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Impearls: HIC 1.8: Directions

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Earthdate 2005-11-12

Directions   by A. L. Kroeber

The Yurok, and with them their neighbors, know no cardinal directions, but think in terms of the flow of water.  Thus pul is the radical meaning downstream; pets, upstream; hiko, across the stream; won, up hill, that is, away from the stream on one's own side; wohpe, across the ocean, and so on.  Such terms are also combined with one another.  If a Yurok says “east” he regards this as an English word for upstream, or whatever may be the run of the water where he is.  The name Yurok itself — which in origin is anything but an ethnic designation — means “downstream” in the adjacent Karok language.  The degree to which native speech is affected by this manner of thought is remarkable.  A house has its door not at its “western” but its “downstream” corner.  A man is told to pick up a thing that lies “upstream” from him, not on his “left.”  The basis of this reckoning is so intensely local, like everything Yurok, that it may become ambiguous or contradictory in the usage of our broader outlook.  A Yurok coming from O'men to Rekwoi has two “upstreams” before him: south along the coast, and south-southeast, though with many turns, along the Klamath.  When he arrives at Weitspus, the Trinity stretches ahead in the same direction in the same system of valley and ridges; but being a tributary, its direction is “up a side stream,” and the direction “upstream” along the Klamath suddenly turns north, or a little east of north, for many miles.  Beyond their Karok neighbors the Yurok seem to have a sense that the stream comes from the east.  At least they point in that direction when they refer to the end of the world at the head of the Klamath.

This plan of orientation is characteristic of all the northwestern tribes, and is followed in some degree in central California.  The Yurok terms of direction, in the far-away San Joaquin Valley, are at least shifted from the Cardinal points in accord with the flow of water, if indeed they do not refer to it.  The cognate Maidu words are said to have the same meaning as our own.  But it is possible that the Maidu have given a sun-determined meaning to original drainage terms under the ritualizing influence of their Kuksu cult.  This may also be what has happened among southern Wintun, Pomo, and Yuki, who constantly use words like “north,” while the central Wintun think in terms of waterflow.  It has been customary among inquirers to assume that Pomo yo means “south” because a group consistently uses it for that direction; which, of course, is no proof.  In any event it is likely that exact south, when they knew a south, was determined for most California tribes by the prevailing direction of their streams as much as by the meridian of the sun.  The rectangular and parallel disposition of the drainage in the greater part of the State must have contributed to this attitude.  Only in southern California, where water runs far apart and intermittently, and the ceremonializing symbolism of the southwestern tribes is a near influence, is it certain that we encounter true terms of solar orientation.



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