A review of "Where the Echo Began and Other Traditions from Southwestern Alaska recorded by Hans Himmelheber," edited by Ann Fienup-Riordan. (Hard cover, $39.95, University of Alaska Press, Fairbanks).
"Where the Echo Began" is not a new book, but a new compilation in English translation of the important work of ethnographer and art historian Hans Himmelheber among the Eskimos of Nunivak Island. It was originally released in German as separate publications, one book and three articles. It includes the contents of his book "The Frozen Path: Myths, Tales and Legends of the Eskimos."
Ann Fienup-Riordan, an anthropologist and author who lives in Anchorage and has spent considerable time herself among the peoples of Southwestern Alaska, has annotated Himmelheber's work and provides background on his life and cultural and linguistic context for the traditions he documented. She provides an entire chapter on Himmelhaber's difficulties with the language he was trying to translate with a translator who spoke it as his second language. Diagrams, a thorough Index and a map help to round out the contents.
Born in 1908, Hans Himmelheber was intrigued by the work of indigenous artists and the character of non-Western art. He conducted extensive fieldwork in Africa. He gathered the 35 legends and tales of "The Frozen Path" in Alaska during the ten months of 1936-37 that he lived and worked here. He spent a winter on Nunivak Island and gathered the remainder of the stories from Yup'ik-speaking people living in and around Bethel.
Valuable aspects of "Where the Echo Began" include a full account of a bladder festival, day-by-day and hour-by-hour, plus stories of mice, trees, walrus, gluttons, hunting, needlefish, shamans, and how Raven created Nunivak Island.
The black and white photos that illustrate the book were taken by Himmelheber, and most have never been published before. These superb period photos alone make investigating this book worth the browser's time.
For more about Himmelheber's research in Alaska, read "Eskimo Artists," published in Germany in 1938 but not translated into English until 1987. It is available in an English paperback edition printed in 1993 by the University of Alaska Press. See their Web site at www.uaf.edu/uapress.
Ann Chandonnet can be reached at email@example.com