Book Reviews of Native Americans of the Pacific Coast.

1. "I will try to make these native Americans along the Pacific Coast live for you..." says Vinson Brown in his introduction. He did. I found each of his nine tales (set between 1500 and 1700) gripping, colorful, and informative. Quoting from the story about the Chinook, premier traders:

"All were on their way down river to a trading center on the Lower Columbia River. The adult and teen-aged slaves carried back packs loaded with finely tanned elk hides, beaver pelts, obsidian knives and arrow points, and dried bark of interior bushes used in medicine, plus food for the whole party. For the slaves and the other items, the Chinook had traded salt from the sea, dried salmon from the river, clam shells from the Oregon coast, and long, white, toothlike dentalium shells they had obtained from the Nootka of Vancouver Island....'I hate this slave trade business,' said Black Beaver to his father [Swift Eagle]. 'Look at that girl, graceful as a fawn....Some Haida or Tlingit chief...will want her for a concubine, since they never marry a slave as we sometimes do, or he may order her killed at a big potlach to show how rich he is.' ...Swift Eagle...tried to guide their slaves...inland a ways to where the shyer Coast Salish were gathering, for they were likely to be much kinder to the slaves than the northern tribes. But before he could reach them, a huge eighty-foot-long Tlingit war canoe...came hissing onto the beach, driven by...40 warriors."

One of the other stories tells of harvesting dentalium, and whale hunting. Another tells how the Kwakiutls' magic ceremonial acts (including cutting off people's heads) were performed to look realistic. And so on, to cover the different cultural groups from British Columbia all the way down to southern California. I found the level of detail enough for interest; not for skill-learning. The information about plant and animal ways was not extensive. However every-day and cultural diversity seemed well portrayed. An appendix showed relative amounts of time the Tlingit spent each month on important activities. (For seven months of the year, 50% or more time was free for ceremonialism and leisure!) I enjoyed this book greatly. (Independent Reviews by Julie Summers, Philomath Oregon)

2. ....Brown later in the introduction states his primary objectives: to provide the greater details that distinguish the "representative" tribes in the four culture areas spreading from Alaska to the Mexican border; and to "show" parts of the "spirit and essence" of individual people and their families by depicting them "through stories," not stories encompassing lives but as "beginnings" intended as "insights." The notes on the backcover also mention that Brown's Native American friends have been sources of information which has added 'visceral and pragmatic' knowledge to his research into the written sources. A close reading of the book, nevertheless, belies Brown's lofty aims, for there are shortcomings and inconsistencies which undercut what otherwise might be a commendable classroom text...."

In the introduction terms like "barbaric," "savage" and "simple" are contrasted with and contradicted by those like "civilized," "beauty" and "complex," all of which connote pre-Boasian, turn-of-the-century ideas. While the stories must be complimented as a plethora of cultural information--not to mention acknowledgement of the narrative achievements of Brown's writing--the wealth of insights supplied through these tales cannot compensate for audacious statements like these: a stereotype like "they were a more sophisticated and cultured people and clever talkers..." who were also a "highly charged and warlike people"; the description of two angered shamans from which "rage [came] from the darker and bigger" and "outrage and courage from the lighter and smaller" [italics for emphasis]; or animal analogies such as "heeding the warning that tingled through Storm Dodger's body" and "Storm Dodger seemed to feel his way with his breath." Although the book is scattered only sparsely with these types of phrases and accounts, there nuances are enflaming.

The reading aids are much less ethnocentric and are clearly an attempt to illustrate the text, but they have their failings, too. Brown should be well-noted for choosing to utilize words selected from the various indigenous languages to emphasize cultural distinction, but a glossary would have been a useful reference source. Because the maps are few and small, they do not display the many linguistic variations, sovereignty boundaries, and tribes; e.g., in the California map there are misrepresentations like listing one Pomo tribe, not nine which speak many languages and live in different locales--plus omissions like the Kato, Wailacki, Coast Yuki, and other tribes. Although this edition of the book was published in 1985, eight years after the first, the bibliography has not been updated, and it is too short for the vastness of its subject. The compilation of the appendices, especially the correlation of Appendix A to the Tlingit calendar described in chapter 2, must be granted due recognition for organization, conciseness, and accessibility; nonetheless, there is a danger in these lists and graphs to oversimplify cultures like the one "so complicated" that even Franz Boas "grew bored" with its ceremonies.... (William Oandasan, Explorations in Sights and Sounds, no. 8, Summer 1988)