Sacred Texts  Native American  California 

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