Saturday, August 10, 2013

Ishi: Last Wild Native Of America?

 ("Ishi" 1860 to March 25, 1916)

In 1911, a wild Native was found at the slaughterhouse in the Oroville, California area. He was 49 years old, nearly starved to death, and had never been part of any European American culture. His dwindling tribe of Yahi had died off and in desperation, he entered the White Man's neighborhood to stay alive. The University of California Berkley was called and they took him in as a living science exhibit and an "assistant." With no people to name him in his extinct tribe, anthropologist Alfred Kroeber named him "Ishi" or "Man" in the Yana language. He lived for 5 years in the university building and they learned all they could about his "wild man" ways.

According to reports, the tribe had gone into hiding after many white vigilantes had killed off desperate members for stealing and eating their cattle to keep from starving when settlers had stripped the woods of deer. For almost 50 years, they hid in the hillsides, having no contact with society.

Ishi's contribution was to display how he made and used his arrows and how he built fires. This was an unprecedented use of a Native for a living display. Sadly, as yet another tragedy upon this situation, Ishi emerged from the wild to save his life and find nourishment, but he ultimately succumbed to White Man's disease, tuberculosis.

Ishi's brain was removed after his death by scientists following an autopsy. His body was cremated. This was against Ishi's wishes that his body be whole so he could reach the final resting place in the spirit world.  Where did the brain go? To the institution most believe to be the worst absconder of every precious American relic - the Smithsonian Institution.

Site: Ishi is coming home to Northern California. In the next few weeks the Smithsonian Institution will return the brain of Ishi to his closest living relatives, the Yana people of the Redding Rancheria and Pit River Tribe. The Yana will then determine how to proceed with a proper burial. This will conclude a process of repatriation that has been guided by the Smithsonian's legal obligation and moral commitment to return Ishi's remains to his descendants. 

Three months ago when the Smithsonian was first contacted about Ishi, we knew of no living members of his tribe. In fact, although he has been described as "the last Yahi," Ishi always identified himself as a YahiYana Indian. During the Smithsonian's consultations with Native American groups in Northern California, the Redding Rancheria and Pit River came forward and asked us to repatriate Ishi's remains to the Yana, or Noso as they call themselves.

In returning Ishi's remains to the Yana, the Smithsonian has followed both the letter and the spirit of the National Museum of the American Indian Act of 1989 (NMAI). The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990, reflects the moral principle that American Indians and Native Alaskans have a right to determine the destiny of their ancestral remains, sacred objects, funerary offerings, and cultural patrimonial objects conserved in museums throughout the United States.

Book "Ishi's Brain In Search of America's Last Wildman"  on Google Books online here.

Perhaps it's having facial amnesia, but upon occasion a face haunts me, even if I can't recall it when I look away. These pictures of Ishi show many faces and they are so handsome that I find myself unable to stop studying them, wondering how he can have so many different expressions. He had no ways to bar his emotions from his face, his wisdom, his pain, his isolation. Yet, he remained the most glorious soul and that comes across quite clearly.

 Understanding how a band of natives could remain undetected into the 20th century, one has to wonder - might there be others who have remained undetected? And the situation of starvation and isolation that drove Ishi out to the white man's space might be the means by which another "tall people" of our woodlands emerge. Just one single individual, having no band of people any longer, finding little to eat, stressed beyond reason, and willing to take a risk and raid a backyard trash can or some other source for food could feasibly be the first surrendered being of the wild lands.

Learn more in this wonderful summation of the study of his skills and culture.

To learn more about his most unusual an unique bow and arrow techniques, look here. 

You must listen to his voice.

This is an amazing 9-part documentary on YouTube that is an accurate telling of the entire story.

1 comment:

  1. Ishi simple soul unpoisoned by modern man and his notions.