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UBC Theses and Dissertations

An analysis of Beaver Indian and Alaskan Eskimo myths Marach, Veronica


The methods of analysis of Pierre and Elli Kongas Maranda, Robert P. Armstrong and Vladimir Propp were tested by applying them to two sets of corpora. The corpora consist of ten Beaver Indian myths and ten Alaskan Eskimo myths. The abstracts generated by each method of analysis were then compared and contrasted with each other. The introduction delimited the field of oral tradition, especially that of myth and presented a historical discussion of the methods of folkloric analysis commencing with functionalism. The three methods of analysis were compared with Piaget's theory of structuralism. Each method was also discussed in terms of Levi-Strauss' definition of logic. Each analyst's method of determining the component parts of a myth were examined. Finally the introduction included an outline of conclusions reached in this study, and posed several questions, the answers' to which became apparent in the succeeding chapters. The three chapters following the introduction were Propp's, Armstrong's and the Marandas' analysis. Each chapter described the analyst's approach and included the analysis of the Beaver Indian and the Alaskan Esmimo [sic] myths and their findings. Included also was a comparison and contrast of previous results and a discussion in terms of the analysts' general rules of procedure. Finally the results were examined in terms of Piaget's concept of structuralism, and in conjunction with this, their logic discussed in terms of Levi-Strauss's concept as outlined in the introduction. The conclusion drew together the findings of the preceding chapters. It compared and contrasted the results of each method of analysis, discusses the inherent logic and kind of structuralism applied as defined by Piaget. This final section also examined each culture through the different analytical approaches. The Marandas' method of analysis revealed more about the Beaver and Alaskan cultures than did Propp's and Armstrong's method of analysis. With regards to the Beaver culture, Propp's method of analysis focused attention on lack of food, cannibalism and kidnapping. Beaver cultures also put great emphasis on winning through the use of cunning and trickery as opposed to the use of force. Punishment rather than reward was often employed to conclude a myth. With regards to the Alaskan culture, Propp's method of analysis brought attention to the concern over a lack of people. Villainous actions revolved around kidnapping. Force was not used unless necessary and in defense. Great emphasis was placed on reward rather than punishment at the conclusion of a myth. With regards to the Beaver culture, Armstrong's method of analysis emphasized killing in terms of resistance and attack. Information getting was also considered important, as was the acceptance or avoidance of one's obligations. With regards to the Alaskan culture, Armstrong's method of analysis also emphasized, information getting. The acceptance of one's obligations also seemed important. Few concrete statements were made about either culture based on Armstrong's method of analysis. The Marandas' method of analysis helped reveal a great deal about both cultures. For example, in the Beaver culture the concept of time was noted; kin relationships were emphasized; the conflict over loyalty to blood relatives as opposed to non blood relatives was brought out; rules regarding marriages were implied; the fact that the Bear has special respect and a place in their lives was brought out; rules on incest were implied; we were given some insight on how food is preserved and prepared; rules with regards to cannibalism were also implied the subject of dreaming, of powerful medicine and the importance of the spirit helper was brought out; the land was part of the people and they would go to war over the threat of losing their land. Finally, the different spheres of the universe were emphasized in the corpus, such as the sky world, land and the underworld. The placement of natures elements, i.e. sun, moon, etc, are central to the culture as their memory and daily routines are based on them. Deep messages were realized in the Beaver culture. Such questions as man's origin, born from one or two, the finality of death and rebirth versus resurrection were posed. In the Alaskan culture the concept of time was also noted; emphasis was given to the heavenly bodies, such as the sun, moon and nature's elements, such as the wind and rain. These played an intricate role in their everyday life, so much so that often inanimate objects were personified. The different spheres such as sky world, land and underworld were also emphasized in the corpus; the importance of the family was made apparent; who makes marriage decisions and rules with regards to marriage and divorce were implied; authority was also a subject that was important in the culture as was the concept of a non-hierarchal leadership; the importance of magic powers or of spirit powers were also brought out in the corpus. Deep messages were brought out in the Alaskan myths as well, and concerned questions such as man's origin and the finality of death. There seemed to be more contradictions in the Alaskan myths than in the Beaver myths. For example, statements regarding authority versus a non-hierarchal leadership. This may be due to the fact that the Alaskan myths were taken from a larger geographical area than were the Beaver myths. Furthermore, the myth, "Adventures of Raven", did not seem to fit, in with the other Alaskan myths, and was perhaps borrowed. Thus, the Mararidas' method of analysis was shown to be the more structured in its theory and more productive in its practice. This method of analysis helped give many insights into the Beaver and Alaskan culture and has revealed some profound underlying messages.

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