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December's Child

A Book of Chumash Oral Narratives

Thomas C. Blackburn (Editor)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 360 pages
ISBN: 9780520040885
July 1980
$30.95, £26.00
As Reviewed by Eugene N. Anderson, University of California, Riverside in The Journal of California Anthropology, Vol. 2, No. 2 (WINTER 1975), pp. 241-244:A child born in December is "like a baby in an ecstatic condition, but he leaves this condition" (p. 102). The Chumash, reduced by the 20th century from one of the richest and most populous groups in California to a pitiful remnant, had almost lost their strage and ecstatic mental world by the time John Peabody Harrington set out to collect what was still remembered of their language and oral literature. Working with a handful of ancient informants, Harrington recorded all he could--then, in bitter rejection of the world, kept it hidden and unpublished. After his death there began a great quest for his scattered notes, and these notes are now being published at last. Thomas Blackburn, among the first and most assiduous of the seekers through Harrington's materials, has published her the main body of oral literature that Harrington collected from the Chumash of Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties. Blackburn has done much more: he has added to the 111 stories a commentary and analysis, almost book-length in its own right, and a glossary of the Chumash and Californian-Spanish terms that Harrington was prone to leave untranslated in the texts.

Part I: The Analyses
1. Background of the Study
2. Descriptive Summary of the Collection
3. Structure and Content of the Narratives

Part II: Narratives
A. The Three Worlds
B. Old Woman Momoy
C. Coyote's Life and Times
D. Still More Myths
E. Shamans and Other Phenomena
F. Good Stories Retold

"These tales are both strange and familiar. . . . they are a fascinating introduction to a complex, little-known, lost people."--World Literature Today "Only two Chumash texts were known before this pulication of 11 myths, folktales, and stories collected by John Peabody Harrington between 1912 and 1928. The texts range from aboriginal narratives centering on Old Man Coyote to nineteenth-century tales borrowed from Mexico."--Pacific Historical Review "The informants are identified and shown in photographs, emerging to remind us how accelerated was the fate of the Chumash; by 1834, the secularization of the missions, they had suffered dispossession of their lands, epidemics, deliberate abortion and a virtual blotting out of their culture. By 1860, when interest in them slowly but belatedly began, there were only a handful of scattered survivors. The handful of informants for these stories were born from 1804 to 1877, a half-dozen men and women . . . The narratives take up more than half the book--111 of them, some as short as a paragraph, mere bits and pieces, other long enough to take two or three days in telling. . . . Whatever else they may be, cognitively or psychologically, they are also entertaining."--Los Angeles Times

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