UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

"The miracle is to make it solid" : an analysis of transformation in Bella Coola myth and ritual Richardson, Joanne


Boas and Mcllwraith, who have written the major works on the Bella Coola, maintain that the thought and mythology of this particular culture is inconsistent, contradictory and illogical. This thesis argues that an analysis of the Bella Coola attitude toward transformation nullifies these contentions and provides a basis for a more insightful and certainly more respectful accounting of this North West Coast people. Within the Bella Coola universe anything which is not human is supernatural. The supernatural may be defined as uncontrolled transformational activity, as chaos, as the as yet unstructured force of life. In Bella Coola mythology the human comes into being when the supernatural first ancestors cease their earthly wandering and give up their transformational ability — i.e. when they superimpose order upon chaos or structure upon the unstructured. Thus the human condition consists of constantly maintaining a balance between the supernatural (which, taken to its extreme constitutes chaos and the consequent loss of the human) and order (which, taken to its extreme constitutes stasis and the consequent loss of the human). It follows that the supernatural may present itself either as dangerous (e.g. the kusiut ceremonial, wherein the emphasis is on fear and the need to exorcise the alien force which has taken possession of the dancer) or as revitalizing (e.g. the sisaok ceremonial, wherein the emphasis is on pride and the resucitation of the dancer's bond with her/his first ancestor(s)), or as both (e.g. shamanism, wherein the shaman's ability to enter the realm of the non-human may or may not succeed in redressing a dangerous imbalance which has occurred between an individual or individuals and the supernatural). This thesis contends that the Bella Coola attitude regarding transformation is the key to an understanding of all their major cultural institutions.

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