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1 Boas), issued by the American Folk-Lore Society, is designed for the collection and publication of the folk-lore and mythology of the American Continent. The subscription price is three dollars per annum.
The American Folk-Lore Society was organized January 4, 1888. The Society holds annual meetings, at which reports are received and papers read. The yearly membership fee is three dollars. Members are entitled to receive The Journal of American Folk-Lore. Subscribers to the Journal, or other persons interested in the objects of the Society, are eligible to membership, and are requested to address the Permanent Secretary to that end.
Authors alone are responsible for the contents of their papers.
Officers of the American Folk-Lore Society (1917).
Second Vice-Preside three years beau, A. M. Éspinas. M. Belden, Leabody, A. Mode
President. — Robert H. Lowie.
Councillors. — For three years: R. B. Dixon, E. Sapir, A. L. Kroeber. For two years : Phillips Barry, C.-M. Barbeau, A. M. Espinosa. For one year : B. Laufer, E. K. Putnam, Stith Thompson. Past Presidents: H. M. Belden, John A. Lomax, Pliny Earle Goddard. Presidents of Local Branches : Charles Peabody, A. M. Tozzer, E. C. Perrow, Miss Mary A. Owen, Haywood Parker, Reed Smith, Clyde C. Glasscock, John M. Stone, John Harrington Cox.
Editor of Journal. — Franz Boas, Columbia University, New York, N.Y.
Treasurer. - Alfred M. Tozzer, Peabody Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.
Auditing Committee. — Roland B. Dixon, A. V. Kidder.
c. Editor of Journaidary.
Charles dder, Cam
Officers of Local and State Branches and Societies. Boston.— President, Charles Peabody; First Vice-President, A. V. Kidder; Second Vice-President, Helen Leah Reed; Secretary, Mrs. J. W. Courtney; Treasurer, Samuel B. Dean.
CAMBRIDGE. – President, A. M. Tozzer; Vice-President, Mrs. E. F. Williams; Treasurer, Carleton E. Noyes ; Secretary, Mrs. W. Scudder.
KENTUCKY. — President, E. C. Perrow; Vice-Presidents, Mrs. Ewing Marshall, Miss Alice A. Cassity; Secretary, D. L. Thomas; Treasurer, John F. Smith.
MISSOURI, — President, Miss Mary A. Owen; Vice-Presidents, Miss Lucy R. Lang Mr Eva W. Case, Miss Jennie M. A. Jones, Mrs. Edward Schaaf; Secretary, H. M. Beiden; Treasurer, C. H. Williams; Directors, A. E. Bostwick, Miss Jennie F. Chase, Leah R. C. Yoffie.
NORTH CAROLINA. — President, Haywood Parker; Secretary and Treasurer, Frank C. Brown.
North Dakota. — Secretary, George F. Will.
SOUTH CAROLINA, -— President, Reed Smith; Vice-President, Henry C. Davis; Secretary and Treasurer, F. W. Cappelmann.
TENNESSEE. — Secretary, Henry M. Wiltse.
Texas. — President, Dr. Clyde C. Glasscock; Vice-Presidents, Miss Junia Osterhaut, Miss L. B. Harrison ; Secretary-Treasurer, Dr. Stith Thompson.
VIRGINIA, — President, John M. Stone; Vice-President, Miss Martha M. Davis; Secretary-Treasurer, Walter A. Montgomery; Archivist, C. Alphonso Smith.
WEST VIRGINIA. — President and General Editor, John Harrington Cox; VicePresident, Robert Allen Armstrong; Secretary-Treasurer, Walter Barnes.
Entered as second-class matter, July 6, 1911, at the Post Office at Lancaster, Pa., under the Act of March 3, 1879.
THE JOURNAL OF AMERICAN FOLK-LORE.
Vol. XXX.—APRIL-JUNE, 1917.—No. CXVI.
ORAL TRADITION AND HISTORY."
BY ROBERT H. LOWIE.
A LITTLE over a year ago I protested against the acceptance of oral traditions as historical records. I held then, as I do now, that those who attach an historical value to oral traditions are in the position of the circle-squarers and inventors of perpetual-motion machines, who are still found besieging the portals of learned institutions. The discussion precipitated by my remarks in the journal mentioned,3 and still more a great many private debates with fellow-students, have not shaken my confidence in the soundness of the views previously voiced; but they have shown conclusively that I had misconceived the psychology of the situation. Instead of being a highpriest hurling anathemas against the unregenerate heathen, I found myself a prophet preaching in the wilderness, a dangerous heretic, only secretly aided and abetted by such fellow-iconoclasts as Drs. P. E. Goddard and B. Laufer. I cannot regard it as a healthy condition of affairs in science when the adherents of antagonistic views see no virtue whatsoever in each other's position. Perchance there is some hidden source of misunderstanding that only need be revealed to make co-existence, if not amity, in the same logical universe, possible. I therefore avail myself of the present opportunity to present without primarily polemical intent the logical issues as they present themselves from my angle of vision.
In the first place, it may not be unnecessary to state that in denying to oral traditions of primitive tribes their face value, we are not denying to them all value whatsoever. On the contrary, it is clear that even the wildest and manifestly impossible tales may be of the utmost importance as revelations of the-cultural status of the people who cherish them, whether as annals of incidents that once occurred or as purely literary products of the imagination. In addition to this willingly granted psychological significance of such narratives, we may also admit a genuinely historical value, though not of the kind associated with this term in the present discussion. Traditions share with archæological specimens, social usages, religious phenomena, and what not, the characteristic that likeness in distinct tribes calls for interpretation. Such interpretation may in many instances reveal beyond cavil, or at least indicate in a tentative way, an historical nexus otherwise unsuspected; and in such cases we are justified in speaking of an historical value of traditions, not in the sense that the traditions themselves embody truths which the ethnologist or folklorist must accept, but in the sense in which the same type of divination ritual, the same type of age-society, the same type of stone-axe, in different regions, may have an historical bearing. I will not abate one jot from this minimum historical estimation of tradition, nor will I concede an additional iota. Let us examine on what grounds such additional claims can be advanced.
1 Address of the retiring President, delivered at the Annual Meeting of the American Folk-Lore Society in New York, Dec. 27, 1916.
2 American Anthropologist, N.S., 17: 596-599. 3 Ibid., 599-600, 763–764.
VOL. XXX.-NO. 116.-11. 161
Against the sceptical attitude advocated by myself a very interesting argument has been advanced, which takes us directly into the heart of the problem. “Because some traditions are manifestly unhistorical,” I have been reproached, "you rashly infer that no tradition has historical validity.” With some claim to credence, I may plead that the rather elementary logical considerations here advanced are not entirely beyond my ken. They have nothing to do with the case, however, for this rests not on a necessarily imperfect induction, but on more general logical, psychological, and methodological principles.
That sum-total of lore which corresponds in primitive communities to what in our own culture we embrace under the headings of science and philosophy also comprises elements, in varying degrees of systematization, which are in native consciousness equivalent to what we call history. My general attitude towards these elements is simply this: If we do not accept aboriginal pathology as contributions to our pathology, if we do not accept aboriginal astronomy, biology, or physics, why should we place primitive history alone on a quite exceptional pedestal, and exalt it to a rank co-ordinate with that of our own historical science? This is the, to my mind, absolutely conclusive argument, which is independent of, though strengthened by, the number of cases, really tremendous, in which the glaring disparity between primitive history and our conception of the physical universe renders acceptance of tradition impossible.
The really interesting problem to me is, not what degree of importance shall be attached to so-called historical traditions, but what psychological bias could conceivably make scholars attach greater weight to aboriginal tales of migration than to aboriginal beliefs as