Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Ishi - the last of his tribe
When I was around 12 years old or so my sister gave me the Book “Ishi” by Theadora Kroeber; I was fascinated by the thought of a wild Indian living in the California Mountains in the 20th century. I began to do some research about Ishi and found pictures of his Bow and arrow making, his otter skin quiver, salmon harpoon etc. all cool stuff to me.
One of the many things I like about Ishi was a common bond we shared for cobalt blue glass. Ishi used the glass to make arrow heads; he apparently used bromo seltzer bottles back then. I also read that Ishi used Blue jay feathers as one of the types of he used for fletching his arrows.
I can remember yanking out the tail feathers of a dead Blue jay I found as a kid just so I could make my own “Ishi arrows”. Over the years I have even tried my hand at making arrow heads out of glass and stone; I can produce a useable projectile point but could never come even close to making the quality type of points a master craftsman like Ishi could turn out.
I also found it interesting thar the Yahi people used Poison oak as one of the many woods used in making hand drill friction fires. The Native peoples must have had an immunity to the oils in the poison oak to be able to use it in that way.
Anyway, below is a little info I could dig up about the man, his life is pretty much a mystery and his name is unknown because in the Yahi culture you are not allowed to say your own name- so “Ishi” simply means Man.
If you can find the movies about Ishi they are worth watching and the books about him are defiantly worth taking the time to read.
Tomahawk – Scouts out!
Ishi (ca. 1860 – March 25, 1916) was the pseudonym of the last member of the Yahi, in turn the last surviving group of the Yana people of California. Ishi is believed to be the last Native American in Northern California to have lived most of his life completely outside the European American culture. He emerged from the wild near Oroville, California, leaving his ancestral homeland in the foothills near Lassen Peak.
Ishi means "man" in Yana, which was the name Alfred Kroeber gave him when he discovered Ishi had never been given a name. When asked his actual name, he said: "I have none, because there were no people to name me," meaning that no tribal ceremony had been performed.
Prior to the California Gold Rush, the Yahi population numbered approximately 400. In 1865, Ishi and his family were victims of the Three Knolls Massacre (40 killed), from which approximately 30 Yahi survived. The remaining Yahi escaped but went into hiding for the next 40 years after cattlemen killed about half of the survivors.
Eventually Ishi's mother and other companions died, and he was discovered by a group of butchers in their corral at Oroville on August 29, 1911.
After being noticed by townspeople, Ishi was taken into custody by a local sheriff for his own protection. The "wild man" caught the imagination and attention of thousands of onlookers and curiosity seekers.
He was then moved to the University of California, Berkeley Museum of Anthropology which was housed then on the University of California, San Francisco campus in an old law school building. He lived there for most of the rest of his life, except for the summer of 1915, when he lived in Berkeley with Waterman and his family.
In 1916, he died from tuberculosis. While at the Museum, Ishi was studied closely by the anthropologists Alfred L. Kroeber and Thomas Talbot Waterman. He helped them reconstruct Yahi culture by identifying material items and showing how they were made. He also provided information on his native Yana language which was recorded and studied by Edward Sapir, who had previously done work on the northern dialects.
His story was popularized in a book by Theodora Kroeber, wife of Alfred Kroeber, who worked with her husband's notes and comments to create the story of a man she had never met. The book, Ishi in Two Worlds, was published in 1961 after Alfred Kroeber's death.
A shorter, partially fictionalized version appeared in 1964 under the title Ishi: Last of His Tribe. Additional scholarly materials, edited by R.F. Heizer and T. Kroeber, appeared in a 1981 volume, Ishi the Last Yahi: A Documentary History. In 2000, Lawrence Holcomb published a novel titled The Last Yahi: A Novel About Ishi
In 2003, anthropologists Clifton and Karl Kroeber, sons of Alfred L. Kroeber, edited Ishi in Three Centuries, the first scholarly book on Ishi to contain essays by Indians, although native writers such as Gerald Vizenor had been commenting on the case since the late 1970s.
Ishi's story was updated by Duke University anthropologist Orin Starn in his book, Ishi's Brain: In Search of America's Last "Wild" Indian, published in 2004. Ishi's Brain follows Starn's quest for the remains of the last of the Yahi and seeks to understand what he meant to Americans then and modern Indians today. (In 2000 Ishi's brain was reunited with his cremated remains.)
Thanks to a campaign by Gerald Vizenor, the courtyard in Dwinelle Hall at the University of California, Berkeley was renamed "Ishi Court".
A recent study by Steven Shackley, of the University of California, Berkeley,indicates that Ishi may have actually been only half Yahi. This conclusion was based on a comparative study of Ishi's arrowheads, and indicates that he may have learned this skill from a male relative from the Maidu, Wintu, or Nomlaki tribes that lived in close proximity to the Yahi lands, though they were traditionally enemies.
If Ishi descended from both of these tribes it would help to explain his extraordinary adaptive abilities, as it would indicate that his circumstances were, essentially from birth, different from the cultural norm of his people. The debate on this has not been definitively settled, however, and the circumstances of his birth probably died with him. Among Ishi's techniques was the use of what is now known in flintknapping circles as an Ishi stick, used to run long pressure flakes.
Ishi and archery:
Ishi, like other California Indians of his time, was an excellent archer. Among his closest friends at the university was Saxton Pope, a physician called in to care for him. Pope was particularly fascinated by the bows and arrows Ishi made, and by the practice of archery. Ishi taught Pope how to make the equipment and the two hunted together in the mountains of California.
After Ishi's death, Pope continued with the archery that Ishi had taught him and went on to write the book Hunting with the Bow and Arrow, which became influential in the development of modern-day archery and archery hunting. Ishi's arrow heads were made from obsidian, although when making arrowheads for the public he often used the bottoms of beer bottles.
Today, an annual archery tournament called the "Ishi Tournament" is held in the Yuba-Sutter community, about 40 minutes from Oroville. The tournament is open to both youth and adults, testing their skills in comparison to Ishi's archery skills.
Two awards can be earned during the tournament:
• The Ishi Certificate is awarded to any archer who can hit all 30 arrows to a 20 yard target, get a score of at least 99 to a 40 yard target, and have one arrow reach 100 yards.
• The American Ishi Degree is awarded to any archer who can match Ishi's 1914 archery scores or better. This award only goes to an average of 1-3 people a year, due to its complexity.
Ishi's story has been filmed twice for TV. First as Ishi: the Last of His Tribe with Eloy Casados in the title role, telecast on NBC December 20, 1978. Then as The Last of His Tribe (1992), with Graham Greene as Ishi. Ishi is also depicted in Jed Riffe's award-winning documentary film Ishi: The Last Yahi (1992).
A stage play based on Ishi's life was performed from July 3-27, 2008, at Theatre Rhinoceros in San Francisco. Written by the theater's artistic director, John Fisher, the play addresses many angles of the Ishi story. The San Francisco Chronicle said the work "is a fierce dramatic indictment of the ugliest side of California history"