Becoming tsimshian: The social life of names by Christopher F. Roth

By Christopher F. Roth

The Tsimshian humans of coastal British Columbia use a method of hereditary name-titles within which names are handled as gadgets of inheritable wealth. Human company and social prestige stay in names instead of within the people who carry those names, and the politics of succession linked to names and name-taking rituals were, and remain, on the heart of Tsimshian life.

Becoming Tsimshian examines the best way names hyperlink participants of a lineage to a prior and to the areas the place that earlier opened up. At conventional potlatch feasts, for instance, collective social and symbolic habit “gives the individual to the name.” Oral histories stated at a potlatch describe the origins of the identify, of the home lineage, and of the lineage's rights to territories, assets, and heraldic privileges. This possession is renewed and well-known through successive generations, and the ancient courting to the land is remembered and acknowledged within the lineage's chronicles, or adawx.

In investigating the several dimensions of the Tsimshian naming process, Christopher F. Roth attracts broadly on fresh literature, archival reference, and elders in Tsimshian groups. Becoming Tsimshian, which covers very important subject matters in linguistic and cultural anthropology and ethnic reports, should be of serious price to students in local American stories and Northwest Coast anthropology, in addition to in linguistics.

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In addition, the Kitlope and Kitamaat tribes of Wakashan-speaking Haislas living today at Kitamaat Village, just to the south of the Canyon Tsimshian at Kitsumkalum and Kitselas, have sometimes been called Tsimshian. This inclusion, rarely heard today, is less justified and more counterintuitive to contemporary people. It has been based on the Haisla and Tsimshianic speakers’ commingled lineage histories, which have resulted, for example, in the names Gitamaat and Gitloop themselves: they are Tsimshianic names, meaning “people of the falling snow” and “people of the rock,” respectively (Garfield 1939:176–77).

They are the center of Tsimshian social life, today as in times past. Many Tsimshians themselves claim not entirely to understand the complexities of feasts they attend and participate in. While I feel I have a more or less firm grasp on the assumptions that underlie the politics of name taking, I consider myself many dozens of feasts away from really understanding the “meaning”—and here Tsimshians themselves call it that—of the exchanges and gifts that occur at them. Granted, this is a position many Tsimshians find themselves in, and at times I feel myself to be sharing a learning process with young and middle-aged Tsimshians who are bewildered by the complex institutions in which they find themselves regularly involved.

2; Tarpent 1997:66 –67), though Gitksanimx and NisgaЈamk are also used (Rigsby 1986:11). However, since “Gitksanimx” is emerging as the official name for the Gitksan language and the NisgaЈa language is usually called “NisgaЈa,” I use “SmЈalgyax” here to mean the language of the Tsimshian people only, since that is emerging as the label Tsimshians use for their own language. ” Gitksan and NisgaЈa speakers can understand each other readily, but a Tsimshian needs to struggle a bit to converse with either without resorting to English.

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