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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Stories are maps, songs are caches and trails : the verbal art of Haayas, Kingagwaaw, Gumsiiwa, Ghandl and Skaay - five master mythtellers from Haida Gwaii Dreher, Gudrum


This dissertation is a fragment of a larger -project that explores the works of five major oral mythtellers from Haida Gwaii, whose myths were transcribed in 1900 and 1901 by John Swanton: Haayas of the Hliiyalang Qiighawaay (Isaac Haias), Kingagwaaw of the Ghaw Sttlan Llanagaay (Walter Kingagwo), Gumsiiwa of the Xhiida Xhaaydaghaay (Job Moody), Ghandl of the Qayahl Llaanas (Walter McGregor) and Skaay of the Qquuna Qiighawaay (John Sky). While this larger frame constitutes the overall context, the thesis itself focuses on several myths that in their turn form only a small part of a larger whole, a part that is representative and unique at the same time: Skaay's Qquuna Cycle. The focus of the dissertation thus mirrors the structure of Skaay's work, which consists - to use one of Skaay's central images - of a series of boxes within boxes. The method of investigation is polyphonic, that is, a variety of different voices and discourses - including academic monologues, fictional dialogues, narratives, poems, autobiographical accounts, and various quotations - combine in order to do justice not only to the complexity of the myths but also to their inherent openness that allows a myriad of different readings, each of which depends on the concrete situation in which the myth is read or told (including social, historical and political conditions), the cultural background of the listener / reader and his or her familiarity with Haida culture, the individuality and predispositions of the listener/reader, and much more. What is in the innermost box of the myths, the dissertation concludes, will be something different for each listener/reader. Since the most important voice in the polyphonic choir is that of the mythteller, Skaay in this case, the analyzed myths are quoted in full length in Haida. Most of them are accompanied, for copyright reasons, not by Robert Bringhurst's poetic translations (which are easily accessible in Skaay's Being in Being) but by a modified version of Swanton's translations from 1905.

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