The Anthropology of Northwest Coast Oral Traditions

Brian Thom


This paper is a critical history of anthropological research on the oral traditions of the cultures of the Northwest Coast of North America, where much influential work has been done using the vast text collections compiled by Boas and his collaborators. The paper reviews the development and legacy of the Boas collection and analyses of Northwest Coast texts. In addition the paper analyzes responses to this body of work by functionalists who have looked to Northwest Coast myth as a way of understanding property, and responses by structuralists who have sought ways of understanding underlying meanings in these traditions. Recent contributions have focused on a more literary analysis of oral traditions. Finally, suggestions are made as to some future avenues for future study of Northwest Coast oral traditions.

  • Brian Thom, Department of Anthropology, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec H3A 2T7, Canada