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Ishi and Kroeber

  • Date Submitted: 03/02/2016 10:21 AM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 50.8 
  • Words: 1599
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Douglas Sackman’s book, Wild Men: Ishi and Kroeber in the Wilderness of Modern America, presents the story of Ishi, “the last uncontaminated man” (1915) and his relationship with anthropologist Alfred Kroeber.   Ishi was a Yahi Indian who lived in hiding from the modern world for more than forty years before finally walking out of the wilderness in the town of Oroville in California in August of 1911.
When Ishi emerged fromhiding in 1911 – the lone survivor of the massacres of the Yahi people – Kroeber was quick to volunteer himself to be Ishi’s guardian after he geard from an assistant that “this man is undoubtedly wild” and will make a “good exhibit for the public.” Ishi was given a room and a job at the museum and put him on display to his colleagues and public as “the most uncivilized man in the world today.”
Thousands of people showed up at the museum to watch Ishi making fires and constructing arrowheads, and tracked him through the local media, which followed all of his outings around town.   Sackman said that this obsessive interest in Ishi was related to “contemporary crazes for hunting, camping, and wilderness trekking.”   It is this intense interest in the “wildness” of Ishi and of what he represented that was a dominant theme in Sackman’s book.   As the nation was reaching almost complete civilaztion and modernizing all parts of industry, the American public was nostalgic for the wilderness that they had so recently dreamt of and subsequently settled.   Thye were experiencing a cultural anxiety about modernity, and the sight of a barefoot Indian dressed in a suit, attending the theater was a personification of the desire for the wild that many Americans wanted to maintain, yet still be civilized.   At the same time, they weren’t comfortable with an Indian who was fully wild, just as they didn’t want to fully return to the wilderness themselves.   His partial assimilation – wearing a suit, learning some common language, participating in modern activities –...

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