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Twana, also known as “Southern Coast Salish” Pitek, Emily


This entry focuses on the Twana, also known as the Southern Coast Salish, around the time 1860. This entry relies predominantly on information from William Elmendorf (1960), the principal ethnographic authority according to the Standard Cross-Cultural Sample (Murdock and White, 1969). Elmendorf (1960) presents ethnographic data collected between 1939 and 1956, which aims to reconstruct an account of the Twana as they existed around the time of 1860; prior to significant cultural changes as a result of Euro-American influence. At this time, the Twana was comprised of a group of villages living in the Hood Canal area of Washington, United States of America. Winter villages each contained a single house group and were the primary economic and social unit. During summer, the winter villages dispersed into smaller units and focused on subsistence gathering (e.g., hunting and fishing) and food preservation for winter use. The Twana did not possess a formal village community political leader, but high-class men held prestige and influence among their communities. Although the Twana did not have formal political leaders, the people were united by a shared language and culture. Relations between village communities were important and involved ceremonial and religious activities. One of the most prominent aspects of Twana religious beliefs involved guardian spirits; these supernatural beings entered into helpful relationships with individuals and conferred special powers. Guardian spirits were acquired by following a set of ritual activities including a training period and vision quests. According to Elmendorf (1960), the guardian spirit complex was “one of the most important expressions of the Twana worldview” (p.481). Guardian spirits were generally classified in two categories based on their powers: shaman or curing/diagnostic vs. all others (which were then subdivided into specific categories such as wealth powers, war powers, ceremonial powers, or sea-mammal hunting powers). Shamanism was a specialization within the guardian spirit concept, and shamans received their powers after acquiring a shaman guardian spirit. Besides guardian spirits, Twana supernatural beings included spirits of the dead, as well as other spirits/entities. Public rituals and ceremonies were an important aspect of Twana life; these events took place in either an inter- or intra-community setting. Because Twana religion did not exist in a distinct sphere of their society and culture, this entry considers the Twana religious group to be coterminous with the society itself.

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Attribution 4.0 International