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By the Pool--Tule River Reservation: Edward Curtis 1924; [Public domain image]
By the Pool--Tule River Reservation: Edward Curtis 1924; [Public domain image]

Yana Texts

by Edward Sapir

University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology Vol. 9, No. 1, pp. 1-235


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This is a collection of texts from the Yana, a native Californian people who spoke a Hokan language. The Yana lived in the north-eastern Sacramento region of California, east of Redding and north of Chico. Their mythology was very similar to their neighbors, the Maidu, the Shasta and the Wintun; the trickster, Coyote, plays a very important role. There is no cosmological origin myth recorded here. Rather the mythology starts out in a fully realized dream-time inhabited by animal spirits. They are busy sketching in the world that humans will inhabit. The text, the 'Origin of Sex, Hands, and Death', starts off with an interesting twist: women were originally men, and men were originally women.

The most famous Yana, belonging to a subgroup called the Yahi, was Ishi, billed as 'The last wild Indian'. Ishi stumbled out of the mountains near Oroville in 1911, the year after this monograph was published. Ishi was taken Berkeley where he lived the remainder of his life, studied closely by the anthropologists Alfred Kroeber and Thomas Talbot Waterman. Ishi died in 1916. He is the subject of an excellent book by Theodora Kroeber, wife of Alfred Krober, Ishi in Two Worlds.

Title Page
Introductory Remarks

I. Central Dialect (Gat‘ā'?i)

I. Flint Boy
II. The Theft Of Fire And The Burning Of The World
III. The Visit of the Geese People to Mount Shasta
IV. Bluejay's Journey to the Land of the Moon
V. The Creation of the Yana
VI. Origin of Sex, Hands, and Death
VII. Coyote and his Sister

II. Northern Dialect (Garī'?i.)

X. Coyote, Pine Marten, and Loon
XI. The Drowning of Young Buzzard's Wife
XII. Coyote, Heron, and Lizard
XIII. The Finding of Fire
XIV. Indian Medicine-Men
XVI. A Lovers' Quarrel
XVII. Childbirth and Death
XVIII. Death and Burial
XIX. Betty Brown's Dream
XX. Spell Said by a Girl Desirous of Getting A Husband
XXI. Curse on People That Wish One Ill
XII. Prayer on Sneezing

Supplementary Texts

XXIII. The Rolling Skull
XXIV. Grizzly Bear and Deer

III. Supplementary Yana Myths

I. The Creation of Men
II. The Contest of Fox and Coyote
III. The Lost Brother
IV. The Flints and Grizzly Bears
V. ‘I'lhat?aina
VI. Fixing the Sun
VII. Woodpecker and Woodrat
VIII. Rabbit Woman and her Child
IX. Coyote and Rabbit Gamble
X. Gopher and Rabbit Gamble
XI. Coyote and the Stump
XII. Loon Woman
XIII. Pine Marten's Quest for Moon's Daughter