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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Comparative analysis of the Northern and Southern Athapaskan "Slayer of Monsters" Myth Tyhurst, Robert James Stewart


This thesis examines the distribution of three portions of narrative action, or motifs, which are found in the mythology of the Northern and Southern Athapaskan peoples. In the Eagle motif, a man enters an eagles' nest, in the Bull motif, a man slays a large monster with the help of a rodent or small rodent-like animal, and in the Cliff Ogre motif, a man pushes a monster off a cliff to its death. These motifs, where-ever they occur in Athapaskan mythology, are found in close association, and are carried out by the same culture hero, ox culture heroes. The Eagle motif, the motif with the widest distribution among the Northern Athapaskans, is broken into episodes. An episode is defined as a segment of a particular version of a motif which is not shared with another version under consideration, or which is shared by all versions under consideration. The NEST episode, the only episode of the Eagle motif found for all the Northern and Southern Athapaskan versions examined here, is broken into elements. An element is defined as a segment of an episode which is small enough to adequately describe the text, but which is sufficiently large to enable comparison without the interference of minor details. The elements are determined as well, so as to permit a one-to-one correspondence in comparison of elements. Versions of the Nest episode are compared on the basis of the elements which they contain, and a coefficient of similarity is calculated. It is found that those versions of the Eagle motif which share more than one episode tend to have higher scores on the coefficient of similarity than those which share only one episode. Non-Athapaskan versions of the Eagle, Bull, and Cliff Ogre motifs from the Southwest, Basin, Plateau, and Plains, are compared with Northern and Southern Athapaskan version of the same motifs. In view of the content and distribution of the three motifs it is concluded that it is most highly probable that they were carried to the Southwest by the precursors .of the Southern Athapaskans. An Appendix contains a translation of Chipewyan, Dogrib, and Hare texts from Petitot's "Traditions Indiennes du Canada nord-ouest" (1886).

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