Jaime de Angulo,
Indian Tales: Indian Folklore, Rituals, Hunting Adventures,
Allegories, Tall Tales, Blessings & Curses

(Ballantine, 1953)

Be warned: Indian Tales is not what you would expect. The author explains that if you are seriously interested in learning about the folklore of California Native Americans, you should study the books listed in the bibliography.

De Angulo was having fun with the creation of a story that mixed the beliefs and traditions of all the tribes together -- more or less, his story is the melting pot of all the California native folklore and culture. Likewise, he has taken extreme liberties with the geography and topography. He switched the locations of the tribes, based on convenience for his story.

The characters are a mixture of human and animal, neither one more than the other in the beginning, but becoming progressively more human.

Thus, you cannot take this book seriously for the folklore. Read it knowing that it is one long tall tale based entirely upon the folklore of the California natives.

In the story, Bear decides to take his family to visit his wife's sister, who lives in the village of the Cranes by the ocean. He informs his wife, Antelope, that it is time to prepare.

Of course, their young son, Fox Boy, does not want to go. He has never been off the mountain and out into the world. He wants to remain at home, especially since he has to wear moccasins to travel. When Antelope heads down the trail with her baby daughter, Quail, strapped to the cradleboard on her back, it does not take Fox Boy long to change his mind and come running after her, moccasins in hand. As Bear and Antelope wait, Fox Boy puts his moccasins on the wrong feet.

So far this sounds exactly like any trip we ever took when my oldest son was small.

Fox Boy is curious about everything and through the answers to his questions, we learn about the various folklore and traditions. For example, the first morning on the trail, Fox Boy asks why Bear is singing. Antelope explains that he is letting his shadow know where he is. During the night, your shadow leaves and roams around. If it gets lost, you will become sick and die because you cannot live without your shadow.

We also learn the stories of the region as Fox Boy always asks the people they encounter to tell him a story, such as when Coyote Old Man told him how Weasel burned the world.

I am not going to tell you any more of this hilarious romp through the wilderness, but I did a mental picture of Chevy Chase as Pa Bear from The Hillbilly Bears as I read this misadventure. I would love to see Indian Tales crafted into a movie. It is a nonstop comedy of epic proportions.

Jaime de Angulo was born in Spain and spent his childhood there. He attended Johns Hopkins University before residing among the Pit River Indians of California for 40 years as a professional linguist and amateur anthropologist.

Indian Tales is a hilarious romp through a native fantasy world that will force you to laugh as the woes of the traveling Bear family prove universal to all races and cultures. Only an educated professional could pull off this kind of tongue-in-cheek cultural overview. It is really an entertaining read.

review by
Alicia Karen Elkins

24 January 2009

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new