Re: ISHI Last of his tribe

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Posted by Elaine on February 09, 1998 at 22:34:47:

In Reply to: Re: ISHI Last of his tribe posted by Myrrh on February 09, 1998 at 18:07:22:

: --------.
: I read Ishi a long time ago, and the images conveyed in that book (both pics and narrative) really stuck with me. Sorry to give away the "ending" for those who haven't read it, but for me it was heartbreakingly sad, because after only, what? a few months? of being in "civilization" with the Kroebers, he became ill and died. Although it was nominally due to low resistance to diseases unknown to him (correct me if my memory is faulty, here, Rich), still I always thought his death was at least partly due to the rediculous stresses of "modern" life (and this was in the 40's wasn't it?? -- how much moreso nowadays!), and to the loss of everyone else who had been part of his culture, and therefore, extensions of him. Like losing part of your body.

: Myrrh


A few more things about Ishi ('man' in Yahi). When Ishi appeared at the Oroville ranch in 1911, he was near death. He was starving and suffering from exhaustion. He chose to enter the civilized world expecting to die, but obviously wanting to live. That he was found indirectly by the Kroebers was somewhat miraculous. There is a lot of irony in Ishi's story. Had he not come forward from a hidden life, he would have died; yet entering the world as he did carried great risks of death. He had been alone for some time. He and others of his tribe had been hiding out for years until one by one, they died off. He was already the last of his tribe.

What the middle aged Ishi gained was life and companionship for five more years. What he gave back is immeasurable. According to the book, he was loved by everybody who met him. He appears to have touched their hearts. It was through Ishi's discovery that the rest of the world came to know of the Yahi people. The language was preserved, cultural elements were learned, and the story of the Yahi people was not lost. (As Rich said, check out the archery information. Fascinating similarities to rare Japanese bow and shooting method.) More could have been told by Ishi had he not held to the Yahi taboo against speaking of the dead. So, this was all good. Yet, I must confess to having a bit of difficulty in the Kroebers' study of Ishi.

It is true that they were very good to him, yet he was still an object or specimen to be studied. He lived in a museum! A human being, yet a museum specimen. On the other hand, it should be remembered that this was 1911. I would hesitate to judge the mores of early 20th century by today's "accepted standards". Here, from out of the blue, appeared a "wild man". Of course he was seen as an oddity, and would have been no matter what his race. (Tarzan, though fictional, comes to mind.) It must have been quite amazing to discover a man who had had no previous contact with the world that bordered his own. So the study of Ishi would be looked upon by some as a necessary evil.

For five years he lived under the care of the Kroebers. Much was learned of the Yahi people in those five years, which is good. He died of tuberculosis in 1916 and has left his mark, and the mark of the Yahi people, behind him.... a permanent reminder for all that they existed.

As for the movie; it was okay, but in my opinion the book is much better!

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