Thomas Doty – Storyteller
Notes on Takelma Culture
What's worth remembering is stored in stories. Sharing stories keeps the Takelma people strong, protected and moving ahead. In Upriver to Morning, Salmon and his friends spend the winter telling stories. Revisiting this storehouse of cultural and personal memories gives them the wisdom and strength to continue their journey. Their stories keep them safe. Near the beginning of their story together, Coyote tells Salmon to look to the stars. "Each one has a story. You have a story too," he says. "Stories and stars remind us of where we've been, and where we are going." Throughout his long swim, Salmon never forgets this. "Stories and stars," he tells himself over and over. "Our guides and guardians are stories and stars."
The Takelmas celebrate five seasons. The fifth repeats the first, creating a circle dance of movement. Circles and cycles abound! Like Bear dancing round and round, or the circling of day to night to day, or the river cycle of rain to source to sea to rain again, the seasons are on the move. To be in motion is to be alive. In Upriver to Morning, as the friends reach Boundary Springs, they have journeyed through four seasons. But this is not the end. Morning Star says to them, "Now YOU are the wisdom keepers. You will pass along what you know." And so their story keeps going. On and on....
In rock carvings and paintings, spirals indicate movement. Counterclockwise is up. Clockwise is down. Eagles circle to their left as they soar upward and to their right circling down. Native storytellers use spirals as gestures to show movement up and ahead in a story, or down and behind. In Upriver to Morning, Bear dances to honor Sky Bear, the constellation Big Dipper. Each night, Sky Bear dances to his left as he spins the seasons through the year. Salmon follows this ancient pattern, moving up and ahead. He swims upriver as the seasons circle around him.
Since beyond memory, stories have helped the Takelma people endure everything from massive floods to fierce winter storms to forced removal from their homeland. Cultural knowledge and wisdom is stored safely in stories, and telling the stories keeps the culture alive. Whether it's a family gathered around the home fire, or everyone in the village in the community lodge, people tell stories until the sun rises ... a bright, hopeful symbol of a new day. On their journey in Upriver to Morning, the characters pause for the winter to rest, collect food, and to renew their spirits with stories.
When the Old Time stories have all been told, the storyteller says, "Finished. Now go gather seeds and eat them." While stories told in firelight have warmed and lit the winter lodges, now it's time to be out in a world brimming with sunlight and color, and the growing of new food. In Upriver to Morning, after spending the winter at the Table Rocks, Bear says, "Today, we leave dark and cold behind us and move toward their opposites, light and heat." Carrying the wisdoms of stories in their hearts, Salmon and his friends continue their journey toward the warmth of the rising sun.
In the homeland of the Takelmas -- "the People of the River" -- traditional villages are located along the Rogue River and its tributaries. Water is the source of life for everything Takelma. Old Time trails follow the waterways, traveled by native people through their seasonal rounds, and myth characters through the stories ... Salmon, Coyote, Deer Woman.... Agnes Baker Pilgrim, inspiration for Upriver to Morning, liked to say, "We are all water babies!" Her ancestral village is along Jump Off Joe Creek, a tributary of the Rogue.
The Takelmas call them medicine mountains, five peaks that circle and protect their southern Oregon homeland. These mountains that touch the clouds are also the Mythtime homes of medicine women, healers and wisdom keepers. Acorn Woman lives on Mount McLoughlin, Rock Old Woman on Sexton Mountain.... There are others. In Upriver to Morning, Salmon and his friends travel through Takelma country to the summit of the Cascades. Here they meet a powerful woman. In a myth-like gathering of wisdom and friendship, Morning Star emerges out of the mountain fog.
In the myths, they are called the Old Ones, spiritual characters who embody the wisdom of the Old Ways. In our memories, they are the ancestors, generations of grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great grandparents. Day to day, they are the elders, those wise ones we seek out and sit with, listening and learning. In Upriver to Morning, Salmon journeys to visit his teacher Morning Star. She is all three ... myth character, ancestor, elder.
In traditional native cultures, not all stories were passed through the oral tradition. Some were "published" -- carved and painted on boulders and cliffs by the first storytellers, the Rock People. The Takelma word for rock writing is se'l. The characters in Upriver to Morning meet these Old Ones several times on their epic journey, including in the Avenue of Giant Boulders where the Rogue River "races through the labyrinth of Rock People."
In native rock carvings and paintings, there is a symbol for completeness that is found at vision quest sites. This is a rope with the ends tied together, making it a circle, complete. These sites are high-country, lonely places where young folks go for five days and nights to cry for a vision. When they return to their village, they are adults. In Upriver to Morning, Salmon goes on a year-long vision quest. He journeys upriver to meet his teacher Morning Star ... a completion of his life toward enlightenment. He is all grown up!
Along the rivers, at falls and rapids, are traditional salmon calling sites. Native people feel closely related to the Salmon People. A Salmon Caller travels from site to site and watches the salmon. As he walks through a village he calls out the salmon's health, reports progress on their journeys, and when it's time for the Sacred Salmon Ceremony. In Upriver to Morning, the characters know they can depend on Red-Tailed Hawk to keep a sharp eye on their Swimmer friend. Red-Tailed Hawk is a Salmon Caller.
In native stories, dualities appear within landscapes and between characters, and sometimes, within a single character. In their opposition, dualities deliver contrast and counterbalance. There are two Table Rocks, two directions of a river, upriver and down, and then there are the split personalities of trickster characters ... creator and fool, wise man and buffoon. In Takelma mythology, Giant Dragonfly -- Daldal -- splits himself in half to create two brothers with contrary points of view. In Upriver to Morning, these brothers engage in verbal duels. Deer Woman knows this: "As opposites, they bring balance to the world."
The native moon name for the winter storytelling season is Shoulder to Shoulder Around the Fire. In the Old Time, stories began in the community lodge at sunset and continued to first light. On long winter nights, sitting close to the fire, the Takelmas wove a spiritual identity for themselves through the telling of myths. In Upriver to Morning, Salmon and his friends continue this ancient tradition. They pause mid-journey and build a winter lodge, creating a dramatic setting of flickering firelight and shifting shadows, just right for stories.
In the Old Time stories, Coyote wears many masks. Sometimes he is a clever prankster, bulging with self-importance. Sometimes he is Coyote Old Man, a wise elder. Most often he is a mixture, part buffoon, part loyal friend. In Upriver to Morning, Coyote is youngish and playful, but wise for his years. While he values friendship and being helpful, this doesn't prevent him from admiring his own reflection in the water and announcing, "Handsome!" Like all Animal People in the myths, Coyote is part critter and part human.
In 1906, Takelma storyteller Frances Johnson -- Gwisgwashan -- told linguist Edward Sapir: "Eel was said to have sung through the holes of his own body like a flute. He was called the best singer of all." In Upriver to Morning, Eel sings to Salmon as he begins his year-long journey up the Rogue River.
For the Takelmas, five is the sacred number. Good things happen in fives ... ceremonies, gatherings, vision quests.... The number five is woven into Old Time stories and into everyday life. And it is present in the five chapters of Upriver to Morning ... several times. This is a good journey Salmon and his friends are making, a sacred journey.
There are two directions in Takelma myths: upriver and downriver. Upriver is to the east, toward the rising sun and creation. Downriver is to the west, toward the setting sun and the Land of the Dead. In Upriver to Morning, Salmon journeys east to the river's source to meet his teacher, Morning Star.
The Takelma name for the Rogue River is Kelam or Gelam. You can hear the word inside the word for the People: Takelma or Dagelma. It means the People of the River. The Rogue River is the lifeblood of the Great Animal that is the World. In Upriver to Morning, characters journey up the river from the mouth at the Pacific Ocean to the source at Boundary Springs.
In Takelma mythology, Red Tailed Hawk is a powerful medicine person who watches over the People ... sometimes a woman, sometimes a man. If she flies ahead of you as you begin a journey, you will have a good journey indeed. In Upriver to Morning, Red Tailed Hawk watches over the upriver journey of Salmon and his friends. In Edward Sapir's collection of Takelma myths, (Takelma Texts, 1909), Red Tailed Hawk is referred to as Chicken-Hawk.
In the Takelma language there is a sound between "t" and "d" that is not made in English. It is the same with "k" and "g" sounds. Sometimes the name of the People is written Takelma, sometimes Dagelma. It is the same word. Upriver to Morning is set along the Rogue River in the traditional homeland of the Takelmas.