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Book No. 41

To first story in the book press: 2022

To last story in the book press: 2039

Maidu Texts

Dixon Roland B.

Maidu Texts, Roland B. Dixon, 1912




PUBLICATIONS of the American Ethnological Society

Edited by FRANZ BOAS






The Maidu lived in the central Sierra Nevada of California, to the north of Yosemite. The Maidu, who were not particularly numerous to begin with, were decimated by the incursion of Americans. These texts were collected by a linguist at the beginning of the 20th century.

In these texts Coyote is the central character. He is first seen in the company of Earth-Maker, giving him advice about how to build the world. The Maidu tales of Coyote are well known for being exceptionally transgressive; he is constantly seducing women by guile and deceit. While these stories are very entertaining, they shouldn't be taken to imply that this was normal behavior for Maidu. The trickster figure is an anti-hero, used as a way of defining the limits of the acceptable.



THE texts here presented form a part of the linguistic material collected during the years 1902 and 1903 for the California Expedition of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, which was maintained through the liberality of the late Mr. C. P. Huntington. All of the texts were secured at Genesee, Plumas County, California, from Tom Young, a half Maidu, half Atsugewi man, who, although only about thirty years of age, possessed an extensive knowledge of the myths of the Maidu of this region. The dialect in which the myths are recorded is that of the Northeastern Maidu, of which a grammatical sketch has been published in the "Handbook of American Indian Languages."[1] English versions of many of these myths have already been published,[2] and also a discussion of the main features of Maidu mythology and its relation to that of the surrounding tribes.[3]

The order of arrangement followed, places first the Creation Myth, obtained in two parts in successive years. The various tales relating particularly to Coyote come next, after which the order is in general dependent on relative importance, or wideness of relationship. The nineteen myths given form but a small part of those known to the Maidu of this region, but are apparently those most commonly told, and best known to the stock as a whole.

In the translation an attempt has been made to give a reasonably free rendering, redundant words or repetitions being occasionally omitted, and words needed to complete the sense being supplied. 1 To the first part of the Creation Myth a pretty close interlinear translation is given as well; and it is believed that, with this as an indication, there will be little difficulty in following the other translations. The paragraphs and sentences in text and translation correspond in all cases. Some forms are still obscure; and where a tentative translation is given, it is indicated by a query. It will be noticed that in the text the same word is often spelled in different ways, or given a varying accent. It has seemed best to record these different forms just as they were heard at the time, rather than to try to reduce them to a single, normal form. The accent has always been placed at the end of the stressed syllable.

In the preparation of these texts, the interest and helpful counsel of Dr. Franz Boas has been unfailing; but the author, and the author alone, is responsible for whatever sins of omission or commission the volume may contain.

ALPHABET. – The phonetic system of the Maidu is only moderately extensive. It possesses but one series of k-sounds, of which only the k is frequent, and is lacking in velars and lateral (l) sounds. The consonant system includes palatals, alveolars, dento-alveolars, labials, and laterals. The sonants and surds are as a rule not very clearly differentiated, and it is sometimes difficult to determine in a given case which is intended. Surds are more common than sonants in the pairs g-k and d-t, g in particular being quite uncommon. Although in most groups of consonants there is a sonant, surd, and fortis, yet the fortis is often by no means strongly marked, and is difficult to separate from the surd. The glottal catch is but little used. A peculiar feature of the Maidu is the existence of two weak inspirational sonant stops B and D. The exact method of formation of these sounds is not clear. However, it is certain that inspiration proceeds no further than the soft palate, the peculiar quality of the sound being produced by a "smack" formed by a slight vacuum in the mouth. The B and D occur only as a rule before ö, and the difference between them and the ordinary b and d is, in the case of some speakers and in some words, very slight; in other words, or in the same words by other and generally older speakers, the difference is strongly marked. The consonant system of the Maidu may be shown in tabular form as follows:

Sonant. Surd. Fortis. Spirant. Inspirant. Nasal.

Palatal g k k! x – ñ

Alveolar d t t! – D(ö) n

Dento-alveolar – ts – s, c – –

Labial b p p! – B(ö) m

Lateral l – – – – –

Glottal catch (?)

h, y and w.

The vowels are quite variable. One of the most characteristic features of the use of vowels is the fondness for the ö, ä, and ü sounds. The vowels are as follows:

Sonant. Surd. Fortis. Spirant. Inspirant. Nasal.


u ū

i ī

e ē

ä E ö

a o

ā â ō

[1] Roland B. Dixon, Maidu, an Illustrative Sketch (Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 40, Part I, pp. 679-734). Washington, Government, 1911.

[2] Roland B. Dixon, Maidu Myths (American Museum of Natural History, Bulletin, Vol. XVII, pp. 33-118). New York, 1902.

[3] Journal of American Folk-Lore, Vol. XVI (1903), pp. 32-36.

2:1 Words thus added to complete the sense are enclosed in parentheses.

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