It’s a month-long celebration of everything nonfiction with a different prompt and a different host each week.
Week 3 is hosted by Julie @ JulzReads: Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert.
Of the options, I’m putting out the call for good non-fiction about indigenous peoples.
And here’s one I really enjoyed reading, to start things off!
For years, Robert Bringhurst’s book about Haida mythtellers was on my TBR (if I remember correctly, it was originally recommended by Margaret Atwood, which is perfect, because this November also happens to be Margaret Atwood Reading Month).
This summer, I finally read it, taking my time, reading just a few pages in a sitting.
Robert Bringhurst’s A Story as Sharp as a Knife: Haida Mythtellers and Their World (1999)
Suggesting that we think of the hundreds of oral literatures indigenous to North America as “parts of the old-growth forest of the human minds”, Robert Bringhurst’s passion for these stories is palpable.
He likens the act of reading these stories as being more like reading musical notes or reading paintings than it is like reading books. And he believes that, just as one doesn’t necessarily understand string sonatas by only listening to one – but, rather, by listening to some Mozart and some Haydn and Beethoven and and and – it’s only by listening to a variety of Haida mythtellers and a variety of their stories that one can gain a sense of the depth and breadth of their art.
Nonetheless, A Story as Sharp as a Knife offers readers an introduction to the field, considering the work of ethnographers and the recorded tales they were told. Some portions of the tales are presented in the written indigenous language, with translations alongside or following, but most are presented in translation, in a kind of verse that feels both epic and accessible.
And even when the stories themselves feel strange and disorienting, the way that Bringhurst describes them feels like another artist’s vision: “In its lovely glove of words, Skaay’s poem has the structure of five fingers, or four fingers and a thumb. If we are experienced listeners, that is enough. We imagine the palm, the invisible bones that join in a wrist; we remember the echoes, allusions and names that link these poems, and the larger poem they make.”
If you are looking to add another dimension to your reading about indigenous peoples, this volume is engaging and informative.