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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Cannibalism and infertility among the Lillooet, Thompson and Shuswap : the shaman as a sexual mediator Calkowski, Marcia Stephanie


This thesis attempts to demonstrate that the symbolic significance of food gathering among the Lillooet, Thompson, and Shuswap generates two major paradoxes, cannibalism and infertility, which arise from a sexual imbalance revealed by certain myths related to food gathering, and that the shaman is a potential mediator of these paradoxes. Initially, I suggest that an analysis of the symbol system of a culture affords an excellent access to native perspective if the analyst is able to avoid the influences of his ethnocentrism with respect to his methodology and selection of data. Thus, analytical methods must possess universal applicability, and the data (native categories of thought) might be selected from native solutions to problems occurring to all humans--e.g., cultural solutions and conceptions of those solutions to food gathering. The second chapter considers some definitions of symbols proposed by Geertz, Langer, and others and suggests a "working definition" of a symbol as a locus of logical operations. It is then possible to apply structural methods of analysis (metaphor, binary opposition, transformation, et al) to a symbol system as structuralism professes to consider the universal structure of cognition. In the third chapter, I provide some ethnographic notes concerning the manifestation of one underlying Plateau cultural principle, equality, to the general social structure of the Lillooet, Thompson, and Shuswap with respect to political organization, food gathering, and the sexual division of labor. Although men and women are considered to be generally equal, a strict distinction is maintained between sexual roles. Hence, I suggest that this balance plus necessary distinction might be termed a "sexual balance." Also, the chapter briefly considers the unusual capacities of shamans and suggests that, as shamans are not subject to restrictions imposed upon the normative group, they may be able to manipulate the rigid sexual distinction if the sexual balance is upset. The fourth and fifth chapters discuss the symbolic significance of food gathering. In the fourth chapter, I suggest that women maintain a metaphorical sexual relationship with the roots they gather. As this relationship is strictly metaphorical, however, serious problems accrue when the relationship becomes literal and when men gather roots. Another myth succinctly states the ultimate results of a violation of a woman's metaphorical relationship with food. This violation generates an excessive cultural union or marriage between two men (necessarily infertile) and an excessive natural union (between woman and tree) whose issue, blood transformed into blackberries, poses the problem of cannibalism to the people. The fifth chapter suggests that women who hunt also pose a threat to the cognitive system as men appear to have a metaphorical sexual relationship with deer and other game animals. Two myths suggest a former intimate relationship between women and deer. Menstrual blood appears to function as a differentiator of women from deer. The chapter focuses on the logical implications of the hunting ventures of a cannibal woman. This woman not only opposes the role of women by hunting, but also possesses a snake-like vagina which offers death as opposed to life (as in childbirth). The sixth chapter examines shamans (with respect to myths and ritual actions) as mediators of the two paradoxes, cannibalism and infertility. First, I discuss two myths relating the drilling and sucking practices of mosquitoes to those of thunder. These practices echo shamanic curative techniques. Also, the symbolic significance of the earth people's spiral ascent to the sky world parallels the significance of the spiral in other contexts. Finally, some rituals and myths concerning shamanic performance consider certain problems (including improper sexual distinction, excessive sibling intimacy, and lack of potential spouses) which generate infertility. The concluding chapter reviews the strategy for analysis and the logical implications of the symbolism of food gathering as well as the potential of the shaman to mediate paradoxes emerging from the logical implications.

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