Affidavits Address Oral Tradition and Cultural Affiliation
Affidavit of Andrei Simic'
I, Andrei Simic´, being first duly sworn, do depose and state as follows:
1. I am a professor of anthropology in the Department of Anthropology, University of Southern California ("USC"), Los Angeles, California. I specialize in ethnic studies, including the role played by folklore and oral tradition in the formation and development of the cultural identity of ethnic groups.
2. My professional qualifications are as follows. I have been a member of the faculty of the USC Department of Anthropology since 1971. I hold a Ph.D. in Social Anthropology (awarded 1970) from the University of California, Berkeley, California, from which I also received my M.A. and B.A. degrees in 1969 and 1954, respectively. Over the course of my career, I have authored, co-authored or co-edited five books and monographs on anthropological topics, and more than 55 articles and book chapters. I have presented papers at approximately 27 professional conferences, and I have produced or consulted on 17 films and video productions. In addition to USC, I have taught anthropology courses at: U.C. Berkeley; California State University, Hayward; John F. Kennedy University; the Wrigh Institute (both in Berkeley and Los Angeles). Although my professional research has focused principally on East European ethnic studies, I am familiar with Native American folklore and oral tradition. Among other things, I have taught classes on New World indigenous peoples and have studied their cultural practices and beliefs.
3. I have grave reservations about claims that folklore and oral tradition can be used to establish a cultural relationship between a present-day ethnic group and a human skeleton as old as the Kennewick Man skeleton. It is one thing to use folklore and oral tradition as a means of ascertaining or demonstrating what the members of an ethnic group believe (or once believed) about the world and their collective past. It is another thing entirely to use folklore and oral tradition as proof of the truth of what the group believes. As a general rule, folklore and oral tradition are not stable enough to be taken as inherently accurate witnesses of events from the remote past.
4. It is important in this regard to keep in mind the functions served by folklore and oral tradition. In some cases, a story or other oral account may be intended to transmit factual information about the world or human events. In other cases, however, a story's function may have little or nothing to do with the accurate transmission of factual information. For example, the function of a story may be to articulate norms of behavior, to provide metaphysical or religious answers concerning how the world and humans originated, or to establish ethnic boundaries distinguishing "us" from "them". In such situations, it is social, cultural, economic and/or political considerations not factual accuracy that determines the content of the story or account.
5. The functions of folklore and oral tradition are best illustrated by considering the differences between myth, legend and oral history.
A. Myths are accounts of significant events that are said to have occurred during an ethnic group's formative years or that make reference to overarching historical or cultural themes. Myths often take place in supernatural or other-worldly settings, or they may involved actions in this world by supernatural or superhuman actors. The principal function of myths is to underscore important values, ideas, and modes of behavior of a group. Myths in most cases are largely or completely lacking in any provable empirical foundation.
B. Legends can be distinguished from myths in that they most often focus on the ostensible deeds of heroes or other individuals who frequently are said to be "known" by name. Legends serve many of the same functions as myths, and like myths they may incorporate supernatural or magical elements. The degree to which legends reflect actual historical events and individuals as opposed to purely fictional elements will vary from story to story and culture to culture. As a general rule, unwritten legends that refer to events more than 1,000 years in the past contain little, if any, historical truth.
C. Oral histories are narratives that refer to events from living memory or the near past. They may consist of narratives based upon the experience and memories of a living individual, or they may involve more remote events such as something that happened to a grandparent or to the grandparent of a grandparent. Oral histories can vary in their factual accuracy. The creators of oral histories can be mistaken in their perceptions or memories, they can deliberately embellish or misrepresent events, and errors can occur in the transmission of stories. As a general rule, oral histories tend to become less accurate the farther they are removed in time and location from the event being represented.
6. One special form of myths is origin stories. These stories provide explanations of how the world was created and how people, or particular groups of people, originated. Like other mythical stories, origin stories commonly incorporate supernatural, magical or superhuman elements. Origin stories play a special role in helping to define a group's claim to its "ancestral" territory as well as affirming the group's uniqueness, autonomy and quasi-sacred character. Origin stories can vary widely between groups, and sometimes even within the same group. For example, the Northern Paiute of the Great Basin are reported to have had a creation story that involved a supernatural creature called the Sagehen. According to this story, modern Native Americans appeared in the region (not far from where the Kennewick skeleton was found) only after all earlier people were destroyed by water. The Hopi of the American Southwest, on the other hand, have a creation story that involves their emergence from the underworld accompanied by friendly "kachinas" who helped them with rain dances when crops were planted.
7. Folklore and oral tradition are not fixed, immutable elements of an ethnic group's culture. Change in both content and meaning is the general rule rather than the exception. Change can and often does occur with each new generation of group members, and can include the addition of new stories, deletions, substitutions and reinterpretation of meaning. Some of the processes that cause changes to folklore and oral tradition include the following:
A. Folklore and oral tradition represent an ethnic group's response to the conditions confronting the group. As conditions within and outside the group change, its folklore and oral tradition will change to adjust to the new conditions that must be addressed. In some cases, change (both in prevailing conditions and in folklore and oral tradition) will be a slow, incremental process. In other cases, sharp fundamental ruptures may occur in a group's social, political and cultural fabric, and the resulting changes in its folklore and oral traditions may be dramatic. Depending on the nature and extent of socio-cultural change, myths may be totally abandoned in favor of new stories which appear to be more responsive to current conditions. A classic example of this phenomenon is provided by revitalization movements (see Paragraph 7 below).
B. Folklore and oral tradition can also change because of unintended errors in transmission. Human memory is not perfect, and even accounts of very recent events witnessed or experienced by an individual are highly suspect in terms of accuracy of detail. For example, eyewitnesses to such events as auto accidents, crimes, and the like often disagree as to what they recall (or think they recall). In addition, good story-telling almost always involves hyperbole and embellishment employed to heighten the dramatic appeal and/or to enhance the reputation of the narrator. Moreover, we know that oral communications, especially if they are long and complex, are seldom, if ever, retold in exactly the same way. Each person through whom a message passes acts as a kind of filter or refracting lens that can cause details to be lost or changed.
8. Revitalization movements provide a vivid illustration of how an ethnic group's beliefs can change in response to new conditions. Revitalization movements have often arisen in situations in which so-called traditional peoples have come into contact with, or have been dominated by, representatives of more powerful and technologically advanced societies. Revitalization movements represent conscious (or unconscious) attempts to rationalize perceived unfavorable conditions and to create new cultural syntheses responsive to situations in which old values, concepts, and forms of behavior have proven inadequate. Revitalization movements typically involve supernatural and mythical components, and often promise either the restoration of an imagined "golden age" or the creation of a glorious "new order." An example of this phenomenon is the Ghost Dance which spread among Native Americans in the late 19th century. It was believed that the Great Spirit had foretold that a tremendous earthquake would destroy Whites and Native Americans alike, but that the Native Americans (then referred to as "Indians") would be resurrected in three days to live thereafter in a state of plenty. For a time, this prophecy was widely believed by Native Americans but is no longer a generally accepted belief.
9. Similar processes of revitalization now appear to be at work in many areas of Native American culture. One example is the modern concept of a Pan-Indian brotherhood that discounts the historic divisions and animosities that once separated tribes. Other changes in Native American origin myths, legends and oral histories can be expected to result from the changing social, economic and political conditions that have confronted tribal organizations over the past several centuries.
10. Because folklore and oral tradition are subject to human control and change, their factual accuracy cannot be taken for granted. In some instances they may contain elements of historical truth, but critical analysis is needed to separate fact from fiction. Some of the considerations that should be taken into account in this regard include the following:
A. Purpose. As already noted above, folklore and oral tradition can serve a variety of different functions, and these functions can affect the factual accuracy of a story or account. Myths, origin accounts and legends generally have little, if any, basis in empirical facts.
B. Age. Due to the processes of cultural change, folklore and oral tradition tend to lose factual accuracy with the passage of time. Factual accuracy is rare in oral accounts older than 1000 years (and in many younger accounts as well).
C. External Evidence. Folklore and oral tradition should be compared to other lines of evidence relating to the event or issue in question. Oral accounts that are contrary to what is known from other sources should be discounted.
D. Improbables. Components of folklore and oral tradition that are so fantastic and improbable as to be entirely outside the realm of reality as it is generally understood must be viewed as articles of faith or interpreted symbolically. Most myths, origin accounts and legends fall within this category.
E. Method of Transmission. Some oral narratives, such as many Norse sagas and Polynesian chants made use of various mnemonic devices to improve recall and accuracy of transmission. When such devices were used, an oral narrative could retain its original structure and internal content for a long period of time. Narratives that did not employ systematic memory aids of this kind were subject to more rapid change, and could quickly lose whatever factual accuracy they once possessed.
F. Internal Consistency. Oral narratives should be analyzed for internal consistency and compared to the ethnic group's other oral traditions. Components that are internally inconsistent or that deviate from other oral traditions may represent transmission errors, conflicting traditions or modern embellishments.
G. Cultural Consistency. Oral narratives may contain components that are not consistent with the level of technology or cultural practices of the period in question. For example, a narrative may contain references to years or dates (e.g., we were created here 10,000 years ago) that were beyond the capabilities of a preliterate culture to count or record. For example, the counting systems of many preliterate groups consisted only of one, two and many. Likewise, narratives may contain references to cultural or scientific concepts (e.g., the evolution of species) that could not have been known by a preliterate hunter-gatherer society. Such components almost always reflect recent embellishments.
H. Prior Accounts. Oral narratives should be compared to any earlier accounts of the same narratives that may have been recorded by ethnographers, missionaries, travelers, etc. Inconsistencies between modern versions and the earlier accounts should be examined carefully. In many cases, they represent recent alterations that do not accurately reflect the group's original traditions.
I. Source of Account. Consideration should be given to the background of the individual telling the oral narrative. From whom did the teller learn the narrative being told? What kind of training in the group's oral traditions did the teller receive? Is he or she fluent in the native language? Does he or she know the rituals associated with the group's oral traditions? Narratives obtained from individuals who lack the appropriate qualifications may not be authentic or accurate.
11. Because of the central importance of folklore and oral tradition to an ethnic group's culture and identity, it is highly unlikely that any modern Native American tribe can have a "shared group identity" with a population that lived 9,200 years ago. The folklore and oral traditions of an ethnic group express the unique cultural identity of that group. They represent how the group views the world and itself, and the group's key values and ideology, cherished norms of behavior, social solidarity and/or group aspirations. The folklore and oral traditions of a group that lived 9,200 years ago will inevitably be very different from those of any group living today. There is no documented case of any culture that has survived over a period of 9,200 years. It is so unlikely as to appear impossible due to the numerous forces engendering culture change among all humans. Even urbanized, literate societies have not endured in unchanging configurations. For example, the Greeks of today are the carriers of a vastly different culture from that of the Greeks of the Classic period some 2500 years ago, and what has been preserved is due largely to the presence of a literate tradition. Among other things, modern Greek religion stems not from the ancient pagan traditions but from later Byzantine Christian beliefs. In addition, the language of classical Greece is so different it is not easily understood by modern Greeks.
12. The processes of cultural change are likely to be even more rapid and dramatic for preliterate hunter-gatherer societies since they do not have written records to help stabilize their language and customs. Over a span of 9,200 years, a hunter-gatherer society will cycle through at least 460 generations assuming its female members do not have their first child until the age of twenty (in many cases the actual average age of first conception may have been as early as thirteen or fourteen). The passage of that many generations would inevitably result in sweeping changes to the group's culture. The language spoken by its modern descendants, if there are any, would be so changed as to be unrecognizable by the ancestral populations. The same would be true for the group's folklore and oral traditions. Since individuals seldom if ever replicate an oral message exactly, it is hardly plausible that a myth or oral narrative would survive in any recognizable form after 460 generations.
13. Another impediment to cultural continuity over the span of 9,200 years is the probable lack of long-term geographic stability of New World prehistoric native peoples. It is now beginning to appear that there were significant migrations into the Americas beginning at least 12,000 years ago, and possibly much earlier as well. These movements appear to have occurred in waves, and the various waves may have differed from one another in terms of the biological, linguistic and cultural characteristics of their constituent populations. Significant cultural disruptions and changes are likely to have occurred whenever the members of these different waves came into contact with one another. Population movements from one geographic region to another did not end with the initial colonization of the New World, but rather continued throughout prehistory. For example, there is archaeological evidence indicating significant population movements in the Pacific Northwest over the past 7,000 years. Movements of native peoples in the United States were particularly pronounced following European contact, and continue even today as witnessed by the ongoing dispute between Hopi and Navaho over territory in the Southwest.
14. In addition, major cultural changes occurred due to the introduction of European diseases to which Native Americans had no natural immunities. The mortality rates stemming from these diseases were so high that many Native American groups were reduced in size by 50% or more, and in some cases entire populations succumbed. These demographic shocks were so pronounced that few indigenous cultural practices were left unaffected.
15. In summary, it is highly unlikely that contemporary Native American tribes can trace any direct cultural or social continuity to a population that lived 9,200 years ago. No culture has been known to have remained static for that period of time. To think that it occurred in the case of the Kennewick skeleton defies logic and human nature.
DATED this day of March, 2000.
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