Open main menu

The International Folk-Lore Congress of the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, July, 1893/The Antiquity of the Folk-Lore of the American Indian




The Aryan theorist is the modern iconoclast, who, like the Hindu theorist, makes his chosen people the veritable pioneers in intellectual development, and grants them the very first claim of ownership in the vast boundless plain of mental and social history. His theorem is that the American Indians never had any folk-lore of their own; that prior to 1493 they had no notion whatever of anything of the sort; that missionaries coming after Columbus, scattered at large a few seeds of sacred and secular tradition, which not only took root, but grew into wondrous trees.

One cannot but recognize certain ways and means by which all the American Märchen and some of the sagas might have been bodily imported, but I still insist that our aborigines had some preconceived notions of creation, of good and bad spirits, of fire, sun, moon, et cetera. Such ideas are innate in the human race. That these notions have become mixed with the stream of foreign tradition is a tenable conclusion, as an analysis of the American system can scarcely fail to show, whether made on the scheme of the English folk-lore society, of which Mr. Hartland has given us so admirable an illustration, or by that more radical method pursued by Andrew Lang.

A careful inquiry is fatal to that theory which may be called universal accidentalism, and opposed to it we have the theory which admits the importation of tradition, but places it at the earliest possible date. The new ideas brought to a people are dexterously interwoven into the fabric of their life. For example, the hero-story of Pa-bu ka-tawa told by Mr. Grinnell


in his Pawnee Hero Stories bears such a striking resemblance to the life of Christ that we must look upon it as the modification of an early missionary account.

An analysis of the folk-lore of the American Indian leads to the conclusion that at least their legends and tales are recently borrowed from European sources.