What thing is a shaman?

Tlingit healer helping a woman

Tlingit healer helping a woman (image credit: US Forest Service)

A clue about how Chinuk Wawa was used by artifact collectors in southeast Alaska, circa 1886:

This occurs in “The Heiltsuk Case: Museums, Collectors, Inventories” by Martha Black (PhD dissertation, University of Victoria, 1998).

Page 171ff tell about the Junius W. MacMurray Collection, including a set of objects bought from Tlingit people:

MacMurray called the…artifacts IKTAS. Cole (1985:300) explains that, 

The Chinook Jargon word ictus or iktahs, literally “thing,” usually meant trade goods or provisions; collectors like Dawson, Newcombe, and Emmons employed it more narrowly to mean artifacts.

(page 172)

The point is then raised that a prominent item in the collection is a ceremonial object — a speaker’s staff — and that possibly this IKTAS is at least partially a misinterpretation of the Tlingit word for ‘shaman’, ixt’, which it may have been connected with by the seller.

An intriguing possibility.

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