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Impearls: HIC 7.2.5: Cultural position

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Earthdate 2005-11-12

Cultural position   by A. L. Kroeber

From all that is on record in print, as well as from many statements of the Yurok, it is plain that the customs, institutions, and implements of the Tolowa were similar to those of the better known Yurok and Hupa except in minor points.  The Tolowa must have served as the principal purveyors to these Indians of the dentalium shells that formed the standard currency of the region and which, in Tolowa hands, must have been near the end of their slow and fluctuating drift from the source of supply in the vicinity of Vancouver Island to their final resting place in northwestern California.  The Yurok regard the Tolowa as rich, a distinction they accord to few others of the people known to them.

A Tolowa redwood canoe of the type prevailing in the region, but 42 feet long and 8 feet wide — that is, twice the ordinary size — has been described as made on Smith River and used for traffic on Humboldt Bay.  If this account is unexaggerated, the boat must have been made for the transport of American freight by hired Indians.  For native purposes, which involved beaching, crossing dangerous bars, shooting around rocks in rapids, and dragging loads upstream, a vessel of this size would have been not only useless but impracticable; besides which it is doubtful if the Tolowa ever visited the Wiyot.

The Tolowa held the Deerskin dance that was made by the wealthier and more populous tribes of the region; and a reference to a “salmon dance” on Smith River is probably to be interpreted as evidence of one of the highly sacred and esoteric “new year” ceremonies that underlie the major dances of the Yurok, Hupa, and Karok.  The doctor-making dance is like that of the Yurok; the war dance probably the same; but in the girl's adolescence ceremony and dance, in which a deer-hoof rattle is shaken, the Tolowa possess a ritual that is wanting or obsolescent among the Yurok but which they share with the remoter Karok and Hupa.

The most specific features of the northwestern California culture in its intensive form, such as the Deerskin dance, no doubt reached only to the Tolowa, perhaps in part faded out among them as among the Wiyot to the south; but the general basis of this civilization, its houses, typical canoes, basketry, tools, and social attitudes, extended with but little change beyond them into Oregon, at least along the coast.  It is unfortunate that the early and rapid disintegration of the old life of the Oregon Indians makes it impossible to trace, without laborious technical studies, and then only imperfectly, the interesting connections that must have existed between the specialized little civilization that flourished around the junction of the Klamath and the Trinity, and the remarkable culture of the long North Pacific coast, of which at bottom that of northwest California is but the southernmost extension and a modification.



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