and the Prairie Dogs [Navajo] 590
Maii Jooldloshi Hane: Stories About Coyote, the One Who Trots [Navajo] 601
Singing up the Mountain [Navajo] 614
Enemy Slayer's Horse Song [Navajo] 624
Joseph Hoffman's "The Birth of He Triumphs Over Evils": A Western Apache Origin Story [Western Apache] 636
The Boy Who Went in Search of His Father [Hopi] 657
Two Hopi Songpoems [Hopi] 679
The Farewell Song [Havasupai] 690
Two Koasati Traditional Narratives [Koasati] 704
Two Stories from the Yana [Northern and Central Yana] 717
Silver-Gray Fox Creates Another World [Atsugewi] 737
Two Maidu Myths [Maidu] 749
Myth, Music, and Magic: Nettie Reuben's Karuk Love Medicine [Karuk] 764
Suggested Reading 773
Contributors 785
Index 793
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