Where the Echo Began
and Other Oral Traditions from Southwestern Alaska Recorded by Hans Himmelheber
In this book, the Native people of southwest Alaska generously share the traditional stories that form the expressive core of their unique culture. The lifeways observed and anecdotes recounted to a then-young university graduate, who recorded and compiled them in communities on Nunivak Island and the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, offer a glimpse today of a longstanding way of life.
In the mid-1930s, Hans Himmelheber closely observed the Yup'ik and Cup'ig people who offered him hospitality, paying heed to their stories and anecdotes; he photographed them just as carefully, capturing their activities with technical elegance while simultaneously preserving unstudied moments in the people's lives. Himmelheber's photographs also honor his informants, for as one of them told him regarding his people's artwork, "you know every picture has a meaning." The majority of these photographs have not been published before.
This book includes the translated contents of Himmelheber's The Frozen Path: Myths, Tales, and Legends of the Eskimos; "Ethnographic Notes on the Nunivak Eskimos"; "Noseblood as Adhesive Material for Color Paint among the Eskimos" ; and "Unimaginable Miracles in the Poetry of Western Africa and the Eskimos," originally released in German. Kurt and Ester Vitt's translation is readable and clear. Editor Ann Fienup-Riordan, herself a distinguished ethnographer known for her work in southwest Alaska, provides annotation and a detailed discussion of Himmelheber's role as observer and recorder in a thoughtful, scholarly introduction.
Though much has changed in the last half century, Yup'ik and Cup'ig orators continue to tell stories to educate and amuse their listeners. With this English translation, Himmelheber has passed on what he learned to Native and non-Native readers alike.