introduction
food
childhood, clothing, tools
ceremony, wealth, recreation
ishi and intercultural objects
The Yana and their Neighbors
ishi
Ishi Before Coming to the Museum

Ishi at the Museum

01. Bow
Yahi

02. Arrows
Yahi

03. Arrow point flaker
Yahi

04. Obsidian, raw material
Yahi

05. Arrow point, obsidian
Yahi

06. Arrow point, obsidian
Yahi

07. Arrow point, obsidian
Yahi

08. Arrow point, glass
Yahi

09. Arrow point, glass
Yahi

10. Arrow point, glass
Yahi

11. Arrow point, glass
Yahi

12. Arrow point, glass
Yahi

13. Arrow point, glass
Yahi

14. Arrow point, glass
Yahi

15. Arrow point, glass
Yahi

16. Game sticks and counters, wood
Yahi

17. Fire drill and hearth, wood
Yahi

18. Needle, wood
Yahi

19. Hair net, cotton string
Yahi

20. Fishing net, cotton string
Yahi

21. Maple bark, collected in Deer Creek, 1914
Yahi

22. Dentalium shells, owned by Ishi
Yahi

23. Campaign button, shirt button, glass bead, owned by Ishi
US Historic

Contemporary Art and Craft
Baskets and Other Objects Made for Sale


Yahi. Ishi chewing sinew to soften it before binding it onto an
arrow. Photographer unknown (E. H. Kemp?), San Francisco,
September 1913 (15-5961).


Ishi among the Anthropologists

Ishi's life at the Museum is San Francisco began within weeks of his arrival in Oroville in the summer of 1911. At the University, Alfred Kroeber had been engaged in a strenuous effort at "salvage ethnography," ever since the founding of the Department of anthropology in 1901.

The calamitous loss of life and cultural destruction that was befalling California Indians led Kroeber to believe that it was just a matter of time before all traces of indigenous cultures would be wiped out. Accordingly, Kroeber and his colleagues went into the field to interview cultural survivors, take photographs, collect vocabularies and narratives, songs and artifacts.

The appearance of a lone survivor of the Yahi-especially one who had had no direct contact with whites-was of particular importance. Following Yahi custom, the survivor refused to give his name; Kroeber named him Ishi, meaning "man" in Yana. Our ignorance of Ishi's real name is emblematic of the limitations of our knowledge of Yahi Culture.

During his years at the Museum, Ishi demonstrated his technological skills and spent long and arduous hours with T.T. Waterman and later, famed linguist Edward Sapier, retelling Yahi myths, tales and songs.

The people who knew Ishi in this context felt great affection and admiration for him and counted themselves as his friends. Accounts of his conduct and demeanor indicate that he reciprocated the friendship, showing good will, kindness and flexibility.

Finding himself a holocaust survivor, Ishi seems to have dedicated his life to recording what he remembered of Yahi culture.


Made in the Museum
Although nominally employed at the Museum as a janitor, Ishi spent much of his time making artifacts. Some were intended for the Museum collections, while others were given away to visitors.

Included here are all of the object types that Ishi made for the Museum. This small sample, however, is hardly representative of Yahi culture. The emphasis on objects relating to the hunt, is due partly to Ishi's own interests and knowledge and partly to that of his friend Saxton Pope, whom Ishi inspired to take up archery. Ishi made no artifacts associated with women such as baskets. While museum curators desired records of aboriginal technology, many of these objects differ from other Yahi/Yana artifacts in their extensive use of trade materials, their greater elaboration, and their frequently novel forms.

Ishi enthusiastically adopted Western materials and methods, continuing practices begun during his years of concealment. He habitually used tools like the jackknife and metal files, and readily employed commercial glues and paints, non-native woods such as eucalyptus, birch dowels for arrow shafts, and cotton string. As Saxton Pope observed, "He only returned to his primitive ways when requested to show the processes he formerly performed."

Ishi's innovative adaptations may make it difficult for current anthropologists to use his artifacts as documentary sources of traditional Yahi culture, but they are a testament to Ishi's innate creativity in the face of overwhelming personal and cultural loss.