Getting the story back



I have found the key to the system of marriage (in the old days) among distant relations, a matter which puzzled me last year. At marriage a certain portion of bride’s father’s ancestral story (smaiusta) is transmitted to the husband, e.g. the right to carve or paint a raven on a food box. Unless repurchased this remains in the husband’s family, but as the smaiusta is transmitted it is always remembered that a part of it is in another family and a son, grandson, or other descendant of the wife’s father will seek to regain it by marrying a woman of the other family. As the Bella Coolas express it a man always ‘hunts’ when marrying to get back pieces of his smaiustas.


From a letter of Canadian anthropologist T. F. McIlwraith, to Edward Sapir, 26 December 1923 in, At Home with the Bella Coola Indians: T. F. McIlwraith’s Field Letters, edited by John Barker and Douglas Cole, Vancouver: UBC Press, 2003 pp. 113-114
Illustration inspired by a Bushman rock painting in the Cederberg, South Africa


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