A Cross-Cultural Look at Child-Stealing Witches

Date

2000

Authors

Bird, Sonya

Journal Title

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Volume Title

Publisher

Coyote Papers

Abstract

One of the important figures in Lummi mythology is Ch'eni, the Giant Woman (Ts'uXaelech) who comes during the night and steals children. When I first read the story of Ch'eni, I was struck by the similarity of this story to the well-known German tale by the Grimm brothers, 'Hansel and Gretel'. In fact, the story of Ch'eni is at first glance remarkably similar to several other children's tales in various cultures across the world. The goal of this paper is to explore the more subtle similarities and differences between the Lummi story and other stories in different cultures, in terms of the content of the discourse and the structure of the discourse used in the texts. We shall see that the Lummi story is in fact quite unique in its combination of elements of discourse content and structure. This makes the apparent similarity between it and other stories from around the world even more striking. Indeed, despite the numerous differences in terms of how the basic theme of the story is developed in Lummi and other cultures, the theme comes across clearly in all of the stories. This leads the reader (or listener) to mistakenly conclude that not only the main theme, but all aspects of the different stories are the same. The structure of the paper is as follows: in section 2, I outline the Lummi story of Ch'eni. In section 3, I discuss the content of this story, comparing it to that of /q'ɬəmáiəs/ in Sooke, Mosquito in Tlingit, Ho'ok in Tohono O'odham, Baba Yaga in Russian, Hansel and Gretel in German, and Yamamba in Japanese.' Finally, in section 4, I compare the discourse structure of the Lummi story to that in the other stories mentioned above.

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Citation

Bird, S. (2000). A Cross-Cultural Look at Child-Stealing Witches. Coyote Papers: Working Papers in Linguistic, Special Volume on Native American Languages, 11, 1-23. http://hdl.handle.net/10150/226602