Trump: Heir to Irving and Astor

The making of White America is tied to “Othering” and the “Other” was not solely the African-Americans, but also I will argue the French-speaking Canadian and Métis the Americans met while pushing westwards were also presented as less than truly masculine, an antithesis to the “true” American. They were disparaged by Washington Irving who in turn presented a fabulously wealthy immigrant of German origins as being a true patriot, a visionary American, thus creating a “White American” template that would be followed by later generations up to and including the new President-elect, Donald Trump.

A rich capitalist New York landlord of German ancestry, looked West and saw savages and foreigners sullying the lands. He commissioned a book which would define a nation and he would ensure that the ideal American would be White, English-speaking and masculine. This is not president-elect Donald Trump, but the 19th century businessman and real estate tycoon John Jacob Astor. Whereas Trump had The Art of the Deal ghostwritten, Astor commissioned Washington Irving to write Astoria to define the nation, and put in their place the detested foreigners, largely French-speaking Canadien, Créole and Métis. Trump is their legacy; the whitened, Anglo-washed and highly gendered country over which he seeks to preside is built upon writing out of American history, among others, them and their descendents.

While much ink, virtual and real, has been devoted to analyzing the causes of Trump’s rise, nothing has been said as to the longer historical currents which gave rise to Trump. For close to two centuries, a mythic American nation has been constructed, one built on a foundation of fear mixed with unbridled national exuberance. Trump is the heir to a much longer narrative history where the United States had to be made “American” and the true heroes of the Republic were the archetypal blonde and bronzed Anglo-American self-made men.

Johann Jakob Astor, anglicized to John Jacob Astor, emigrated from Germany to England and then to New York after the American Revolution. From hawking pianos, to entering the fur trade, Astor would convert the wealth derived from the western fur trade to buy vast tracts of land in the small borough of Manhattan. He would become in effect New York’s original real estate mogul and the Astor family would become America’s wealthiest family. Astor was America’s first multi-millionaire. His wealth was also built by leveraging monies made in the fur trade to finance opium smuggling to China as Astor used his global trade networks to ensure greater profits.

What is forgotten is how his wealth was made in the American fur trade. Whereas in Canada the beaver was placed on the nickel as a reminder to how the wealth was acquired through the global trade in beaver pelts used to make the fashionable felt hats, Astor’s wealth in Manhattan was also built on trade in furs. To achieve this, Astor allied himself with prominent French speakers, Créole and Canadien, in the west served as middlemen in the movement of furs from distant outposts to the global market. Astor allied himself with the founding family of St. Louis, the Chouteau clan, to ensure that the American Fur Company would prosper, then sold his interests prior to the collapse of beaver pelt prices. The Chouteau family, in turn, called upon the thousands of French speaking voyageurs and traders to ensure that the coveted pelts would be obtained in trade with the indigenous nations of the American West. The French speaking Canadien and Métis were that century’s “Mexican,” that is to say a cheap labor force enabling the growing wealth of prosperous American elites.

Had he been native born, Astor would certainly have run for president, but he had to settle on Washington Irving aided by his nephew Pierre Munroe Irving to promulgate, in Astoria, his idealized America. Irving had to take what had been a failure, the Pacific Fur Company venture, and spin it into a nation-building endeavor whereby Astor’s vision had facilitated the expansion of the American enterprise to the Pacific. While aggrandizing Astor, Irving would denigrate in his 1836 treatise the very men who had ensured Astor his wealth. He essentially presented the Canadien voyageurs as somewhat childish, largely savage souls whose culture was destined to quickly disappear. He describes the inhabitants of Missouri’s frontier outpost in these terms: “[the] population at St. Louis even still more motley than that at Mackinaw. Here were to be seen about the river banks, the hectoring, extravagant, bragging boatmen of the Mississippi [i.e. French-speaking Créoles], with the gay, grimacing, singing, good-humoured [French-] Canadian voyageurs.” Mackinaw was originally the French fort of Michilimackinac located on the strait separating Upper and Lower Michigan which was home to a large French speaking and Métis, or mixed French and Indian, community.

Throughout his works, Washington Irving continually degrades the French speakers who are still dominant in cities as Saint Louis, New Orleans and he even quantifies the superiority of the true American in The Adventures of Captain Bonneville by quoting an unnamed trader stating that “I consider one American,” said he, “equal to three Canadians, in point of sagacity, aptness at resources, self-dependence, and fearlessness of spirit.” The French-Canadians lack the nobility and the masculinity of the idealized Anglo-American, and the description of these men eerily parallels the descriptions of the contemporary American “other”, be they Mexican or Muslim. Like the Canadiens, Créoles and Métis of yesteryear, these contemporary “foreigners” are too emotional, too vain, too lazy, too dishonest to truly measure up to the idealized Anglo-American.

The works of Irving were serialized in newspapers and five-and-dime novels which lionized the true Americans of the West who were spreading “civilization” The French speakers who had been so central to this history were largely forgotten. The film How the West Was Won completely erased them form the narrative. Only an unexplained “Jacques” is thrown out as all references to the French language and the French-Canadian, Créoles and Métis, among others, are bleached out of that generation’s epic film.

In forgetting the French, the American narrative also lost a telling model of multiculturalism. Not beholden to ideals of racial purity, the French had formed unions with women from the continent’s indigenous nations. Freed French-speaking slaves such as a John, likely Jean, Brazeau could become successful traders during the free trade era. One could also be fully Canadian in the American West, even if one’s ancestry was largely Native American. French was the lingua franca of the continent of that era. In addition to his own language, the Canadien invariably spoke one or more indigenous languages. They willingly adopted indigenous cultural practices.

One telling case occurred in the 1830s, when Alexis de Tocqueville chose to travel to the “wilderness.” Here he meets a man clad fully as an “Indian” who walks up to him and addresses him in French with a “Normand” accent. The French erudite is stunned, noting that he would not have been less shocked had his horse spoken to him in his native language. The man explains to him how he has a [French-] Canadian father and Indian mother. Tocqueville notes how a singular race of Métis was rampant across both the Canadian and American frontiers.

By forgetting the multicultural, multilingual and multiracial past which was that of the United States, the myth of a White America came to dominate the national narrative. In this myth, the White, Anglo-American was not racially mixed. To use modern Alt-Right code words, these were the true “Alpha” males. In this narrative of the American past, the Anglo-Americans were the true men, and their aggrandizement must not be forgotten. It is this narrative which continues to inspire many, and certainly contributed in part to Trump’s stunning victory. Both Astor and Irving would be proud!

By Dr. Michel Bouchard, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Northern British Columbia and co-author of the book Songs Upon the Rivers: The Buried History of the French-Speaking Canadiens and Métis from the Great Lakes and the Mississippi across to the Pacific (Baraka Books, 2016).

Russian Animated Films and Nationalism of the New Millennium: The Russian Phoenix Rising from the Ashes

Russian Animated Films and Nationalism of the New Millennium:

The Russian Phoenix Rising from the Ashes

I continue working on the chapter and the end is in sight. I have analyzed the films and I have brought in the literature review. Now, I have a bit of history to add as well as a conclusion, but it is almost there. 

Awed by Mickey Mouse and the animation of Walt Disney in the 1930s, the Soviet Union quickly became a world leader in the field of animated films. At its apogee, thousands of illustrators toiled to produce a myriad of films, but after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the industry fell into disarray. In the 1990’s the animated film industry came close to extinction, as the market was flooded with pirated, usually poorly dubbed, films sold in corner kiosks, while Mexican and Brazilian soap operas became the staple of television. As oil prices soared and as a burgeoning petrostate Russia recovered from the chaotic 1990s, the Russian state encouraged and promoted the revival of an indigenous film industry. Under Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, a new generation of children’s animated films was produced drawing upon older themes while integrating new foreign influences, notably the dual voice whereby films had parallel narratives that appealed to adults as well as children. Too banal for most researchers, animated films are often ignored in the analysis of nationalism. Yet, animated films destined, partially or wholly, for children contribute to defining the nation as well as gendered roles and national ideals. This chapter will provide a short history of animated films in both the Soviet Union and Russia and will analyze the ways in which gender and nation are both caricatured and reaffirmed in the pseudo-history presented in contemporary Russian animated films that are set in ancient Rus. Noble men fight to defend the motherland from the enemies that surround the state, while the women look pretty and do the housework. In spite of the clichés that predominate, children films can occasionally cautiously and subtly parody contemporary Russian politics, promoting a potential rethinking of political norms among adults and providing new cultural and social models for the coming generation.

DVDs and the Russian Market

Unlike the Soviet Union which was closed off to the larger global marketplace, Russian films must compete with foreign, read American, productions, continually having to play catch-up, whether it is the shift to computer animation, blue-ray DVD and now 3-D animated films. All the while, Russian production companies could not generate revenues from the sale of DVDs comparable to foreign companies as lax copyright laws and the wide scale distribution of pirated films minimized the revenues that could be generated once the film was released and no longer being shown on screen in the dwindling number of movie theaters. Alternate sources of funding were necessary and in the case of Russia, this revenue came from the state directly or indirectly. With new funding, Russian animated children’s movies once again are being produced, but the DVD market remains shackled by the lax enforcement of copyright laws in Russia. Whereas Disney and other companies will pursue any violations of copyright laws to ensure that full-length feature films are not pirated and posted to YouTube, it is still relatively easy to watch online full-length Russian films released often within months and with new DVD players it is possible to watch these films directly from the internet to television as high-speed internet has become quite widespread across Russia. As such, existing Russian DVD’s are quite rudimentary, limited to the film and a few trailers to advertise upcoming films as market forces limit the profitability of investing in the production of DVDs. Nonetheless, for the state this is a moot point as it matters little if the film is watched in the theater, on DVD or online, as what matters is that there be an indigenous film industry, preferably one that will reinforce allegiance to the state through the promotion of a revived Russian patriotism.

Nationalism, Children and Popular Culture

In the 1980s, there was a shift in the study of nationalism, a domain that had traditionally been the preserve of political scientists and macro-sociologists and national historians (Stephens 1997:7) that focused on nationalism through the prism of the political, as anthropologists and others began to study nationalism as a social and symbolic phenomena that was rooted in cultural practices. The focus of the work that came out in the 1980s was on the constructed nature of the nation and national traditions, whether imagined (Anderson 1983) or invented (Hobsbawm 1983; Hobsbawm 1990; Hobsbawm et Ranger 1983) or otherwise constructed (Gellner 1983). The main preoccupation of research was demonstrating that nations were not “primordial,” that they were modern, and that quite often it was the state that was the agent that was constructing the nation (Brubaker 1996; Greenfeld 1992; Laitin 1998). The one author who provided a dissenting voice was Anthony D. Smith who examined the nation as developing out of existing communities, being perennial as opposed to either modern constructs or primordial unchanging artifacts, and quite often tied to larger cultural forces, notably religion (Smith 1986; Smith 1991; Smith 1999; Smith 2003; Smith 2008). Elsewhere, I have put forward the metaphor of nations being curated, that is to say that new narratives are created out of older discourses, and this will be applied to that analysis of Russian animated films as an act that is not pure invention, rather it is the reworking of older narratives that are then integrated into the worldview of both children and adults.

Though the interest in the study of nationalism quickly took off and numerous scholars have studied the phenomena, the study of children and nationalism has received little attention and the phenomena that will be examined in this chapter, nationalism and popular animated films, have received even less scholarly focus. One of the scholars who did guide the still developing field of children and nationalism is Sharon Stephens (1995; Stephens 1997) who edited Children and the Politics of Culture and the special issue “Children and nationalism” for the journal Childhood. These two publications initiated the study of how children negotiate questions of identity, ethnic and national, and quite often hinges on studying children as active social actors who actively participate in the negotiation of national identities in their daily lives (Cangià 2012; Christou et Spyrou 2012; Hart 2002; Hecht 2012; Huber et Spyrou 2012; Leonard 2012; Spyrou 2011; Waldron et Pike 2006). The research that is coming of age quite often uses ethnographic methods, both observing and interviewing children, to better understand how they understand their social universe and understand, negotiate, and integrate ethnic and national narratives in their daily lives.

Though the literature on children and nationalism is limited, the analysis of popular culture, animated films, children’s movies and nationalism is even more restrained. Tim Edensor (2002) builds upon the work of Michael Billig (1995) in his seminal work National Identity, Popular Culture and Everyday Life to study the nexus of popular culture, national identity and everyday life. As he writes: “Curiously, despite the rise of Cultural Studies as an academic discipline, few have attempted to address the more dynamic, ephemeral and grounded ways in which nation is experienced and understood through popular culture” (Edensor 2002:vi). Yet, even in this groundbreaking work, Edensor (2002) ignores completed children’s movies and the popular culture. This is certainly a glaring oversight as popular children’s television and movies truly “constitute a shared referential resource, and shared discursive formations” defining a national community. A Canadian of a given generation can easily identify a fellow national by referring to a “tickle trunk” a prop that was central to one of Canada’s longest-running children’s television show, Mr. Dressup that ran from 1967 to 1996 on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Though scholars have been slow to examine the relationship between children’s popular culture and nationalism, states have quickly understood the power of popular culture. Indonesia, used children’s literature to promote a national culture and language while buttressing the centralized and paternalistic and dictatorial power of president (Shiraishi 1995). In recent years, South Korea and China have sought to limit the diffusion of foreign animated films in their countries (Ishii 2013). China during the Cultural Revolution quickly understood the power of animated films as the children’s film Sparkling Red Star provides a telling example as to how the agency of children is linked to nationalism. Xu Xu (2011:403) describes the hero as the ideal child who “is neither a passive receptacle of adult indoctrination nor an exact copy of the adult” and how this film has become a classic now being shown by the parents who loved it as children to their offspring to inculcate national ideals to prepare them for the new post-Mao China. In this past decade, China has been investing heavily in forming a new generation of animators and has sought to block the importation of foreign animated films since 2006, notably the very popular Japanese anime, to the Chinese market. The goal remains the same, promoting a form of Chinese nationalism as the state seeks to satisfy notably the “spiritual and cultural requirements of the Chinese people, promoting the advanced culture of socialism, providing morality and ethics education for children” (Ishii 2013:227). These moral and cultural aims are tied to the economic ambitions of the state, promoting the development of local industry while striving to produce cultural content that could be exported globally. Given such considerations, it should not be a surprise that the Russian state would seek to promote the revival of its animated film industry following its virtual collapse in the 1990s.

Russian Nationalism and Animated Films

Natalie Kononenko (2011) builds upon the work of Henry Giroux (1994) to analyze the ideology that lay behind Soviet animated films, highlighting that too often researchers too easily overlooked the propaganda behind children’s films as these were cloaked under the soft covering of “innocence.” Giroux (1994:24) was critical of the works of Walt Disney and others, remarking that: “Under the rubric of fun, entertainment, and escape, massive public spheres are being produced which appear too ‘innocent’ to be worthy of analysis.” As Kononenko (2011:275-276) highlights, American animated films taught or teach children to disparage people of color, those whose English is not standard (Giroux 2002:120), while presenting the housewife-in-the-making role model to young girls (Giroux 2002:114). All the while, the Disney model encourages unbridled consumerism encouraging children and their parents to buy panoply of film-related goods including DVDs. Kononenko’s analysis covers the Soviet history of animated film and specifically the use of folklore in films and she also examines the transition of the industry in the contemporary Russian state. Her research largely ends, where this chapter begins with the first of the Tri Bogatyria films released in 2004.  Though there are some shifts that have occurred in the meantime, there is nonetheless continuity in the national discourse that is evident in the history of Russian and Soviet animated films.

One of the continuities that remain is the way in which animated films depict ideal femininity.  In Soviet animated films, the ideal was “passive, gentle, self-sacrificing femininity” and “cartoon heroines are passive and submissive—and very hardworking” (Kononenko 2011:277). As shall be discussed later in the chapter, the women depicted as the wives of the warrior-heroes are perhaps more active, but they nonetheless know their place in the gender hierarchy, active when necessary to save their husbands or future husbands, yet demure enough to ensure that it is their husbands who achieve glory. They are “broads” after all. Though post-Soviet Russian animated films have become more violent, the depiction of non-Russian nationalities follows the Soviet pattern of creating ethnic hierarchies. Kononenko examines how Ukrainians were invariably depicted as “quaint and folksy” (2011:289). She rightfully notes that the Asian-looking Tatars are depicted as “fat, buck-toothed, dark-skinned and greedy” in the first of the Tri Bogatyria films (Kononenko 2011:291). Finally, she remarks that Putin’s policies are reflected in Russian animated films, with the choice of heroic epic heroes tying Russia to the distant past makes Russia seem ancient, the heirs of a thousand-year history. Also, the idealization of the warrior-heroes emphasizes military prowess, while the new films are hip, the new films being Putin’s answer to Shrek exuding contemporary cool. The new films are nonetheless as ideological as what the Soviet Union produced. “Hidden behind the references to heroic epic, the bright colors, the modern music, and the wisecracking horse are cultural and political messages worthy of Soviet ideology” (Kononenko 2011:290-291). This ideology will be deconstructed to examine how banal children films are laying the foundation for a revived and invigorated Russian nationalism.

Stephen Norris documents the rise of the Russian blockbuster, which is tied to the creation and spread of the modern multiplex that relies on the best of technology to draw in viewers while producing Russian mass movies that fill the seat in the revived business of making and marketing movies. The rise of the Russian blockbuster is tied to Russian politics and ascending nationalism. “The birth of blockbuster history—or the way American cultural practices could be adapted to make Russian historical epics—parallels the rise of Putin and the resurgence of Russian political nationalism” (Norris 2012:5). The film Kniaz’ Vladimir or Prince Vladimir (Kulakov 2004) is emblematic of the marriage of nationalism and animation in Putin’s Russia: the project was blessed by the Russian Orthodox Patriarch in 1998, production was started at the end of 1999 and was funded by the Russian state in 2000 as the project was given the status of “national film” thus bringing together the Church and the State as Vladimir Putin rose to power as the new president of the Russian Federation (Norris 2012:220).  Russian animation truly rose as a Phoenix out of the ashes, as Stephen Norris chronicles, the Soviet Animated Film Studio lost 90 percent of its staff in the 1990s, and chaos reigned in the 1990s as the new director, who would eventually be arrested, pillaged the studios looting the studios and granting DVD rights to an American company in exchange for restoring the Soviet animated films, with none of the profits returning to the studio (Norris 2012:217-218). The Soviet tradition was effectively dead by the end of the 1990s and the surprising revival of the industry was tied to “new techniques and new heroes” (Norris 2012:219) as well as the rising prices in global oil and commodity prices which filled the Russian state’s coffers.

The Three Warrior-Heroes

[Lit review on the bogatyrya or warrior heroes of Russian history and folklore]

The Double Audience and the Rebirth of Russian Animated Films

In Russia, children’s animation had a slow start. At an animation festival held in Moscow in 1934, Walt Disney sent some short films featuring Mickey Mouse. Impressed by Disney’s animations, Soviet officials decided that the Soviet Union must have its Mickey Mouse—though naturally stripped of his Bourgeois trappings [must add sources]. In 1935 the Soviet Union established the Union of Children Animated Films (Soyuzdetmultfilm then the name was changed to Soyuzmultfilm), and this institution would reign until the collapse of the Soviet Union. The early years of children’s animation were marked by Socialist realism, whereby animation was used as a dry teaching tool to properly teach children the essentials of Socialist life or to depict folk tales. The real break from Socialist realism would come in the 1950s with the production of The Snow Queen (Snezhnaya koroleva), a 1957 Soviet animated film directed by Lev Atamanov. A global classic based on the work of Hans Christian Andersen, the film was dubbed into English and enjoyed considerable success in the West. With clear parallels to Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, The Snow Queen was intended for both children and adults; at the surface, a drama meant to be viewed by the entire family.

As was the case in the West, the animated classic films were invariably written for a uniform audience. The Snow Queen was a dramatic animated film able to appeal to both children and adults, as was the case with the Walt Disney animations that were popular in the United States in the 1950s. Family films were generally in the form of dramas mixed with some comedy, which could appeal to all ages, animated slapstick comedies that were also easily understood by all, or animated films that were meant solely for children. In the Soviet Union, we see a variety of films that could appeal to different ages. As noted, films such as The Snow Queen were meant for all and were film classics in their own right. Then, there were the animated series such as Nu, pogodi, an animated slapstick comedy featuring a wolf and a hare. There was also children’s programming involving stop motion animated figures, including a crocodile and a mysterious creature, Сheburashka. The latter was clearly intended for children, though it became popular with contemporary adults as it satisfied nostalgic yearnings for a return to childhood.

The significant change in animated films in recent years is the shift from a single audience animated film to a double audience film, a film where humor is aimed at distinctly different audiences. Such films are now standard fare to North American moviegoers. Films such as Shrek draw large audiences of both children and adults. The humor includes veiled sexual innuendo that will titillate adult audiences while remaining unnoticed by the children in attendance. Such films target a dual audience by providing a level of content that will appeal to and be understood by only adults, while at the same time providing humor that can be understood and appreciated by both adults and children. After a somewhat fitful start, Russian animated movies are adopting these practices. The wholesale adoption of American practices signals both the resistance to American cultural hegemony while adopting the forms of the American consumer culture they resisted (Norris 2012:15)  In the current age of computer-generated animation, Russian animated films are making a comeback in Russian movie theaters a bit more than a decade after the collapse of the industry in the 1990s. The film that marks the onset of the resurgence of Russian popular animated films destined for the mass market was Kniaz’ Vladimir or Prince Vladimir (Kulakov 2004), the first truly successful mass audience Russian animated film of the new millennium. Not only did it speak to both adult and children, it also heralded a revival of the historical animated film as a venue for promoting a reinvigorated Russian patriotism. Filmmakers would adopt styles that are reminiscent of Shrek, while still conforming to “the cultural obsessions with patriotism and the past” (Norris 2012:16).

The Russian film Prince Vladimir was premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2004 and released in Russia in 2006 and became a box office success, grossing over 150 million rubles (approximately $5.3 million). Though a paltry revenue figure by Disney standards, it was a princely sum for a Russian domestic film, though the sums collected at the box office allowed the film to effectively break even as the film cost roughly $5 million to produce, leaving a profit of a few hundred thousand dollars. However, the production was financed by the Russian state. What is striking about the film is the apparent mixing of genres to appeal to both older audiences as well as children. The protagonist of the film, though animated, is depicted as a very lifelike—though larger-than-life— human. He participates in animated battle scenes that feature realistic depictions of warriors being maimed and killed. Indeed, one of his warriors even kills Vladimir’s own brother before his eyes before he could stay his sword, betrayed by the trickery of a cunning sorcerer. Such scenes are clearly not intended for children, as well as those scenes that refer to the Perun’s sorcerer and allude to the ancient Slavic gods using images and vocabulary that would be understood only with great difficulty by children. Interspersed between the moments of high drama, however, are scenes that could best be described as comic relief aimed at a younger audience. Two brothers who play the role of buffoons, for example, are animated in classic cartoonish style, and are seen fighting off hundreds of Pechenegs each grabbing a tree trunk as a club against their enemy. The violence in these scenes is not realistic, and these scenes would be much better suited to young children. Thus, the film can be considered a double audience film, though the animation shifts between animated realism and cartoon surrealism. In the later series that we shall examine, that of the three warrior heroes, Tri Bogatyria, the realism has been largely eliminated in favor of humor and dialogue directed at a dual audience, with some of the humor clearly intended for a much older audience, while other puns and slapstick comedic elements are destined to appeal to children. Though they do not rely on overt sentimentalism of the history of Kievan Rus, the films featuring the three warrior heroes nonetheless have an underlying discourse that affirms not only Russian national ideals, but also—as we will examine more closely—national gender ideals.

In the film The Three Warrior Heroes and the Shamanic Czarina (Glezin 2010) there are two telling scene that demonstrates the ways in which the film is targeting an adult audience— and a relatively well-educated audience, at that. In one scene, we see one of the warrior-heroes wearing his reading glasses, sitting at a desk surrounded by piles of papers and typing away as his wife, a chronicler, dictates an account that could easily have been taken from The Primary Chronicle, one of the foundational documents of Kyivan[1] or Kievan Rus. To fully understand the humor, it is necessary to understand a bit of the history of Kievan Rus as well as the true nature of the anachronism being presented. Adults will know the typewriter as trope, yet children watching the film may have never seen one. Russia, like North America, has moved to the use of computers for word processing. The adult viewing this scene will also understand that as the typewriter would be an anachronism in the present, it would also have been an anachronism in medieval Rus. The humor thus rests on understanding the double anachronism. In another scene, the Prince is beset by boredom and decides to go inspect Kiev’s library. A crow sent by the Shamanic czarina drops a feather that magically transforms into a book that entitled Generation “X” [Pokoleniie “Kh”]. The Prince asks why Generation “Kh,” naturally pronouncing the “X” as the equivalent Russian letter. His talking horse, who is also Kiev’s librarian, answers that it is because they live in the tenth century. The humor of the scene is quite multilayered, and to fully understand the joke it would be necessary for a Russian speaker to have heard of the book Generation X, requiring a relatively high level of literacy and knowledge of foreign literature—something a child would not be expected to know and understand. At this point in the film a photo drops out of the book, with a short note on the back that mocks what would normally be found on a dating site or the older classified ads that predated them. Once again, the humor is clearly not aimed at children, but rather at adults who will have the knowledge to be able to fully understand all its nuances.

Where the dual audience is most evident is when humor is presented that deals with issues of gender and nationality. Here, the humor subtly makes light of entrenched Russian expectations and ideals regarding gender and gender roles—while still cementing those same gendered divisions of labor, highlighting that defending the homeland is the true nature of men. It thus uses existing gender inequalities to appeal to adult audiences without challenging per se the legitimacy of those inequalities. Likewise, the films also present highly stereotyped images of other peoples (notably Africans and Asians) while subtly poking fun at the contemporary Russian tendency to blindly and slavishly follow European and American trends. Quite often, this humor relies upon a subtle understanding of history and language, an understanding that would be beyond the normal comprehension of children, thus clearly targeting the adult viewers. The lesson that the makers of the Tri Bogatyria films have obviously learned is that it is best to appeal to a dual audience to ensure profitability while avoiding the appearance of openly challenging cultural expectations when it comes to issues of gender and nation.

Gender and Nation

The series of films the Tri Bogatyria seeks to define the nation, and thus nationalism, in a way Michael Billig would describe as “banal nationalism,” or the articulation of nation and the shaping of allegiance to the nation though the mundane events of everyday life. The bogatyr warrior heroes are by definition the idealized personification of the masculine ethos in society. Their role is to defend the motherland, and they are revered for their bravery and their sacrifice to the nation. These warrior heroes are not gender neutral, but rather, we will argue, a symbol of the masculine ideal.  The contemporary children’s films both poke fun at the ways in which gender is articulated, while affirming that men and women must occupy different stations in society—if anything, the male warrior-hero must be wary of women who, through deceit or witchery, can emasculate the hero (even to the point where he is made to perform housework).

One of the telling scenes from the latest installment of the Tri Bogatyria films, Tri Bogatyria na dalnikh berega [Three Warrior Heroes on a Distant Shore] (Feoktistov 2012), is one where the warrior heroes are trapped by magic in a massive barrel and set afloat on the ocean. They end up in a distant land, presumably on the African continent. In their stead, the villains—a man pretending to be a German merchant, and his sorceress mother—replace the warrior heroes with copies of our heroes.  These simulacra drive a wedge between the populace and the prince, who subsequently goes into hiding in Kiev. The turning point in the epic is when one of the wives orders her husband to help out with the housework by mopping the floor. To her surprise, then clumsily runs off to get a bucket and he begins mopping the floor. At this moment, the gender roles having been transgressed, the wife is clearly distressed: though she may ask him to help her, never does she expect him to actually do any housework, work that is clearly defined as women’s work. Nonetheless, it is his failure to refuse to do housework that clues her in to the fact that he is not her husband. Shining a light on him, she sees that he casts no shadow, confirming that he is a false copy created by unclean forces. She then runs to find the other wives, who have discovered in turn that their husbands are not the real warrior-heroes, as real warrior-heroes do not follow the commands of their wives, and they most certainly do not do work defined as women’s work.

The implicit division of all work along gender lines is also evident in the earlier film Tri bogatyria i Shamanskaia tsaritsa [Three Warrior Heroes and the Shamanic Czarina] (Glezin 2010) when, at the beginning of the scene, the same warrior-hero is training for warfare while his wife is busily doing household chores. The scenes humorously jump between the husband and the wife: he practicing to strike blows with his sword, she beating the carpet clean using the same strokes. As he practices a fatal sword blow with is stick and wooden dummy, she chops wood in parallel fashion.  When she asks for his help, however, he refuses, as this would be women’s work. He uses the less respectful term “babskaia,” derived from the Russian word baba for woman, a word comparable to the term “broad” in English, and adds that he is tired of sitting at home. He, like the other warrior-heroes, yearns for battle; we see evidence of this in a scene where another warrior-hero is putting up wallpaper with battle scenes until his wife threatens to leave him to go live with her mother if he doesn’t put up the wallpaper with flowers. Clearly, the scene has two parallel narratives: one for the adult viewers, and one for the children. Each audience sees different humor in the scene, but both will understand the cultural value being articulated that true men do not let themselves be polluted by tasks allocated to women, as the only true calling for men is to prepare for war as required to defend the homeland. To do otherwise is a form of emasculation, and warrior-heroes must be very wary, as women will manipulate the weak, the foolish, or the bewitched.

The films serve to reaffirm the social divisions between men and women in Russian society, while acting as a source of comedy. One underlying theme is the danger of feminine sorcery. In the film the Three Warrior Heroes and the Shamanic Czarina (Glezin 2010), the plot is built upon the premise that brown-eyed witches can use their powers to bewitch. Once accomplished, they can then bring about ruin. In this film, the Czarina succeeds in bewitching the prince. Under her spell, he is ready to give her his lands and seeks to marry her. She is, of course, the old hag of folklore, who uses magic to project the illusion of a dark-haired, dark-eyed lustrous beauty. In the end, she must flee when her true image is revealed. Even the warrior-heroes are powerless against her magic, and her downfall is ultimately her own greed; she turns into a blue-eyed baby, having eaten too many of the magic fruit that she produces using the tears of blue-eyed Russian damsels to fertilize her tree of youth. In the film The Warrior Heroes on a Distant Shore, the male villain is a pitiable sort, suffering under the heel of his sorceress mother. He is short and squat, and otherwise a derisory fellow, following the orders of his mother. He is essentially the polar opposite of the idealized male warrior hero—the anti-hero par excellence, the emasculated male, who is easily defeated once his mother’s powers have been neutralized.

Just as the bogatyria are instances of the ideal male, their wives can be seen as ideal women. They vary, of course, in height and looks, and unlike the shamanic Czarina, they cannot be qualified as sultry or seen as seductresses. As Natalie Kononenko (2011:291) notes, the love interests of the warrior-heroes of the contemporary films under study here are “as modest as any of the heroines from the golden age of Russian [Soviet] animation” and though they are less passive, and did walk away from their heroes in some scenes, they always return as marriage is their path to happiness. The wives of the warrior-heroes and the good women of Kievan Rus are certainly not depicted as unattractive, but their beauty is wholesome, a blue-eyed pure beauty as opposed to the seductive and Orientalized foreign czarina. These wives proudly stand in the shadows of their warrior husbands. Sometimes they must prod them, manipulate them, even occasionally come to their succor, but the women are not warrior-heroes; indeed, they are faithful wives, prone to emotion. They are willing to fight, and at times they will cry a deluge of tears, but their task is to support the glory of their husbands. As the ideal women, they are certainly not spoiled czarinas; they cook, they wash, they beat rugs, and they even chop wood and perform other domestic tasks requiring strength and power. Despite this strength, they never touch a sword. When do battle, they pick up the tools of women, notably rolling pins or pots and pans. The wives are often depicted as wily, and one of the wives is clearly depicted as smarter than her warrior-husband, but together their true role is to support their husbands’ glory. This is evident in the first film that recounts the history of Aliosha [Alexander] Popovich. In the film, it is not Aliosha who defeats the enemy, the formidable Turagin warrior, but rather his future wife, her grandmother, grandfather, and their ass. Nevertheless, when Aliosha regains consciousness Liubava tells him that he defeated the enemy, thus preserving his ego and putting him securely on the warrior–hero pedestal. The primary concern, thus, is to assuage the male ego, too easily bruised, lest the warrior fail at his task and have to be saved by women and the elderly.

If anything, the underlying discourse of the film series upholds existing male biases prevalent in Russian society. Though the inequalities are certainly used as a source of humor—notably in that humor directed at the adult half of the dual audience—the films do not challenge the existing inequalities. In the dual audience mode, as discussed, the films address the issue of gendered roles in a manner appealing to the humor of an adult audience, using an ironic depiction of the highly arbitrary division of labor into women’s and men’s work. At the same time, this depiction serves to enculturate proper ideals of gendered work in the new generation, the children. It does this while also affirming that the ideal male role is to be a warrior defending the nation. This is perhaps not surprising, as the team responsible for creating the films is composed entirely of men.

From this perspective, the fate of the women of Pussy Riot, tried and convicted in Russia for staging a protest song in the Christ the Savior Cathedral, was certainly shaped by the larger cultural narrative whereby women must not seek leadership roles or defy male leadership and authority. If they were placed in the context of the children animated movies, they would invariably be cast as the “sorceress” as opposed to the idealized role of the wives of the warrior-heroes. The Russian population’s lack of sympathy for the trio put on trial certainly attests to the antipathy they encountered in the populace. They sought to defy the state, to take the lead in the protest; however, unlike the good wives of the warrior-heroes, their first priority was not domestic tasks—so-called ‘women’s work. Instead, they left children behind to stage political protests. Viewed through the perspective of the Tri Bogatyrya films, whereby women sacrifice themselves for their husbands and their male egos, the women of Pussy Riot are depicted in Russian media as being closer in spirit to the witches in the films. This is what the French newspaper Le Monde concluded, in its article entitled “Tsar Putin and the witches of Pussy Riot.”[2] Not only were the women convicted, having been accused of being satanic, they also conformed to the underlying narrative that cuts across the films: they were an internal enemy, once financed by foreign forces intent on ravaging the country and stealing its wealth. The judge noted that one of the women had a husband who was a Canadian citizen, thus implying that Pussy Riot was really part of a global conspiracy. This follows the main narrative of contemporary Russian animated films whereby the greatest threat to Rus (and by extension Russia) comes in the form of foreign agents working with treacherous insiders to sow discord between the heroes, the prince, and the people, thus enabling the conquest of the territory.

Kiev and the One Thousand Year History of Russia (and certainly not Ukraine)

Contemporary Russian children’s animated movies serve to enculturate children into a Russian nation, affirming a very nationalist vision of history whereby Kievan Rus was populated by Russians and is considered ancestral to Russia. This narrative is certainly not new, being merely an extension of older Russian national narratives that affirm Russia’s one thousand year history, viewing Kievan Rus as the ancestral state to modern Russia. In the first film of the series, Aliosha Popovich and the Turagin Snake [Aliosha Popovich i Turagin Zmei], the film starts with the writing of a chronicle. In the film, the existence of a Russian land [Russkaia zemla] and a Russian people [Russkii narod] are affirmed on a number of occasions; it is even shown that they all speak contemporary Russian. The lesson being taught to children is quite clear: the history of Kievan Rus belongs to Russia, the true heritors of the glory of Kievan Rus, and contemporary Russians are the legitimate descendants of the warrior-heroes of Kievan Rus. We see a Russian Land, one besieged from the very beginning, as Aliosha’s home city of Rostov is attacked by a horde of Muslims. These invaders exact tribute, taking all the gold in the city down to the grandmother’s last gold tooth. To prove his warrior mettle, Aliosha must devise a plan to first safeguard the gold; when that fails, he must battle the horde and bring back the riches of the city. To do this, he must outwit the Prince of Kiev, who is intent on keeping the gold that was left in his safekeeping.

The contours of Russian history are thus defined for a new generation in the Tri Bogatyria films, using a narrative quite common to the Russian national discourse. In a highly nationalistic and patriotic song entitled “We are Russians,” Zhanna Bichevskaia sings of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus as the “tri bogatyria,” the warrior-heroes of the Slavic tribes. She affirms that Russia will rise from its knees in spite of death, starvation, and prison camps, horrors beset upon the nation by foreign enemies, then concludes her song by stating that Saintly Rus will once again rise up with the grace of God.[3]

The films present stereotypical representations of other peoples and nations. Muslims and Asians are of course depicted as the enemies of Rus, but they are no match for the warrior-heroes of Rus who stand tall above the enemy, capable of defeating hundreds, even thousands in battle. The only challenge was the one monstrous Turagin who was ultimately defeated and put on display in Kiev. Then there are the “Tsygani”—a term equivalent to the English “Gypsy”—who are seen as capable dancers, but are even better at tricking the old grandfather out of his sword, money and clothes, leaving a somewhat scrawny talking horse in exchange. This depiction plays upon the prevalent Russian stereotypes of the Roma as exotic, dancing beauties when young, somewhat repulsive when older, but at all times deceitful. Asian peoples are depicted with exaggerated features, notably the eyes, while Africans are stereotypically depicted in the final film with thick lips and a character that is close to childlike. Indeed, the films do not rely on subtlety when it comes to generating humor relating to the “Other”; rather, they play upon extremely stereotypical images, which are sometimes exotic, occasionally dangerous, but always inferior to the Russians of Rus.

While stereotyping the “Other,” the films at the same time appeal to the stereotypes that others have of Russians. In one scene, the shamanic Czarina comments that Rus is known for its balalaikas and nesting dolls. This is a prime example of the dual audience discussed earlier, as the humor is certainly aimed at adults and their perception of what it means to be Russian. Later in the film, at his wedding, the Prince of Kiev observes that it is not a true Russian wedding without a fight. The films are thus gently making light of the stereotypes of Russians, while also gingerly highlighting some of the contemporary traits associated with modern Russians. In short, the films are helping to define the nation.

While Africans and Asians are depicted crudely using quite base stereotypes, the problematic other is the European. In the film Warrior Heroes on a Distant Shore, one of the antagonists, a man who presents himself as a German, encounters the Prince of Kiev. The Prince is shown falling too easily for the man’s fabricated European traditions, a bucket of water dumped on the sleeping prince in the morning as a greeting being a case in point. Here, the film is addressing the adult audience by parodying the Russian propensity to slavishly follow the fashions of Europe and the West. The humor works well, as the Prince of Kiev is depicted as having a childlike intellect, a bit of a fool and too easily manipulated. Unlike the earlier film Prince Vladimir, where the prince is noble, the prince of the Tri Bogatyria films is seen as a somewhat irrelevant fool who must be continually saved by the warrior-heroes. This depiction of the Prince conforms to older Soviet standards. As Natalie Kononenko (2011:276) remarks, the tsar, a figure representing pre-revolutionary society and/or the capitalist threat was often depicted in animated folktales as “capricious, demanding, prone to poor judgment, and often diminutive in stature” which is precisely how the Prince of Kiev is portrayed in the Tri Bogatyria. Unlike the Soviet films, it is not clear who the Prince is meant to represent, the current President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, or Boris Yeltsin[4] who presided over the chaotic 1990s or someone else altogether.

The subtle subtext that runs across the films is that foreigners are after the riches of the land of Rus, but they can only succeed if they divide the population. In one film, the witch separates the prince from the people; in another, the people are made to believe that the prince is crazy and a traitor. Redemption occurs when the population realizes that they have been duped and all work together against the foreigners who are trying to cheat them. The same motif is also present in the earlier film Prince Vladimir. Here, too, the Pechenegs are not a true threat to the Rus; rather, the threat is internal, with Perun’s sorcerer using magic to turn Vladimir against his brother. The sorcerer is paid by the Pechenegs, but his true goal is the destruction of Rus. He intercepts a messenger, kills him, then changes the content of a letter from Vladimir’s brother, leading to Vladimir attacking Kiev and committing fratricide. In all the films, the threat is external, but the true danger is betrayal from the inside. Again, this is the narrative that is driving a revived contemporary Russian nationalism: the protestors and liberals are portrayed as having sold themselves to the West and, in the case of Pussy Riot, are even inferred to be satanic, attacking the very heart of the Russian nation: the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, located but a stone’s throw from the Kremlin.

Enemy at the Gates

The series of films surrounding the Three Warrior Heroes of Ancient Rus serves to reinforce contemporary fears that are propagated by the Russian national discourse. The narrative is summarized in one telling scene in the 2006 film Dobrynya Nikitich and the Dragon (Dobrynya Nikitich i Zmeya Gorynych). In the early scenes of the animated film, a signpost is portrayed, to the left “Rus” to the right “Enemies.” This is the centerpiece of the films and the national narrative: the land is surrounded by enemies seeking to invade and plunder the wealth of Rus/Russia and that it is the duty of patriotic men to defend the land against all enemies, and any foreigner is by definition a potential foe. This is not necessarily a new narrative as it cuts across the Soviet period, notably the animated films that were created in the 1970s on the same topic as well as early Soviet films such as Alexander Nevsky from the 1930s. The contemporary films, as discussed, are quite normative in following the standard storyline that cuts across both Russian and Soviet cultural history. What is intriguing is the discussion of democracy that was evident in one, and only one, of the modern Three Warrior Hero animated movies, and the discussion was not directed at the children, but rather the adults in the audience using the dual audience approach as described a priori.

The 2007 film Ilya Muromets and the Nightingale Robber (Il’ya Muromets i Solovey Razboynik) unlike the other films in the series openly parodies Russian politics and the humor integrates into the narrative questions of freedom of the press, democracy and censorship under the guise of an animated children’s film. The release date of the film is perhaps telling: December 2007, when President Vladimir Putin first presidency was coming to an end and when in a few months Dmitri Medvedev would be inaugurated. It is telling that in this transition period that the filmmakers of the series presented a biting critique of power and freedom through allegory under the non-threatening auspices of children’s animated film.

One of the central characters of the film is the chronicler Alyoshka, the future wife of the warrior Ilya Muromets. The chrnonicler is presented as an investigative reporter and mention is made of freedom of the press. The Prince of Kiev often hampers her efforts and at the end her work is censored. When the new chronicler arrives, the Prince does not want to let her in. Before the chronicler arrives, the Prince rails that it has comes to this, that in the past they would not have been tolerated, but now “the people want to know the truth” [pause] “what they say in the West.” In other words, now he has to tolerate journalists, because he must grudgingly conform, at least superficially, to the opinions voiced in the West. The toady boyar agrees with the actions of the prince and says that it is better not to let the chronicler/journalist in as they will once again scribble some filth.

Old History, New Freedoms Transposed

When the chronicler arrives, the boyar throws out “baba” and she answers: “I am not a broad, but a chronicler.” She states that she is with the publication “New Birchbark” [Novaya Beresta] which is is an allusion to some contemporary newspapers that are relatively critical of the state, notably Novaya Gazeta. This is an interesting turn of events: she is a chronicler, but effectively a journalist. An artist who is the projected medieval equivalent of a photojournalist accompanies her. This is another clear example of the dual audience being used in the film to interest both adults: it is unlikely that young children will be fully capable of understanding the subtle references to freedom of the press, the need for a journalists and the ways in which the Russian state hinders the work of journalists, seeking to muzzle the truth.

As the power of journalists is limited, Alyoshka must convince the Prince to take her with him on the expedition. She explains that all the other chronicles will tell the story of the horse that was stolen and the treasury that was emptied and that Ilya will know the truth. The Prince cynically says “that is freedom of speech for you” and she tells him to take her with them as she will be able to fix things: “I will write about your bravery in the chronicle” she tells the Prince, explaining that she will get material [to write] and the Prince will get respect. Note that she mentions “and what will the people think.” The Prince likes the idea of his “bravery” being recorded. The Prince, hearing that that Nightingale Robber has sacked the land and stolen the gold, must convince Ilya to help him. Alyosha asks to join him as she is writing a chronicle of The Daily Life of Russian Heroes and shows him a manuscript with Ilya’s image on the cover. He then orders that Alyosha be thrown out. The Prince has no interest in having a journalist who will promote the work being done by the Warrior-Heroes. As she is being carried out, she yells out that it is the “This is an outrage, the suppression of the press” and she screams out that the Prince is not respecting her freedom of speech. The film is thus presenting a veiled critique of the policies of the contemporary Russian state, presented in the guise of an animated children’s film.

De-Mo-Cra-Cy: Political Parody and Pushing the Animation Envelope

Not only does this one animated film present issues of freedom versus the state, it also wrestles with the topic of democracy and the will of the people.  Central to the storyline is the Prince having to convince the warrior, Ilya, to help him regain the treasury’s gold. The one motif that cuts across all of the contemporary three bogatyrya films is the portrayal of the Prince of Kiev as a greedy, foolish, largely incompetent Prince who makes bad decisions and must continually be saved by the warrior-heroes. It is in the 2007 film that the Prince’s failings, and disdain for democracy, most evident, while it is the wisdom of the folk and the bravery of the warrior-heroes that saves Kievan Rus from destruction.

Absolute power is critiqued in the 2007 film and the humor is tied to the dual audience presentation of the film. Clearly, the subtle discussion of democracy is not intended for young children, as the humor is certainly destined for the adults. However it is extremely subtle and it can be aimed at contemporary politicians but if it is the allusion is so indirect that it is hidden deep without the narrative of the film. Given that the film is funded by the state, it would be foolhardy of the producers and creators of such films to overtly criticize the leadership of the Russian state. However, in this particular film, the envelope is clearly being pushed and the limits of parody being tested as contemporary politics are clearly being mocked.

One telling moment occurs in the first minutes of the Muromets and the Nightingale Robber film, as the Prince and his bookkeeper are counting pieces of gold and the Prince concludes that they do not have enough money to cover the expenses of the principality. The Prince suggests raising taxes while the bookkeeper replies that perhaps it would be better to cut expenses. The Prince then asks with condescension, whether the bookkeeper doesn’t happen to be a democrat. The old grizzled accountant answers “God help me!” with the epithet of democrat somehow being equivalent to being cursed. However, it is the Prince’s greed and obstinacy that is the cause of much grief. When Ilya goes to the Prince to complain that the Nightingale Robber was released for 100 coins, the Prince answers that he is the Prince, and he will run the show, act as he wants. Ilya then announces that he refuses to do the Prince’s bidding, and the Prince retaliates by taking away Ilya’s beloved and mighty horse. The robber the steals the gold and the horse and both the Prince and Ilya must set out to Constantinople to recover what they have lost. Alyoshka plays the part of the investigative reporter, secretly following both to get her scoop.

The Prince and Ilya share little in common in terms of their political beliefs.  The Prince mocks Ilya because of his proverbs. He answers that the proverbs are based the centuries that the people observed, that they always tell the truth. Also, Ilya seeks to impose a form of equality on their trip. When they are hiking through the forest, Ilya tells the Prince that he will have the first shift to keep watch. When the Prince objects, Ilya states: “Here, we are all equal. Understood.” He then sounds out the word democracy “De – mo – kra – ti – ya” The Prince answers: “Your democracy will bring turmoil!” Of course, after a few minutes, the Prince throws away the lance/spear and lies down to sleep, and Ilya grudgingly gets up to keep guard. In the morning the Prince is captured, but this was Ilya’s strategy: to observe and then arrive in the nick of time to save the Prince. He orders, nonetheless, the bandits to respect the Prince. Here again, we have the film wrestling with issues of equality and democracy, as Ilya seeks to gain a certain degree of respect and equality from the Prince, but nonetheless sides with the Prince when facing the foreigner, the Nightingale Robber and his clearly Asian forces. Loyalty to the Prince in the face of a foreign threat trumps individual grievances. Ilya also liberates Alyoshka who had been taken prisoner by the band, but he does not want to take her along. The Prince counsels Ilya that they should take her as he notes that it would be useful to bring a baba or “broad” along as she will be able to cook and wash their clothes. When Ilya discovers that the Prince had tricked him in order to recover the treasury’s gold, he sets off on his own and the Prince blurts out to Alyoshka “I am the Prince and it is his [Ilya’s] duty to serve me!” Again, the film is clearly mocking the authoritarian tendencies of the Prince, while highlighting that the Prince without his warrior-heroes is incapable of doing anything on his own. Yet, he vainly believes himself to be the true hero, frustrated when Alyoshka questions him about Ilya. He asks her about whom she is writing the Chronicle, and then tells her”You have a hero next to you and you have a deserter [Ilya] on your mind.”

Medieval Tourists, Contemporary Stereotypes

Once they all reach Constantinople, the film plays upon existing stereotypes of the foreign other. In Constantinople, Alyosha encounters in Constantinople a man who looks like Elvis who tries to recruit her to work in “show business” but it is clear that he wants her to work in a strip club. Again, this is the dual humor, as there is a fear/belief that women can fall into “sex slavery” if they venture overseas. Some of the happenings of the Prince in Constantinople are reminiscent of the tales told by Russian travellers: the Prince is told to sit in a chair and relax, and then he is obliged to pay. Likewise, the Arab-looking man that it is free to ride the elephant, but once he is up, he must pay to come down tells him. Alyoshka warns the Prince, but he refuses to listen to her, reinforcing once again his portrayal as a fool. “You are like a child, that is the honest truth” Alyosha tells the Prince when he gets on the elephant in spite of her admonitions. Such warnings are given to Russian tourists in contemporary Egypt or Turkey that in the former they must not get on a camel if told the ride is “free” as they will be invariably forced to pay an exorbitant price to be given the privilege of disembarking. Clearly, the film is playing upon the experience and fears of modern Russians traveling overseas, while mocking the pretensions of leaders past and possibly present. There is the slapstick humor to please the children, with adult humor interspersed along with the occasional dash of masked satire.

Nonetheless, the films requires Ilya, the warrior-hero, to defeat a band of villains that are portrayed as very “Arab” in clothing and look. They tie him up and throws him down a well throwing out that he is a “damn Rus.” The elephant that he had been kind to and he then discovers the horseshoe with traces of his native soil pulls out Ilya. As it is the soil of his homeland that he believes gives him strength, the now has the power to defeat the band of villains, throwing out that they are “girls” before heading off to defeat the entire Byzantine army.

Upon their return to Rus, Alyoshka completes her account of the bravery and heroic acts of Ilya, but the Prince orders that his name replace Ilya’s in the written account, as he censors her work for his glory. This is a very cynical ending, one where the Prince nonetheless does as he wishes, and the film concludes with a very jaded view of power, one whereby the powerful use the efforts of others for their ends.  As noted, this particular film is perhaps the one that features a number of satirical moments that seem to be making a political comment on contemporary politics in the Russian Federation. As the filmmakers are funded partially by the state, such parody is certainly very indirect, but it does indicate a contribution to the larger political and national discourse being communicated through the unlikely medium of a children’s animated movie. The film still promotes a national consciousness, still promotes a certain fear of dangerous foreign forces while affirming the power of the people and the real men, the Russian warrior-heroes to overcome them, but it is not presenting an uncritical view of the power of the Prince. It is offering a critique of the dangers of giving the Prince unfettered power, notably when the Prince is a fool.

 

Conclusion

 

 

 

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2011   ” Chairman Mao’s Child”: Sparkling Red Star and the Construction of Children in the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 36(4):381-409.

 

 


[1] Kiev is based on the Russian-language designation of the city, while Kyiv is the spelling that conforms to the transliteration of the Ukrainian name of the city. Rus is often written with an apostrophe that is used to designate the soft sign letter in Russian, but for the sake of simplicity, Kievan Rus will be used in this chapter instead of Kyivan Rus’ that could be used if following strict linguistic standards.

[2] http://www.lemonde.fr/a-la-une/article/2012/08/18/vladimir-poutine-et-les-sorcieres-des-pussy-riot_1747433_3208.html

[4] Here, it would have been preferable to write Iel’tsin to conform to the transliteration being used in this chapter, however Yeltsin is the spelling best know in North America.

The Nation in Russian Animated Films

This is the first draft of a chapter I am working on examining contemporary animated Russian films. I have not added the literature review as my goal was to put down my initial ideas. It is a work in progress and I will continue working on this in the coming weeks.

[Introduction]

[Lit review on animation, children’s television and nationalism]

[Lit review on the bogatyrya or warrior heroes of Russian history and folklore]

The Double Audience and the Rebirth of Russian Animated Films

In Russia, children’s animation had a slow start and it was at an animation festival held in Moscow in 1934 and Walt Disney sent to Moscow some short films features Mickey Mouse. Impressed by Disney animations, Soviet officials decided that the Soviet Union must have its Mickey Mouse, though naturally stripped of his Bourgeois trappings [must add sources]. In 1935 the Soviet Union established the Union of Children Animated Films (Soyuzdetmultfilm then Soyuzmultfilm) and this institution would reign until the collapse of the Soviet Union. The early years of children’s animation were marked by the Socialist realism whereby animation was used as a dry teaching tool to properly teach children the essential of socialist life or depicted folk tales using animation. The real break from Socialist realism would come in the 1950s with the production of The Snow Queen or Snezhnaya koroleva a 1957 Soviet animated film directed by Lev Atamanov. A global classic, based on the work of Hans Christian Andersen, the film was dubbed into English and enjoyed considerable success in the West. With the clear parallels to Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, The Snow Queen was destined for both children and adults, a drama meant to be viewed by the entire family.

As was the case in the West, the animated classic films invariably were written for a uniform audience. As noted, The Snow Queen was a dramatic animated film that could appeal to both children and adults, as was the case with the Walt Disney animations that were popular in the United States in the 1950s. Family films either were dramas, mixing in some comedy, that could appeal to all ages, animated slapstick comedies that were also easily understood by all or animated films that were meant solely for children. In the Soviet Union, we see a variety of films that could appeal to different ages. As noted, films such as The Snow Queen were meant for all and were film classics in their own right. Then, there were the animated series such as Nu, pogodi, a slapstick, animated comedy featuring a wolf and a hare. Then, there was the children’s programming involving stop motion animated figures including a crocodile and a mysterious creature, Сheburashka. The latter was clearly intended for children, though being popular with contemporary adults as it satisfies nostalgic yearnings for their childhood.

The significant change in animated films in recent years is the shift from a single audience animated film, to a double audience film with humor that is aimed at distinct audiences. Such films are now standard fare to North American moviegoers. Films such as Shrek draw large audiences of children and adults as the humor includes veiled sexual innuendo that will titillate adult audiences, while going unnoticed and not understood by the children in attendance. Such films target a dual audience providing content that will appeal to adults and be understood solely by them and humor that will be understood by adults but will appeal to children. After a somewhat fitful start, Russian animated movies are adopting these practices and with computer-generated animation, Russian animated films are making a comeback in Russian movie theaters a bit more than a decade after the collapse of the industry in the 1990s. The film that served as a transition was Knyaz Vladimir or Prince Vladimir, the first truly successful mass audience Russian film of the new millennium. Not only would it speak to both adult and children, it would also herald a revival of the historical animated film as a venue for promoting a reinvigorated Russian patriotism.

The film Prince Vladimir was release in 2006 and was a box office success in Russian grossing over 150 million rubles (approximately $5 million). Though a paltry sum by Disney standards, it was a princely sum for a Russian domestic film. What is striking about the film is the apparent mixing of genres to appeal to both older audiences as well as children. The protagonist of the film, though animated, is depicted as a very lifelike, though larger than life human. He participates in animated battle scenes that feature realist depictions of warriors being maimed and killed and one of his warriors kills his brother as the sorcerer tricked Vladimir. Such scenes are clearly not destined for children, as well as those scenes that refer to the Perun’s sorcerer and allude to the ancient Slavic gods using images and vocabulary that would certainly be understood with great difficulty by children. However, interspersed between the moments of high drama are scenes that could best be described as comic relief destined for children. This involves, for example, two brothers who play the role of buffoons. They are animated in classic cartoonish style, and they are capable of fighting off hundreds of Pechenegs each grabbing a tree trunk. The violence in these scenes is not real, and these scenes would be much better suited to young children. Thus, the film is a double audience film, but the animation shifts between animated realism and cartoon surrealism. In the later series that we shall examine, that of the three warrior heroes, Tri Bogatyrya, the realism has been largely jettisoned and instead the humor and dialogue is directed at a dual audience, with some of the humor clearly intended for a much older audience, while other puns and slapstick comedic elements are destined to appeal to children. Though the films do not rely on overt sentimentalism of the history of Kievan Rus, the films featuring the three warrior heroes nonetheless have an underlying discourse that affirms Russian national ideals as well as national gender ideals.

In the film The Three Warrior Heroes and the Shamanic Czarina, there are two telling scene that demonstrates the ways in which the film is targeting and adult audience, and even an adult and relatively well-educated audience. In one scene, we see one of the warrior-heroes wearing his reading glasses sitting at a desk surrounded by piles of papers and typing away as his wife dictates an account that could easily have been taken from The Primary Chronicle, one of the foundational documents of Kievan Rus. To fully understand the humor it is necessary to understand a bit of the history of Kievan Rus but also to understand the true nature of the anachronism being presented. The typewriter will be known by adults, yet children watching the film may never have seen one, as Russia like North America has been using computers for word processing this past decade. The adult viewing this scene will also understand that as the typewriter would be an anachronism in the present, it would also have been an anachronism in the medieval Rus. The humor thus rests on understanding the doubly anachronism. In another scene, the Prince beset by boredom decides to go inspect Kiev’s library, and the crow sent by the Shamanic czarina drops a feather that magically transforms into a book that is titled Generation “X” [Pokoleniye “Kh”]. The Prince asks why Generation “Kh” naturally pronouncing the “X” as the equivalent Russian letter. His talking horse, also librarian, answers that it is because they live in the tenth century. The humor of the scene is quite multilayered and to fully understand the joke it would be necessary for a Russian-speaker to have heard of the book Generation X, requiring a relatively high level of literacy and knowledge of foreign literature, something that a child would not be expected to know and understand. Then, a photo drops out of the book, with a short note on the back that mocks what would normally be found on a dating site or the older classified sites. Once again, the humor is clearly not aimed at children, rather adults who alone will have the knowledge to be able to fully understand all of the nuances of the intended humor.

Where the dual audience is most evident concerns the humor that deals with issues of gender and nationality. Here, the humor is subtly making light of entrenched Russian expectations and ideals regarding gender and gender roles, while still entrenching those same gendered divisions of labor while highlighting that defending the homeland is the true nature of men. It thus uses existing gender inequalities to appeal to adult audiences without challenging per set the legitimacy of those inequalities. Likewise, the films also present highly stereotyped images of other peoples (Africans and Asians notably) while subtly poking fun of the contemporary Russian tendency to blindly and slavishly follow European and American trends. Quite often, this humor relies upon a subtle understanding of history and language, an understanding that would be beyond the normal comprehension of children, thus clearly targeting the adult viewers. The lesson that the makers of the Tri Bogatyrya films have clearly learned is that it is best to appeal to a dual audience to ensure profitability, while not openly challenging cultural expectations when it comes to issues of gender and nation.

Gender and Nation

The series of films the Tri Bogatyrya is clearly seeking to define the nation and this nationalism is being propagated in what Michael Billig would qualify as “banal nationalism” or the articulation of nation and the shaping of allegiance to the nation though the mundane events of everyday life. The bogatyr warrior heroes are by definition the idealized personification of the masculine ethos in society. Their role is to defend the motherland and they are revered for their bravery and their sacrifice to the nation. These warrior heroes are not gender neutral and they are, we will argue, a symbol of the masculine ideal and the contemporary children’s films both poke fun at the ways in which gender is articulated, while affirming that men and women must occupy different stations in society and if anything the male warrior-hero must be wary of women who through deceit or witchery can emasculate the hero, even having him do housework.

One of the telling scenes from the latest installment of the Tri Bogatyrya films, Tri Bogatyrya na dalnikh berega [Three Warrior Heroes on a Distant Shore], through magic the warrior heroes are trapped in a massive barrel and set afloat on the ocean where they end up in a distant land, presumably on the African continent. In their stead, the villains a man pretending to be a German merchant and his sorceress mother, replace the warrior heroes with copies of our heroes as they then drive a wedge between the populace and the prince who then goes into hiding in Kiev. The turning point in the epic is when one of the wives orders her husband to help out with the housework, to mop the floor. To her surprise, then clumsily runs off to get a bucket and he begins mopping the floor. At this moment, the gender roles having been transgressed, the wife is clearly distressed: though she may ask him to help her, never does she expect him to actually do any housework, work that is clearly defined as women’s work. Nonetheless, it is his failure to refuse to do housework that clues her in to the fact that he is not her husband, and shining a light on him, showing that he casts no shadow, confirms that he is a false copy created by unclean forces. She then runs to find the other wives, who have clearly understood in turn that their husbands are not the real warrior heroes, as real warrior heroes do not follow the commands of their wives and they certainly do not do work defined as women’s work.

The implicit division of all work in either women’s work or men’s work is also evident in the earlier film Tri Bogatyrya i Shamanskaya Tsaritza [Three Warrior Heroes and the Shamanic Czarina] when at the beginning of the scene the same warrior hero is training for warfare, while his wife is busily doing household chores. The scenes humorously jump between the husband and the wife, he is practicing to strike blows with his sword, while she beats the carpet clean using the same strokes, he practices to bring down a fatal sword blow with is stick and wooden dummy, while she chops wood in parallel fashion, and yet when she asks his help, he refuses as this would be women’s work, using the less respectful term “babskaya,” derived from the Russian word baba for woman which would be comparable to the term “broad” in English, and he then confirms that he is tired of sitting at home. He like the other warrior-heroes yearn for battle, as denoted in another scene where another is putting up wallpaper with battle scenes until his wife threatens to leave him to go live with her mother if he doesn’t put up the wallpaper with flowers. Clearly, the scene has two parallel narratives, one for the adult viewers and one for the children with each seeing different humor in the scene, but both will understand the cultural value being articulated that true men do not let themselves be polluted by tasks allocated to women as the only true calling for men is to prepare for war as required to defend the homeland. To do otherwise is a form of emasculation and warrior heroes must be very wary, as women will manipulate the weak, the foolish or the bewitched.

The films thus reaffirm the social divisions between men and women in Russian society, while using them as a source of comedy. One underlying theme is the danger of feminine sorcery. In the film the Three Warrior Heroes and the Shamanic Czarina, the plot is built upon the premise that brown-eyed witches can use their powers to bewitch and once that is one they can then bring about ruin. In this film, the Czarina bewitches the prince and under her spell, he is ready to give her his lands and seeks to marry her. As must the case, she is the old hag of folklore, who uses magic to create a dark-haired, dark-eyed lustrous beauty, and she must flee when her true image is revealed. Even the warrior heroes are powerless against her magic, and her downfall is ultimately her own greed as she turns into a blue-eyed baby having eaten too many of the magic fruit that she produces using the tears of blue-eyed Russian damsels to fertilize her tree of youth. In the film The Warrior Heroes on a Distant Shore, the male villain is a pitiable sort as he is under the heel of his sorceress mother. He is short, and squat, and otherwise a derisory fellow, following the orders of his mother. He is thus, the polar opposite of the idealized male warrior hero; he is the anti-hero par excellence, the emasculated male, who is easily defeated once his mother’s powers have been neutralized.

While the bogatyrya are thus the ideal male, their wives can be seen as ideal women. They do vary of course, in height and looks, and unlike the shamanic Czarina, they cannot be qualified as sultry or even seductresses. They are certainly not depicted as unattractive, but their beauty is wholesome, that of the blue-eyed pure beauty as opposed to the seductive, Orientalized, czarina. The wives proudly stand in the shadows of their warrior husbands. At times they must prod them, even manipulate them, occasionally come to their succor, but the women are not warrior heroes, they are faithful wives, prone to emotion. At times, they are willing to fight, at other times they will cry a deluge of tears, but their task is to support the glory of their husbands. As the ideal women, they are certainly not spoiled czarinas, they cook, they wash, they beat rugs, and the wives even chop wood and do other domestic tasks that require strength and power. But, they never touch a sword and when do battle they pick up the tools of women, notably rolling pins or pots and pans. The wives are often depicted as wily, certainly one of the wives is clearly smarter than her warrior-husband, but together their true role is to support their husband’s glory. This is evident in the first film that recounts the history of Alesha [Alexander] Popovich. In the film, it is not Alesha that defeats the enemy, the formidable Turagin warrior, rather it is his future wife, her grandmother, grandfather and their ass. Nonetheless, when Alesha comes to, Lyubava tells him that he defeated the enemy, thus saving his ego and putting him on the warrior –hero pedestal. The primary concern, thus, is to assuage the male ego, too easily bruised lest the warrior fail at his task and have to be saved by women and the elderly.

If anything, the underlying discourse of the film series is upholding existing male biases that are prevalent in Russian society. Though the inequalities are certainly used as a source of humor, notably in what is being directed to the adult audience as discussed previously, the films do not challenge existing inequalities. In the dual audience mode, as discussed, the films are addressing the issue of gendered roles and appealing to the humor of an adult audience in the ironic depiction of the highly arbitrary division of labor into women’s and men’s work, but it nonetheless serves to enculturate proper ideals of gendered work in the new generation, children. This is perhaps not surprising as the team responsible for creating the films is composed entirely of men. It does this while also affirming that the ideal male role is to be a warrior defending the nation.

From this perspective, the fate of the women of Pussy Riot, tried and convicted in Russia for staging a protest song in the Christ the Savior Cathedral, was certainly shaped by the larger cultural narrative whereby women must not seek leadership roles or defy male leadership and authority. If they were placed in the context of the children animated movies, they would invariably be cast as the “sorceress” as opposed to the idealized role of the wives of the warrior heroes. The Russian population’s lack of sympathy for the trio put on trial certainly attests to the antipathy they struck in the populace. They sought to defy the state, they took the lead in the protest and unlike the good wives of the warrior-heroes their first priority was not domestic tasks, women’s work, rather they left children behind to stage political protests. Viewed through the perspective of the Tri Bogatyrya films, whereby women sacrifice themselves for their husbands and their egos, the women of Pussy Riot are depicted in Russian media as being closer in spirit to the witches in the films. This is what the French newspaper Le Monde concluded, in its article entitled Tsar Putin and the witches of Pussy Riot . Not only were the women convicted as they were accused of being satanic, they also conformed to the underlying narrative that cuts across the films, they were an internal enemy, once financed by foreign forces intent on ravaging the country and stealing its wealth. The judge noted that one of the women had a husband who was a Canadian citizen, thus implying that Pussy Riot was really part of a global conspiracy. This follows the main narrative of contemporary Russian animated films whereby the greatest threat to Rus (by extension Russia) are foreign agents working with treacherous insiders to sow discord between the heroes, the prince and the people, thus enabling the conquest of the territory.

Kiev and the One Thousand Year History of Russia

Contemporary Russian children animated movies serve to enculturate children in a Russian nation, affirming a very nationalist vision of history, one whereby Kievan Rus was populated by Russians and is ancestral to Russia. This narrative is certainly not new; merely an extension of older Russian national narratives that affirm Russia’s one thousand year history and that affirms that Kievan Rus was the ancestral state to modern Russia. In the first film of the series, Alesha Popovich and the Turagin Snake [Alesha Popovich i Turagin Zmey], the film starts with the writing of a chronicle and in the film the existence of a Rusian land [Russkaya zemla] and a Russian people [Russkiy narod] are affirmed on a number of occasions and given that they all speak contemporary Russian, the lesson being taught to children is quite clear: the history of Kievan Rus belongs to Russia, the true heritors of the glory of Kievan Rus, and contemporary Russians are the legitimate descendants of the warrior heroes of Kievan Rus. Not only is there a Russian Land, it is also besieged from the very beginning, as the Alesha’s home city of Rostov is attacked by a horde of Muslims, they exact tribute, all the gold in the city down to the grandmother’s last gold tooth, and to prove his warrior mettle, Alesha must lead a plan to first safeguard the gold and when that fails to battle the horde and bring back the riches of the city. This must be done while outwitting the Prince of Kiev who is intent of keeping the gold that was left to his safekeeping.

The contours of Russian history are thus defined for a new generation in the Tri Bogatyrya films, a narrative that is quite common to the Russian national discourse. In a highly nationalistic and patriotic song entitled “We are Russians,” Zhanna Bichevskaya sings of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus as the “tri bogatyrya” the warrior-heroes of the Slavic tribes and as she affirms that Russia will rise from its knees in spite of death, starvation and prison camps, horrors beset upon the nation by foreign enemies and concludes her song by stating that God will once again rise up Saintly Rus.

The films present the other peoples and nations using stereotyped representations of other peoples. There are of course the Muslims and Asians depicted as the enemies of Rus, but they are not match for the warrior heroes of Rus who stand tall above the enemy, capable of defeating hundreds, thousands in battle. The only challenge was the one monstrous Turagin who was ultimately defeated and put on display in Kiev. Then there are the “Tsygany” a term equivalent to the English “Gypsy” who are seen as capable dances, but even better at tricking the old grandfather out of a sword, money and clothes, leaving a somewhat scrawny, but talking, horse in exchange. The depiction plays upon the prevalent Russian stereotypes of the Roma as being exotic dancing beauties when young, somewhat repulsive when older, but all the time deceitful. Asian peoples are certainly depicted with exaggerated features, notably the eyes, while Africans are depicted in the final film with the extreme physiognomy of the stereotyped African with thick lips and a character that is close to childlike. Thus, the films do not rely on subtlety when it comes to generating humor relating to the “Other” rather it plays upon extremely stereotyped images of the sometimes exotic, occasionally dangerous, but always inferior to the Russians of Rus.

While stereotyping the “Other” the films at the same time appeal to the stereotypes that others have of Russians. In one scene, the shamanic Tsarina throws out that Rus is known for its balalaikas and nesting dolls, and this is an example of the dual audience discussed, as the humor was certainly aimed at adults and their perception of what it means to be Russian. Later, in the film, at his wedding, the Prince of Kiev throws out that it is not a true Russian wedding without a fight. The films are thus gently making light of the stereotypes of Russians, while also highlighting gingerly some of the contemporary traits that are associated with modern Russians. The films are thus helping to define the nation.

While Africans and Asians are depicted crudely using quite base stereotypes, the problematic other is the European. In the film Warrior Heroes on a Distant Shore, one of the antagonists, a man who presents himself as a German, the Prince of Kiev is presented as falling too easily to invented European traditions, a bucket of water dumped on the sleeping prince in the morning as a greeting, as a case in point. Here, the film is addressing the adult audience and is parodying the Russian propensity to slavishly follow the fashions of Europe and the West. The humor works well as the Prince of Kiev is depicted as having a childlike intellect, somewhat of a fool, too easily manipulated. Unlike the earlier film Prince Vladimir where the prince is noble, the prince of the Tri Bogatyrya films is depicted as a somewhat irrelevant fool that must be continually saved by the warrior heroes.

The subtle subtext that runs across the series is that foreigners are after the riches of the land of Rus, but they can only succeed if they divide the population. In one film, the witch, divides the prince from the people, and in another, the people are made to believe that the prince is crazy and a traitor. Redemption occurs when the population realizes that they have been duped and all work together against the foreigners who are trying to cheat from them. The same motif is also present in the earlier film Prince Vladimir. Here too the Pechenegs are not a true threat to the Rus, rather the threat is internal, Perun’s sorcerer using magic to turn Vladimir against his brother. The sorcerer is paid by the Pechenegs, but his true goal is the destruction of Rus. He intercepts a messenger, kills him, then changes the content of a letter from Vladimir’s brother, leading to Vladimir attacking Kiev and committing fratricide. In all the films, the threat is external, but the true danger is betrayal from the inside. Again, this is the narrative that is driving a revived contemporary Russian nationalism: the protestors and liberals are portrayed as having sold themselves to the West and in the case of Pussy Riot are even inferred to be satanic, attacking the very heart of the Russian nation, the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, located a stone’s throw from the Kremlin.

The Devil in Folklore

Below is the first draft on the second paper that I will be presenting on the Devil compared, French Canada and Russia. Tomorrow, I will revise it, hopefully it is coherent. It is not my area of expertise, but I am having a lot of fun writing these papers.

         The French in Canada settled in North America in the 17th and 18th century bringing with them their folk beliefs, but it is in the Americas that they forged their own culture, integrating elements of indigenous culture and adding folkloric innovations to the common French culture. I will argue that to understand the contemporary culture of French-speakers in Canada, it is necessary to examine folklore and that the shared folk beliefs shared a contemporary culture that is quite distinct from the neighbouring populations. While in Russia, there is a folk belief in the Russian Soul and a Russian character that shapes the behaviour of individuals, making them according to their beliefs hardier than the Germans, more generous and hospitable than others. This belief in a shared essence that shapes the collective Russian identity as much as that of French-speaking North Americans. Likewise, French-speakers, first the “Canadien” living in New France, followed by the French-Canadian and finally the modern Québécois also see themselves as fundamentally different from the English-speaking “Other” that surrounds them. Ironically, some of the traits that define the Québécois and Québécoise mirror many of the self-stereotypes of Russian-speakers. Both emphasize a certain “joie de vivre,” both put a greater premium on being thinner and more fashionable, and all would certainly see themselves as more hospitable than their neighbours and while both are portrayed as being religious, in both countries one finds a largely symbolic attachment to religion as opposed to a strict following of canon. I will examine the portrayal of the Devil in French-Canadian folklore and will explore whether past folk beliefs could have set the stage for the present folk culture.

In both regions, religion was used to distinguish the folk from the “Other,” but the official religion was also blended with folk beliefs that would color perception and define identity. In the case of Russians, their Orthodoxy distinguished them from Catholic and Muslim neighbours, among others, while the Catholic French-Canadian was theologically opposed to the Protestant “Other.” However, both there and here, the respective Churches certainly strived to stamp out inconvenient folk beliefs that were not tied to the faith, while trying to promote practices that were truly faithful to the doctrines of the Church. The end result was a popular faith that blended both popular beliefs and religious doctrine that promoted a collective identity that was founded on a religious worldview that promoted collective action and when necessary suffering to ensure sanctity, but the Devil was never truly a worthy foe, too easy to foil. I shall be reviewing some of my favourite folklore tied to the Devil and will put forward an exploratory analysis as to how the Devil of French-Canadian folklore would have shaped the folk culture that is ancestral to contemporary culture. I will then seek to see if enough is known of the Devil in Russian folklore to draw some comparisons or at least to justify continuing research to give the Devil his due in the genesis of identify in French North America and Russia.

Luc Gauthier (2009) in his analysis of fantasy in the French-Canadian folktales of the 19th century argues that the legends involving the Devil can be categorized according to a trinity of basic tale types. The first type is the “beautiful dancer,” the second is the “builder of bridges and churches” and the final is the “instigator of pacts” (Gauthier 2009:74). I will be examining the first and the third more closely, but suffice it to say that in the second version of the Devil tales that it involves the Devil being tricked and put to work for the good of humanity, generally under the watchful eye of a priest. The most common version involves a black horse with limitless force that is the Devil. In the folktales, the Devil as horse hauls the stones needed to build churches in Quebec, but the Devil does not finish the task as the instructions that were given not to unbridle the horse, even to let it drink, were not followed.  In most of the legends involving the Devil, the nemesis of God comes across as less than fearsome. He seeks souls, yet rarely succeeds; rather he can be easily tricked. The end result is that the Devil of popular French Canadian popular and folk Catholicism is certainly not one that would have inspired the faithful to hell.

The Devil Comes to Dance

One of the popular motifs of French-Canadian folklore is the tall, good-looking devil that frequents the parties of the recent past, partaking in the sinful actions of the French-Canadians expressing their joie de vivre. One of my favourite tales is the Devil at the danse. There are many variations of this same tale as they are localized, carried with French-speaking settlers as they move across the continent. In one version of the legend, the dance that attracted the Devil’s interest was in a locale called Guilletville in Ontario, known as “Half Way” in the past (Deschênes and Courchesne 1996:24). The former name is appropriate, it is the epitome of liminal, situated in the between of betwixt. Here, the young would gather to dance, to drink and where one could even find prostitutes. The debauchery certainly riled the priest in the legend who warmed them in their sermon that harm would fall upon those who danced during the Lent or more precisely after midnight on the Mardi Gras when the day of festivity becomes the period of fasting prior to Easter (Deschênes and Courchesne 1996:24). Warned, the young nonetheless disobeyed the priest and at the dance a dashing young man entered the room. Some say he was dressed in red, others in black, but the handsome young man was said to be an exquisite dancer, though some said flames would appear from beneath his feet. However, when he came close to baby at the dance, the child would start to cry. The mother, seeing her child’s reaction finally go up and got some holy water and she sprinkled the entire room. Furious, the beautiful young man dug his claws in the back of the woman he was dancing with and left running away in fury. In this particular version of the legend, the hall burns to the ground and the space becomes unclean as all the businesses that are built on the location go bankrupt in a year or two. Though there are many variations of this same legend, some elements remain largely unchanged across different iterations of the legend from different regions. The first is the being untouched by the sin who recognizes the devil: in this case it is the child, pure as the baby is too young to sin and is of course pre-sexual, who recognizes the true nature of the devil. In other versions of the legend, it is an old saintly woman who sees the true nature of the dancer, the old woman, serving as the useful opposition to young woman, saintly as she is understood to be lacking the young woman’s carnal sexuality that attracts the Devil to her. The second reoccurring element is the magical power of the holy water sprinkled around the room or onto the young man revealed as the Devil, and the final element is the building or location that becomes unclean, unfit for human use after the Devil’s departure.

Anthropologically, a few elements jump out in terms of analysis. The first is the fashion sense of the Devil. He is handsome and well dressed. Also, it is not clear whether the Devil had any intentions other than to dance. If he was seeking souls, he clearly was in no rush. Also, in the legend, there is no indication that the participants suffer any repercussions whether physical or spiritual. The wounds of the young woman clawed by the Devil are healed the next day and there is no moral outrage at the end or indication that the participants are destined to suffer for their sins in Hell. Let us contrast this with a virtually identical story, one being a Mexican American folktale from Texas. The structure is close to identical, but in this tale inspired from the folk beliefs of Mexico and the Spanish-speakers of the American Southwest, instead of the priest warning the parishioners, it is the preacher who warns the mother not to allow her daughter to go to the Devil’s dance. The daughter disobeys, but the consequences are quite different. When the Devil is revealed, he leaves and takes the young woman with him: “The devil had come to his party and he had spun the girl all the way to hell.”[1] As was the case with the French versions, the Devil is depicted as a dashing figure, but unlike the French telling of the tale, the emphasis is on the sinful nature of the young woman as she went to the dance is a red dress and succumbed to the implied carnal temptation. In the Spanish versions of the tale, the young woman, when she is not immediately whisked to Hell by the Devil, suffers greatly after the experience—going insane, left burned and scarred or seeing the Devil in windows and mirrors—before dying an early death as punishment for not following the teachings of the Church (Madrid 2012:18).

Though both the French-speakers and the Spanish-speakers of the American Southwest and Mexico share a common Catholic heritage, the consequences of dancing with the Devil and disobeying one’s parents and priests are much more severe. I will note, tying this to the my earlier discussion of urban legends, that the legends of the Devil going to the dance live on in urban legend, so much so that the popular urban legend debunking site features a discussion of such urban legends.[2] However, in some versions of the French tale the young woman does disappear or in one version, that of Rose Latulipe who danced with the devil, she is sometimes transported to hell, sometimes she is saved by a priest, becomes a nun and dies a few years afterwards. Jeanne Demers and Lise Gauvin (1976) document five versions of this folktale that certainly originated in France. Aurélien Boivin (2000:87) in his analysis of different versions of the legend notes that the versions from French Canadian literature are more moralistic than the ones that were transmitted orally by the folk: in the oral folk tales, as the one analyzed, the young woman does not have to expiate her sins and transgressions as is generally the case for the versions recorded in literature. I would hypothesize that this is indicating a schism between the popular folk beliefs and the more dogmatic beliefs of the clergy; the oral versions can be told without having to concern themselves unduly with reprobation from the Catholic Church, while printed forms leave a permanent record to be read by priests and bishops.

Other French-Canadian folktales also feature the Devil appearing, being driven away, and no souls going to Hell. In the same collection of folklore form French Ontario, one legend features the Devil going to play cards and dance. The priest, as priests must do, warns the parishioners that they must not dance after midnight. The Devil makes his appearance, and sits down to play cards. One woman drops a card, notices horseshoes and hooves instead of feet and promptly waves a cross and prayer beads in front of him. Distressed, the Devil runs away, passing through a brick wall. As in the other legend, no participant in the card game goes to hell, and once again the place becomes and unclean location, the owner of the house never being able to fill in the hole that the Devil had left in his wake. The Devil is thus much more terrifying and Hell a greater threat to the Anglo-American folk than is the case with the French in America, though there are cases of souls being sold in French Canada. Also, unlike the Protestant tale, the symbols of the faith offer protective forces to the believers: whether holy water or crosses, these amulets can be used effectively against the Devil.

What’s a Devil to Do

In addition to dancing, having a penchant for cards, occasionally being saddled to build a church or bridge, the Devil is often portrayed as making deals for the souls of French Canadians. Such pacts can be classified in three general genres: the Devil succeeds, thus a tragic ending; the ones where the results are mixed, thus being ironic; and finally the ones where the Devil is always duped, often in ways that are comic (Lemire 1985; Voldeng 2001:287-288). As is often the case in other folklore traditions, the Devil is always in the details. In one legend from Ontario, an old man falls in love with his nurse. Méphisto appears to him and offers him this pact: I will give you youth to marry the nurse. The old man agrees and the Devil gives returns to him his youth and the old man, now young, courts and marries the nurse. After the wedding, the young man ages, not knowing why, and dies. The corpse is found with the legs of a horse and the nurse realizes that he was the old man that she had nursed. The Devil, here, kept his promise as he gave the old man his youth to marry, then immediately after the wedding gave him his rightful age to die. (Deschênes and Courchesne 1996:28-29) Thus, the old man not paying attention to the exact promise of the Devil met his tragic end. In other folktales, the deal is annulled through the actions of a priest or by deceiving the devil in turn.

One such folktale that illustrates the ways in which the Devil can be tricked involves a man fishing, his dog, his son and his wise wife. I must confess that I do not remember where I heard this tale or where I read it, but having integrated it into my oral tradition, I shall recite it from my memory, though I confess it is certainly one part plagiarism, one part family lore and perhaps one part fabricated memory. One day, a man was unsuccessfully fishing at the shore when the Devil comes to him and tells the man that he shall fill his nets with fish if he gives to him the soul of the next creature that comes to him. The man, knowing that his dog would certainly be running up to him soon, agrees to the pact, and soon his nets are filled with fish. To his horror, it is not his dog but his son that runs to him, and clearly overjoyed, the Devil gives him until nightfall with his son. The man, saddened by his foolish deal, goes to his wife and tells her what he had done. Grimly, the wife sits down, and then tells her husband that she will go with her son and will greet the Devil. At the shore, the Devil comes to collect his due. She asks him, “Will you grant me some time to say goodbye to my son. Give me the time it takes for this candle to burn out before you take my son.” The Devil, in no hurry, agrees and promises to not take the boy until the candle burns itself out. The woman lights the candle and then begins to pray, and then she prays some more. Just as the candle is about to burn out, she extinguishes the candle and throws the stub of the candle as far as she can in the lake. Surprised, the Devil then asks the mother to hand over her son. The mother says, no as the candle did not burn itself out. Understanding that he had been tricked in turn, the Devil disappears in the darkness.

Anthropologically, the folk tales highlight the ways in which the popular legends presage the rise of a secular society in the century that would follow. While the literature, following more closely the teachings of the Catholic Church tends to present the tales of the pacts of the Devil with a tragic ending, the popular legends are more likely to feature the ones where the Devil presented as easily tricked and fooled (Voldeng 2001).

The power of folklore nonetheless remains. Three musical groups in Québec joined forces to record a song and video to protest “fracking” to drill for gas in Québec as it is feared that it will lead to the pollution of aquifers. Using the theme of the pact with the Devil, the resulting song The Devil and the Farmer presents a modern telling of a folk tale where the Devil negotiates with the farmer and the Devil agrees the first year to keep all that grows at the surface. The farmer plants potatoes, carrots and turnips. Triumphant, the Devil proposes a new deal, whereby the Devil keeps what will be in the soil, and the farmer keeps what is on the surface. Somewhat smugly the farmer agrees and plants tomatoes, melons, peas and squash. The Devil, true to his word, takes water, gas and iron from the soil, leaving the soil polluted, where nothing will grow and leaving behind only cement, the Devil disappears. In this modern telling, the Devil to be feared is unrestrained exploitation of the environment.[3]

Hoodwinking Satan

One of the most popular of French folktales involves a canoe, a pact, and the Devil, is a folktale known as “la chasse-galerie.” Variations exist, but they always feature men away working in distant camps unable to travel across the frozen forests to return home to their girlfriends and wives to celebrate the holidays, notably celebrating New Year’s eve and night with family and friends. A deal is struck that will allow the men to fly home, usually in a canoe, and spend the night celebrating back home. Nothing is offered in exchange, but the men who will be flying in the magical canoe are warned not to touch a cross or say the Lord’s name. In the version that was first published in 1891 by Honoré Beaugrand (2012), the men never actually see the Devil, but get into the birch bark canoe and recite the incantation that sets them on their way flying through the air to their home village. The men invariably succeed in flying home, they celebrate with gusto and invariably one of the men drinks too much and comes close to swearing or otherwise causing the downfall of the group. The other men invariably stop him, and they end up falling in the snow, found by the men at the camp who had stayed behind, and thought merely to have passed out drunk. Coyly ashamed of having made a pact with the devil, they do not reveal their secret and let the men think that they had simply had celebrated too strongly the coming new year. Again, no souls are carried off to hell and the lesson learned is that they should avoid such offers in the future, though I would say that anybody hearing the tale would be convinced that they would nonetheless take up the Devil’s deal in a heartbeat as which French Canadian would sacrifice the opportunity to spend an evening dancing with the women in the village. It is certainly not a tale of the Protestant work ethic or Protestant moral probity.

This particular legend is telling because the evolution of the legend can be traced back in time. Jean Du Berger (1979) provides a comprehensive analysis and he details the earlier version of the legend that was collected in the Detroit region in what is now the United States, but was once an important fort and center for French settlers active in the fur trade. Here, the legend involves not only a canoe, but quite often a pack of dogs chasing the canoe or simply a solitary hunter and his pack of dogs traversing the sky at sunset (Du Berger 1979). This older version of the legend in French North America can be traced back to a legend in France, that of the Lord “de Gauery” who committed the sin of hunting on a Sunday and was thus condemned to hunt at night in the sky, like many others condemned to live in the liminal space between the living and the dead until Judgment Day. Gauery was transformed into “galerie” and this was accompanied by an ideological shift as well. Du Berger (1979) describes a process whereby ancient Germanic gods lead the souls of the dead across the sky, to that of the condemned hunter, to vessels carrying sinners to hell to finally a magical canoe carrying drunken revellers across the sky. The punishment of sin is thus vacated from the legend and the brave heroes of the tale succeed in tricking the Devil, no worse for wear.

The Devil in Russian Folklore

When comparing the Devil in French Canadian folklore with the Devil in Russian folk tales, the main difference is the secondary role of the Devil in the traditional folk beliefs of the Russian peasant as compared to the French in North America. The Russian peasant as well as other neighbouring populations live in a countryside inhabited with spirit, unclean forces (nechistaia sila). There are spirits in the forest (leshii), spirits in the water (rusalka, vodianoi and bolotnik), spirits in homes (domovoi), spirits in banya (bannik), and even spirits in barns (ovinnik) and stables (koniushik). As Faith Wigzell  writes: “Peasants’ attitude to the unclean forces was one of profound fear coupled with the recognition that respect offered protection.” (Wigzell 2000:63; 2001:47) There were nonetheless some similarities between the French Canadian peasant farmers and their Russian counterparts. In Russia, there were dangerous places and liminal times of the day and year when unclean forces roamed the earth (Wigzell 2000:63). However, while the French-Canadian Devil did seek out souls and was not interested in punishing sin: the leshii was known “for leading peasants astray in the forest to amuse himself” and the domovoi “smashed crockery when in a bad mood” (Wigzell 2001:64). Faith Wigzell’s description of the spirits and their actions corresponds to the beliefs of the Izhma Komi of the Komi Republic. The main difference between the Devil and these unclean forces was the need to know the correct rituals to either ward them off or to undo the damage they wrought. A person lost in the woods, suspecting the leshii, should turn their clothes inside out according to some accounts that were told to me while doing fieldwork and also noted by Wigzell (2001:45). The symbolic inversion of the clothing serves to break the leshii’s power of confusion and thus allows people to find their way back home. Likewise there were a variety of rituals to drive out unclean forces and amulets to keep travelers safe.

For both Russians and French Canadians, dangerous forces populated the world. As Wigzell (2001:45) highlights, “For Russian peasants, whose world centred on home and village community, everything outside presented a potential danger.” However, the danger involved a ubiquitous array of spirits permeating the landscape that could lead to death, whether by getting completely lost in the forest or being drowned by water spirits (Wigzell 2001:45). Even the relatively benign domovoi could cause harm if the rules of conduct were not followed. Likewise, children left in the banya at night could be replaced by the spirit world by an imperfect copy with the real child being taken to the other world. As is the case in French Canada, there is an attempt to modify folk beliefs and literature draws upon folk custom, reshaping it in the process. Unlike the case of French Canada, Wigzell (2000:62) argues for a process of “demonization” whereby the spirits inhabiting the world are tied to the Devil. The Russian Orthodox Church had always seen the popular mythology as demonic, tied to pre-Christian beliefs, but it took time for the Church to begin to impose its view: “It then took until the eighteenth and, more particularly, the nineteenth century before diabolization began to affect peasant views of the activities of the unclean force.”

The very different trajectory of folk beliefs in Devils and spirits certainly shaped both the Russian and French-Canadian populations. In Russia, the late appearance of the Devil was I would argue easily shed off in Soviet times. Not having had much time to take root in the folk beliefs, the transplanted demonization did not take root. However, I would argue that the resulting consequence of this abandoning of the Devil as overlay over unclean forces was the continued strength of Russia folk beliefs otherwise known as superstitions. As these folk beliefs could not be easily targeted by Soviet forces. Whereas Russian Orthodoxy had churches that could be blown up or converted in the Houses of Culture, granaries, barns or small factories, the spiritual forces of the forests and fields could not be quickly extirpated. Thus, I would argue, that many of the beliefs tied to everyday life were transformed, but maintained under new guises to the present. This is in contrast to what was happening in French-Canada where the popular tales concerning the Devil saw Satan transformed into a somewhat less than frightening figure that could be beguiled. Thus while forces pushed towards a greater secularization in French Canada and a decline in folk beliefs, the war on religion likely helped to maintain folk beliefs as it stripped away the Devil as an explanatory factor, leaving the unclean forces untouched. All told, the larger cultures of both peoples were shaped by folklore and folk beliefs, but greater research would be required to fully understand the processes that shape contemporary folk beliefs and customs and how to tie them to the past.

 

 

 

 

 

Beaugrand, Honoré

2012   La Chasse-Galerie. Légendes Canadienne. La Bibliothèque électronique du Québec, ed. Collection Littérature québécoise, Vol. 2.

Boivin, A.

2000   Le Diable À La Danse. Québec français (116).

Demers, J., and L. Gauvin

1976   Documents: Cinq Versions De «Rose Latulipe». Études françaises 12(1-2).

Deschênes, Donald, and Michel Courchesne eds

1996   Légendes De Chez Nous : Récits Fantastiques De L’ontario Français. Sudbury (Ontario): Centre franco-ontarien de folklore (CFOF) et Centre FORA.

Du Berger, J.

1979   Chasse-Galerie Et Voyage. Studies in Canadian Literature/Études en littérature canadienne 4(2).

Gauthier, L.

2009   Le Fantastique Dans Les Contes Canadiens-Français Du Xixe Siècle.

Lemire, M.

1985   Le Pacte Avec Le Diable Dans Le Conte Littéraire Au Xixe Siècle. Littérature québécoise: voix d’un peuple, voies d’une autonomie, Bruxelles, Éditions de l’Université de Bruxelles:55-66.

Madrid, M.

2012   Dancing with the Devil and Other Stories My Mother Told Me. Association of Mexican American Educators Journal 3(1).

Voldeng, Évelyne

2001   Le Diable Dans Les Contes Bretons Et Canadiens-Français. In Entre Beauce Et Acadie: Facettes D’un Parcours Ethnologique: Études Offertes Au Professeur Jean-Claude Dupont. J.P. Pichette, ed. Pp. 283-293. Sainte-Foy (Québec): Presses de l’Université Laval.

Wigzell, Faith

2000   The Russian Folk Devil. In Russian Literature and Its Demons. Studies in Slavic Literature, Culture, and Society. Pamela Davidson, ed. Pp. 59-86. New York: Berghahn Books.

2001   Folklore and Russian Literature. In The Routledge Companion to Russian Literature. Neil Cornwell, ed. Pp. 34-48. London ; New York: Routledge.

 

 


[1] http://americanfolklore.net/folklore/2010/07/dancing_with_the_devil.html

[2] http://www.snopes.com/horrors/ghosts/devil.asp

[3] http://www.laterre.ca/vie-rurale/le-diable-et-le-fermier/

ENTRE L’ÉPOPÉE ET L’OUBLI.

Below is a presentation made to the Anthropology in Our Backyards series on October 30th at ArtSpace. It is an early examination of the history of French-speakers and French-speaking Métis in northern British Columbia. I hope that it shall the start of an article or a chapter to be published at a later date. As it was a fully bilingual presentation, the text that follows is in both French and English.

Ce soir, nous traverserons des montagnes et parcourrons la forêt afin d’esquisser l’histoire des francophones du nord de la Colombie-Britannique, y compris l’histoire de francophones canadiens ou plutôt « canayen » francophones métis et francophones européens. Je vais situer cette histoire locale dans le contexte continental et même global. Mais, avant de faire ceci, je vais me permettre à faire un peu de réflexivité historique et je vais me placer dans cette histoire.

Je suis natif du nord albertain, et j’ai grandi dans la prairie nordique, près de la jonction de la Rivière-de-la-Paix et de la Rivière Boucane, un petit ilot francophone comme tant d’autres dans l’Ouest canadien. Toutefois, j’ai failli être un franco-colombien. Avant ma naissance, mon père et ma mère on traversé les terres agricoles de l’Alberta et la région de Dawson Creek pour aller travailler dans les chantiers de Chetwynd, mon père étant ouvrier dans l’industrie forestière de cette petite ville dans les années 60. Toutefois, mes parents décidèrent que la vie de fermier était meilleure que la vie ouvrière et ils quittèrent Chetwynd et s’installent sur un « homestead » albertain. Je n’ai donc jamais connu la Colombie-Britannique lors de mon enfance, mais j’ai grandi avec ces histoires de Chetwynd. Je n’y ai connu cette ville que lorsque j’ai eu mon emploi à Prince George à UNBC et j’ai eu l’occasion de visiter cette petite ville maintes fois dans mes péripéties de Prince Georges à ces terres ancestrales albertaines. Je dois avouer que je n’ai toujours pas témoigné de traces francophones dans cette ville, quoiqu’il y ait bon nombre de francophones qui y travaillaient, selon mes parents, lorsqu’ils y vivaient.

Retournons donc à l’histoire de la francophonie du nord de la province. Afin d’analyser cette histoire, je dois faire appel à l’anthropologue Eric Wolf et son appellation des peuples sans histoire. Les francophones ont joué un rôle de taille dans l’histoire de la province, mais cette histoire est méconnue par tous, y compris nous-mêmes. Il nous reste des bribes toponymiques, un lac Boucher, la petite ville de Tête-Jaune Cache, un Lac La Hache, la communauté de Pouce Coupé et bien sûr la ville de Quesnel. Je ne promets pas un résumé de l’histoire toute entière de cette grande région, mais plutôt j’espère que cette présentation sera un appel à la recherche, un appel à un effort collectif à nous écrire dans l’histoire, à s’assurer que nous aurons notre histoire et que grâce à cette histoire que nous nous assurerons un avenir.

[English]

Tonight, we are going to be crossing mountains as I seek to provide a sketch of the history of the French-speakers of northern British Columbia. Whereas, most scholars present their findings once the research is done, I shall skirt out on the thin ice of academia and will present about what is not known, will reveal a few crumbs of history that I have gathered in order to present a call for action, a call for research. First a bit about myself.

I was born in the Peace Country of northern Alberta, on a homestead that my parents had bought. However, I came close to being a northern son of the province. My parents had lived in Chetwynd prior to my birth, my father a lumberjack in the northern mills of the province. They returned to the northern prairie before I came to be.

Tonight, I will examine history form the perspective of Eric Wolf who published the seminal Europe and the Peoples Without History. Though French-speakers were here, their names litter the topography of our province—a Tête-Jaune cache here, a La Hache there, a Pouce Coupé thrown into the mix, but these are merely the flotsam of a larger history, forgotten traces that are bereft of context in the official histories.

Dans cette présentation, je vais faire appel à un écrivain prolifique qui a marqué l’histoire des terres de l’intérieur, Adrien Gabriel Morice. Prêtre, historien et je dirais même ethnographe, le père Morice est natif de l’Ouest de la France, né à la fin des années 1850. Il n’avait que 15 ans lorsqu’il rencontre en 1874 «le doux, humble et si zélé Monseigneur Justin-Vital Grandin, apôtre des Indiens de l’extrême Nord-Ouest du Canada » et c’est à ce moment qu’il décida à suivre cet évêque des Oblats de Marie-Immaculée dans l’Ouest canadien. À peine quelques années plus tard, le père Morice est envoyé aux missions de la Colombie Britannique.

L’histoire et le vécu de cet homme est essentiel à toute discussion de l’histoire de la francophonie du nord de notre province car son histoire chevauche deux époques : celle de la traite des fourrures lorsque les francophones, les métis et bien sûr les autochtones étaient toujours dominants dans le nord et celle du 20e siècle lorsque les francophones et autochtones sont marginalisés et dans le cas des derniers largement assimilés à la langue anglaise. Je m’inspire donc des écrits du Père Morice afin de mieux comprendre cette communauté francophone qui existait d’antan dans notre province. De plus, le Père Morice a compilé l’histoire des francophones de l’Ouest, publiant entre-autres le Dictionnaire historique des Canadiens et des Métis français de l’Ouest en 1912. Je dois noter que Morice comme il était courant à l’époque utilise le terme « Sauvage » pour décrire les autochtones. Certes, je n’approuve pas l’usage de cette désignation péjorative, mais en citant les mots du Père Morice je les laissent tels qu’ils sont.

Lorsque le père Morice se dirigea vers la Colombie-Britannique en 1880, il exista déjà un réseau de missions catholiques, la plupart fondés par des francophones. Le père Morice écrit dans son autobiographie : «Donc point de retards inutiles, et, un mois plus tard, je débarquais à New-York en compagnie de deux autres jeunes Oblats. Le 26 juillet, de grand matin, j’abordais à Victoria, capitale de la Colombie Britannique, d’où un autre bateau me menait à New-Westminster, puis à la mission Sainte-Marie, aujourd’hui Mission City, sur le Bas-Fraser. L’absence de tout chemin de fer à l’ouest d’Ottawa avait rendu nécessaire le long trajet via San-Francisco. » En 1882, il est ordonné prêtre et il fut envoyé à la mission Saint-Joseph du lac William, Caribou, c’est-à-dire au centre de la Colombie Britannique.

For this presentation, I rely upon the published works of Adrien Morice, and Oblate Missionary and Priest. Though much of his work has been translated into English, his work looking specifically at the French-speaking and Métis populations of Western Canada has been largely ignored. I will be presenting a small selection of anecdotes drawn from his work as well as those of the two volume Les Canadiens de l’Ouest written by Joseph Tassé and published in 1878  By Canadien he means French Canadian.

A native of France, born in the late 1850s, Morice met a missionary from the then Northwest Territories, the Bishop Justin-Vital Grandin, and following this meeting, he decided to head to North America. He head out for British Columbia in 1880 and he traveled across the United States to San Francisco before moving northwards. From Victoria, to the Sainte-Marie mission and from there he was dispatched to the Saint-Joseph mission at Lake William after having been ordained as priest in 1882. It should be noted that as was too common in this period, Morice refers to the First Nations as “Savages.” I do not condone the usage of this pejorative term, but when it was in the original text that I cite, I leave the term unchanged.

FORT ALEXANDRE

Déjà, toutefois, le déclin de l’époque de la traite des fourrures était évident. En 1884, le père Morice se trouvait au fort Alexandre, fort nommé en l’honneur d’Alexandre Mackenzie qui a descendu le fleuve Fraser en 1793, accompagné de canayens et de métis qui guidaient l’homme lors de son voyage de « découverte. » Tout comme l’explique le père Morice : « Autrefois, quand les sauvages étaient réputés dangereux, ces établissements étaient entourés d’une très forte palissade avec bastions, d’où leur vint leur nom. C’est là que les Indiens venaient, et continuent à venir, troquer leurs peaux de castor, d’ours, de martre ou de renard contre les vêtements, munitions et provisions de bouche dont ils ont besoin. » Ce fort fut en grande partie la clé de voute : « C’est de là que partaient alors les “brigades” de berges, ou grands bateaux plats, qui remontaient le fleuve et distribuaient l’équipement des différents forts de la région. » Le fort était abandonné lorsque le père Morice y arrive pour le première fois et c’est Quesnel qui l’avait succédé comme entrepôt commercial.

In 1884, Morice was in fort Alexander, named in honor of Alexander Mackenzie who had went down the Fraser River in 1793 accompanied by the French-speaking Canadiens and Métis. This fort was already in decline, a shadow of the former glory of the fur trading era. The fort was an important stopover point for going being shipped up the river by barge and then distributed to forts and location farthern northwards.

LA RUÉE VERS L’OR

Notons que l’évènement qui avait transformé cette région une génération plut tôt était la ruée vers l’or et l’établissement de la ville de Barkerville suite à la découverte d’or en 1862. Cette ville connait un essor spectaculaire et devint la ville la plus peuplée au nord de San Francisco avec une population d’environ 4,600 en 1868. Des milliers se dirigent vers ce nouveau centre dans l’espoir de faire fortune. Toutefois, lorsque l’or se fait rare, Barkerville est abandonnée et renait par la suite comme centre touristique.

[Pause pour montrer quelques photos prises à Barkerville.]

The event that had transformed the region was the Cariboo gold rush, with the establishment of Barkerville following the discovery of the precious metal in 1862. This quickly became the largest populated centre to the north of San Francisco with a population of roughly 4,600 people in 1868.

Je vais revenir à l’histoire de ce prêtre et sa description du nord de la Colombie-Britannique car je tiens premièrement à brosser l’histoire de cette époque qui prit fin dans la deuxième moitié du 19e siècle, l’époque de voyageurs et de la traite des fourrures. Pour s’y faire, je vais raconter l’histoire d’individus qui ont vécu dans le nord de la Colombie-Britannique, histoires tirés de l’œuvre du père Morice ainsi que les deux tomes Les Canadiens de l’Ouest par Joseph Tassé publiés en 1878. C’est par le vécu d’individus que je vais décrire une francophonie vivante qui a marqué l’histoire de la Colombie-Britannique et une francophonie avec des liens jusqu’au grand nord et l’Océan arctique ainsi que les territoires côtoyant le Pacifique, aujourd’hui les états d’Oregon et de Washington.

The history of northern British Columbia is intimately tied to that of the larger West and the fur trade. It is by providing the history of individuals, histories gleaned form the works of Morice and Tassé that we can start piecing together the social history of our region.

FRANÇOIS BEAULIEU, PÈRE ET FILS

Commençons nos histoires avec François Beaulieu,  père et fils, qui étaient des plus anciens habitants francophones et Métis du Nord-Ouest. Le père était, selon Morice, un Canadien qui habitait déjà dans l’Ouest à l’arrivée des premiers employés du Nord-Ouest vers 1778 et il accompagne sir Alexandre Mackenzie dans son fameux voyage. Il n’était pas le seul francophone dans l’équipage de Mackenzie car on y retrouve, entre autres, Alexandre Mackay, Joseph Landry, Charles Doucet, Baptiste Bisson, François Courtois et Jacques Beauchemin. (Tassé 1878 : XXV). Le fils François Beaulieu est le doyen des Métis français du Nord-Ouest, sa mère une dénée du peuple Montagnais. Lorsqu’il employée de la Compagnie de la Baie d’Hudson au fort Wedderburne qui se trouvait sur une ile du lac Athabasca, le fils joua à son tour un rôle important pour un explorateur Britannique, François traça une carte grossière pour John Franklin lui traçant la voie pour se rendre à son but dans son exploration du grand nord.

Je partage l’avis de Morice qu’à « l’exception de l’expédition de Samuel Hearne (1769-72), qui partit d’un point exclusivement anglais, les Canadiens et leurs descendants, les métis français, furent de toutes les explorations overland » (1912 : XIII) et ceci est aussi vrai au sud du 49e parallèle. Notons que l’interprète pour l’expédition Lewis et Clarke qui se rendit jusqu’à la Colombie en 1804-1805 était un Canadien. Puis, lorsque Simon Fraser en 1808 entreprend l’exploration du fleuve qui porte son nom, il avait des canotiers canadiens et son lieutenant, Jules-Maurice Quesnel, était lui-aussi Canadien (Morice 1912 : XIII).

We will begin our history with François Beaulieu father and François son. They were among the earliest French-speaking and Métis inhabitants of the Northwest. The father, according to Morice, was one of the first employees of the old North-West Company and he accompanied Alexander Mackenzie on his famous voyage. He was not the sole French-speaker as in the company of Mackenzie we find, among others, Alexandre Mackay, Joseph Landry, Charles Docet, Baptiste Bisson, François Courtois and Jacques Beauchemin. This was the rule, not the exception. Other than Samuel Hearne’s expedition, invariably all overland expeditions featured a number, if not a majority, of French-speakers. This is even true of the Lewis and Clarke expedition who relied upon a French-speaking Canadien interpreter. Ditt for Simon Fraser who relied upon French-speaking and Métis paddlers as well as a French-speaking lieutenant, Jules-Maurice Quesnel, though you are more likely to pronounce it Quesnel.

JEAN-BAPTISTE BOUCHER DIT WACCAN

Les francophones n’étaient pas seulement les pagayeurs, les guides et les interprètes, ils étaient aussi ceux qui par la suite œuvraient à établir les forts qui étaient nécessaires à la traite des fourrures. Compris parmi ces employés était Jean-Baptiste Boucher dit Waccan, un Métis franco-cris qui était un des hommes les plus respectés à l’ouest des montagnes Rocheuses. Waccan était parmi l’équipage de Simon Fraser lorsqu’ils découvrirent le lac Stuart et il s’établit dans cette région, épousant une femme de la population autochtone de la région. Waccan était reconnu pour sa férocité et sa témérité. Morice décrit ainsi un de ses exploits :

« En 1828, son frère utérin avait été tué par les Indiens Babines. Sans hésiter, il partit seul pour un voyage de trente-cinq milles, et en présence de plusieurs amis du meurtrier il alla droit à lui, le tira à bout portant et blessa un des spectateurs qui faisait mine de venir à son secours, défiant en même temps les assistants, stupéfaits de tant d’audace, de le toucher » (1912 : 38).

Sa réputation faite, Waccan était très souvent chargé du rôle de policier pour le fort. Si les nations autochtones environnantes s’attardaient auprès du fort Saint-James, on le chargeait de leur faire quitter les jeux de hasard et de les envoyer à la chasse. De plus, si un employé désertait son poste au fort, c’était Waccan qui était mis à la poursuite. En 1843, lorsque le contremaitre d’un fort a été tué, Waccan et un parti de Canadiens est envoyés du lac Stuart pour venger sa mort (Morice 1912 : 38).

Waccan a également facilité l’introduction du catholicisme dans le nord de la Colombie-Britannique. En 1841, ils accueilli les missionnaires de la rivière Colombie dont Mgr. Modeste Demers qui baptisa et instruisit ses dix-sept enfants (Morice 1912 : 38-39). Toujours au lac Stuart, il mourut en 1850 de la rougeole, le dernier survivant de l’expédition du découvreur Simon-Fraser.

Il est évident que les francophones Métis et Canadiens étaient la main d’œuvre au fort Saint James et le succès de l’entreprise reposait en grande partie sur l’expertise et la hardiesse de ces premiers francophones. La communauté de Fort St. James est la plus ancienne communauté fondée par les colonisateurs européens en Colombie-Britannique et elle était en fait la capitale du territoire qu’on dénommait la Nouvelle Calédonie. Toutefois, l’histoire francophone est largement masquée au musée national qui occupe maintenant l’ancien fort.

[Photos du fort et le lac Stuart]

One of the most intriguing individuals who lived in our region was Jean-Baptiste Boucher also known as Waccan. He was a Franco-Cree Métis, who accompanied Simon Fraser and in their travels in the region they came upon Stuart Lake where Fort James would be founded. Waccan was renowned for his ferocity and his courage. Morice describes thus one of his exploits. When his blood brother was killed in 1828, he traveled alone to the territory of the Lake Babine Nation, marched up to his brother’s assailant, killed him and then defied those who looked at him astonished at what he had done.

Waccan was a trusted employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company, oftern serving as the company police officer. If an employee abandoned his post, Waccan would track him down. When an employee was killed, Waccan was sent to seek vengeance.

Waccan was instrumental in introducing Catholicism to the region. He greeted the Bishop Modeste Demers in 1841 and took advantage of the opportunity to have his seventeen children baptized. Waccan died of measles in 1850.

L’OUBLI

It is rarely acknowledged in English-language histories that the Canadiens and the French-speaking Métis often formed the majority of the workforce in the forts of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and this is equally true of British Columbia. To demonstrate this, I will pick upon the writings of my former Dean, Robin Fisher.

Il est rarement reconnu dans les livres d’histoire de langue anglaise que les Canadiens et les Métis de langue française formaient la majorité des employées dans les forts de la Compagnie de la Baie d’Hudson ou son ancien rival la Compagnie du Nord-Ouest. Je cite à titre d’exemple  qui écrit : « Hudson’s Bay company men stayed for longer periods, built permanent forts, and established more sustained relations with Native people. Yet, they were few in number and, isolated in their litle enclaves, their influence was much more limited than they were willing to admit (Fisher 1996 : 52).  Comme vous voyer, ce ne sont pas des francophones et des métis, ce ne sont que des « hommes de la compagnie de la Baie d’Hudson. » Premièrement on masque la présence francophone et ensuite on dénigre leur histoire car on voit clairement que ces « hommes » n’ont pas véritablement jouer un rôle important dans l’histoire de cette province.

As this citation demonstrates, the presence of French-speakers is masked, the workers ignored, going unnamed, unrecognized. Also, Fisher ignores the role of French-speaking Métis such as Waccan, focusing instead on one case of an English-speaker marrying a Tsimshian woman. Thus, he focuses on the exception, glossing over the history of the French-speakers.

De plus, ce même chapitre, ignore également la contribution de Métis francophones. Oui on donne un exemple de métissage, mais celui d’un anglophone, John Kennedy, avec une femme du peuple Tsimshian et Fisher propose que ceci est comparable à ce qui se passe dans la vallée de la rivière Rouge : « Such marriages were clearly good business, but often they were also basedon strong affection and many were lasting relationships rather than temporary liaisons. The children of such marriages formed a mixed-blood society that was smaller but no less significant than the Metis society of Red River in what is now Manitoba » (Fisher 1996 : 57). Comme vous voyez, Fisher se tait quant à l’existence de francophones dans la traite des fourrures and la Colombie-Britannique et suggère que les Métis étaient les descendants d’anglophones.  Simplement dit, cet œuvre collective, The Pacific Province : A History of British Columbia, efface de l’histoire les francophones, Canadiens et Métis. Selon Fisher, nous n’y étions pas et bien sûr les francophones ne sont que mentionnés qu’à trois reprises dans tout le recueil car, bien sûr, on doit faire une mention symbolique à Maillardville.

Fisher and others ignore the simple fact that the English-language was simply not dominant in the fur trade, and it was the French-language that had greater status.

Le français était la langue dominante dans l’époque de la traite des fourrures ici en Colombie-Britannique. Je prends le cas d’un jeune « commandant » qui a été placé en tête du Fort Okanagan en 1816.

As a case in point, I will cite the case of a young commander who was working at Fort Okanagan in 1816.

Il écrit/ He writes : « Bad French and worse Indian began to usurp the place of English, and I found my conversation gradually becoming a barbarous compound of various dialects » (Akrigg and Akrigg 1975 :164-165).

Bref, à cette époque, ce sont les francophones et les autochtones qui assimilaient les anglophones. Peut-être c’est pour cette raison que cette époque est problématique : on se souvient des Mackenzie, Fraser, Cook et Vancouver, mais on préfère se faire muet quant à la présence francophone. Ceci est en soi un trait caractéristique du nationalisme : on doit et se souvenir et oublier. De plus, très souvent les traces qui y étaient sont mêmes rayés des cartes : on voit ceci à maintes reprises dans le passé quand la rivière des Trembles est devenue Cottonwood ou la rivière de Nicholas et devenu Nicola River, son épellation laissant croire que ce n’est pas français. Ce qui reste, ces noms français qui marque le paysage sont en fait que les vestiges d’un riche passé francophone et Métis de la province.

Fisher and others remember the Mackenzies, the Frasers, the Cooks and the Vancouvers, yet largely write out of the history the French-speakers. This is an element of nationalism : one must both remember and forget. As was the case with the aboriginal placenames, the French designations or written off maps. The river des Trembles becomes Cottonwood and the French-spelling of Nicholas is transformed into Nicola which is bereft of any French.

Un des rares textes que j’ai pu trouvé en anglais qui présente une histoire plus nuancée de l’époque de la traite des fourrures est un manuel scolaire intitulé The Métis of British Columbia : Fundamental Reading and Writing Exercises par Rene Inkster. Ici, on apprend l’origine du nom du village de Pouce Coupé : c’était le sobriquet donné à un chef du peuple Sekanni qui avait perdu son pouce lorsqu’il l’avait tiré par accident. Les Métis au fort Saint James l’ont donc appelé Pouce Coupé. Ce Pouce Coupé traverse les montagnes et il s’établit avec sa famille dans la région de la Rivière-de-la-Paix (Peace River) et la petite rivière qu’y coule tout près est nommé à son tour Pouce Coupé et des amis Métis se sont joint à la famille de Pouce Coupé et ce village a été à son tour nommé Pouce Coupé.

I will briefly explain the origin of the name Pouce Coupé. A Sekani chief lost his thumb in a hunting accident and he was nicknamed « Pouce Coupé » or cut thumb by the French-speaking Métis of Fort Saint James. The chief crossed the mountains and settled in the Peace River Region and the name Pouce Coupé was in turn given to the settlement.

L’histoire de la Colombie-Britannique regorge de francophones et de Métis de langue français :

  • Louis Battenotte qui guida les voyageurs Milton et Cheadle qui l’immortalisent and leur narration sous le sobriquet Assiniboine;
  • Alexis Bélanger un Métis qui est tiré lorsqu’il était timonier d’une des cinq barques qui montaient du fort Alexandre et sa mort occasionne des terribles et injustes représailles contre la population autochtone;
  • Michel Falardeau, Canadien travaillant au poste qui est devenu la ville de Kamloops qui est décédé lorsque son maitre (bourgeois) au fort lui donna des coups. Le commandant donne l’ordre aux travailleurs iroquois que ce «coquin » ne méritait guère plus que des simples planches brutes. Un des ouvriers remarque tout haut qu’il n’en aurait peut-être pas autant à sa mort. Quelques temps après, le commandant est décédé lorsqu’un arbre tombe sur sa tente la nuit et sans doute il a été enterré sans cercueil (Morice 1912 :109-110);
  • Vital Laforce, Canadien qui selon Morice avait « un peu de sang indien dans les veines » qui découvrit le ruisseau aurifère appelé en son honneur Vital Creek and le nord de la Colombie-Britannique;
  • Jean-Baptiste Lapierre, employé de la Compagnie de la Baie d’Hudson dans la Nouvelle-Calédonie qui a été temporairement mis en charge du fort Chilcotin un des postes les plus dangereux de l’extrême ouest (Morice 1912 : 158).

I will not repeat my list of French-speakers and French-speaking Métis who played memorable roles in the history of the region, but suffice it to say that their history is sufficient to write a volume or two.

HISTOIRE D’AMOUR : BERNARD DUBREUIL

To finish my presentation, I will recount a love story that would put Harlequin to shame and I will answer the question that I posed at the last Backyards talk, who was Yellowhead?

De surcroit, le père Morice nous offre une histoire d’amour et une fin tragique qui pourrait faire concurrence au meilleur des filmes. Bernard Dubreuil était un Canadien selon les dires de Morice qui avait laissé sa fiancée sur les bords du Saint-Laurent, lui laissant avec une promesse qu’il reviendrait pour elle. Il quitte son amour pour se rendre au fort Babine (aussi connu sous le nom Fort Kilmaurs). Une fois rendu au fort, fondée l’année précédente, son commandant décida de traverser les montagnes à l’Ouest pour visiter les autochtones au-delà des montagnes de la chaine que nous appelons maintenant Skeena et le village se situait dans la vallée Bulkley, là où l’on retrouve maintenant la communauté de Moricetown. De retour à notre héro, en l’honneur de son homme de confiance Dubreuil, le commandant nomme la montagne principale Saint-Bernard en honneur de Dubreuil. Toutefois, lorsqu’il descendit  les montagnes, il est frappé par une affliction psychologique. Selon Morice : « Il donna pour raison de sa mélancolie l’apparition en rêve de sa fiancée, puis de son saint patron qui lui avait prédit une mort prochaine et l’avait exhorté au repentir de ses fautes » (1912:336-337). Une fois parvenu au village autochtone, la compagnie d’homme doit traverser un pont, un tronc d’arbre chevauchant un précipice. A mi-chemin, Dubreuil perd raison. Il cria : « Je la vois; oui je la vois pour la dernière fois » et il se jeta dans l’abysse. Selon Morice : « Dubreuil mourait ainsi misérablement au moment où il venait d’atteindre le point le plus occidental où fut encore parvenue un représentant de notre race » (1912 :337). Quelques années plus tard, le commandant se trouve à Montréal et quoique Protestant, il se rendit à la chapelle de l’Hôtel Dieu ou une jeune femme allait prendre la voile. Morice écrit : « Pendant les chants qui accompagnaient la sainte messe, l’inconnu de l’ouest demanda à son voisin ce que faisait là cette jeune demoiselle. ‘C’est la fille d’une riche fermier qui va se faire religieuse’, lui fut-il répondu. ‘Et quel est son nom’? demanda l’étranger. ‘Elle s’appelait dans le monde Adèle d’Aubigné’, fit-on » et c’était la fiancée de notre pauvre Bernard. (1912 :337-338). Oui, notre histoire est véritablement une épopée.

As promised, a somewhat tragic love story. Bernard Dubreuil was a Canadien who according to Morice had left his fiancée in the Saint-Lawrence Valley to go West. He traveled out to the Fort Babine, known then as Fort Kilmaurs and then pushed westwards over the Skeena Mountains coming to the Bulkley Valley where we now find the community of Moricetown. Bernard was the first Canadien to have pushed so far West. He was struck with a mental affliction and his fiancée appeared to him in trouble dreams. Having reached the village, they had to cross a bridge made with the trunk of a tree. Half way, he yells out : « I see her, I see her for the last time » before jumping off the bridge, falling down the precipice to his death. A few years later, the commander, though a Protestand attended a Catholic service in Montreal. There a young woman was to take her vows and become a nun. He asks his neighbor, who is she. The neighbor answers, she is Adèle d’Aubigné, the fiancée of our poor Bernard who had jumped off that bridge so far away in the West.

TÊTE-JAUNE ET PIERRE CHRYSOLOGUE PAMBRUN

Il y a donc une richesse historique qui n’a à peine été étudiée, celle de l’histoire francophone de notre province. Deux autre cas qui nous aideront à mieux comprendre l’histoire de notre province est celui de Pierre Chrysologue Pambrun et Pierre Hatsinaton dit Tête-Jaune.

Pierre Chrysologue Pambrun est né à L’Islet en bas de Québec en 1792 et son père quitta ce village pour s’établir à Vaudreuil au commencement du 19e siècle. Quoiqu’il avait une famille sans doute plus aisée que la moyenne, Pierre n’avait peu d’enthousiasme pour les études. Lorsque la guerre de 1812 s’éclata, il se précipita à s’enrôler dans les Voltigeurs sous la commande du colonel de Salaberry. Son père le louange pour son choix patriotique, mais le reproche toutefois du fait que « Dans les douze lignes qui composent le contenu de votre lettre, il n’y pas une seule où il n’y ait cinq ou six fautes d’orthographe » (Tassé 1887 : 301).  À la fin, le père conseille le fils : « Si par malheur votre chef, ou quelqu’un de vos officiers est tué, ne quittez pas le champ de bataille sans avoir vengé sa mort. Suppléez à votre manque d’éducation par votre bravoure…… » (Tassé 1887 : 301-302).  Pambrun participe à la bataille de Châteauguay ou « trois cent Canadiens mirent en déroute huit mille Américains » (Tassé 1887 : 302).

Une fois son devoir de soldat achevé, Pambrun s’engagea au service de la Compagine de la baie d’Hudson, tandis que la plupart de ses compatriotes se joignaient à sa rivale la Compagnie du Nord-Ouest.  Il participa à la guerre qui se livrait ces deux compagnies. Un mois avant l’incident qu’on nomme la Grenouillère, une expédition de la Compagnie de la Baie d’Hudson voulant transporter une cargaison de six cents sacs de pemmican du Qu’Appelle à la colonie de Selkirk est surpris en route par les employés de la Compagnie du Nord-Ouest sous la commande de Cuthbert Grant. Il fut fait prisonnier et il était toujours captif lors de la Grenouillère. Lors de cette bataille, les Métis font guerre contre les forces du gouverneur Semple et ce dernier et 20 de ses hommes sont tués lors de la bataille tandis qu’un seul Métis perd sa vie. En Anglais cet incident est connu sous le nom Seven Oaks Massacre. La paix est achevée lorsque les deux compagnies sont fusionnées en 1821.

Pambrun doit assister au procès qui a déroulé à Toronto en 1816 et de là il est envoyé à la Nouvelle-Calédonie et en 1825 il prend le commandement du fort Kilmaurs ou le fort des Babines, un poste périlleux. La réputation de Pambrun est très tôt fait. Il réussit, par example, à parcourir la distance entre Kamloops et le lac MacLeod en une seule journée, une distance de 150 miles. Personne n’a jamais battu son record.

Toutefois, l’histoire du fort Kilmaurs est marquée par le conflit entre les traiteurs et la nation Babine. Nous y retrouvons des représailles réciproques et même l’épouse de Pambrun doit participer au conflit. Voice ce que nous raconte Tassé :

« Au printemps, l’on vit arriver une nombreuse bande de guerriers, bien décidés à massacrer les blancs du fort et les Sauvages qui pourraient leur être dévouées. Pambrun ayant quitté le fort depuis quelques jours pour aller chasser, la place n’avait pour tous défenseurs que sa femme, une parente du nom de Ross, et un Canadien sérieusement malade. Les deux femmes étaient réellement abandonnées  leurs seules ressources. Il leur fallait résister aux Sauvages, ou bien se résigner à une mort ignominieuse; elles n’hésitèrent pas à se défendre vaillamment.

Les Sauvages ne tardèrent pas à paraitre. La femme de Pambrun les accueillit avec le plus grand calme. Elle les pria de prendre des sièges, puis elle leur offrit du tabac, suivant l’usage ordinaire.

Le chef refusa de fumer le calumet de la paix, et demanda où se trouvait le capitaine français. Mme Pambrun répondit qu’il était absent, et elle lui jeta en même temps à la face le tabac qu’il n’avait pas voulu accepter. Non contente de cette insulte sanglante, elle saisit un fusil, puis le plaçant à bout portant sur la poitrine du chef, elle lui ordonna de décamper sur-le-champ. Mme Ross se tenait prête de son côté à faire le coup de feu. Étonnés de leur audace, les Sauvages quittèrent le fort l’un après l’autre, suivis de leur chef, qui ne voulut pas s’éloigner, cependant, sans ramasser le tabac que Mme Pambrun lui avait jeté à la figure » (Tasse 1887 :306-307).

Pambrun et sa famille quitte la Nouvelle-Calédonie vers 1827 et se dirigea premièrement au lac l’Orignal près de la baie d’Hudson. Cette longue route s’est fait grâce des traineaux à chiens.  En cours de route, la glace se brisa et trois chiens périrent dans l’eau. Étant donné le défi de se procurer de la nourriture l’hiver, se fiant surtout au saumon sec et les lièvres, on tira les chiens de l’eau et selon Tassé : « Leurs cadavres furent retirés de l’eau et on les dépeça avec soin pour les faire servir à quelque délicieux repas » (1887 :308). Pambrun finira ses jours à Walla Walla. En 1838, il commandait l’important poste de Walla-Walla et il reçoit les premiers missionnaires catholiques dans ce territoire que deviendrait l’État de Washington.

Another colorful family in the history of the region is that of Pierre Chrysologue Pambrun. Born in Québec in 1792, he managed to be a combattant in the War of 1812, then he joined the Hudson’s Bay Company. Destined to participate in the events that would shape the history of Western Canada, he was captured by the Métis combattants of the Battle of La Grenouillère, known in English as the Battle of Seven Oaks that played a central role in the forming of a strong Métis identity. Following his participation in the court case that followed, he was sent to New Caledonia to take command of Fort Kilmaurs in 1825. One telling anecdote involves his wife. Once, while her husband was away she greets a delegation from the Lake Babine Nation and offers the chief a peace pipe. When he refuses her offering, she then throws the tobacco in his face and takes a rifle forcing the delegation out of the fort. Stunned by her audacity, the delegation files out and away. The Pambruns would crisscross the territory before settling in now what is Oregon. Now, on to Tête-Jaune or Yellowhead.

PIERRE HATSIANATON BOSTONAIS DIT TÊTE-JAUNE

Maintenant, je tiens à finir mon survol historique en discutant l’histoire de Tête-Jaune.  Ce que nous savons, c’est que Pierre Bostonais Tête-Jaune est identifié comme étant Iroquois et a joué inestimable dans l’histoire de l’Ouest. Toutefois, il y a ambigüité car nous avons en fait deux Pierre Bostonais. Le premier, Pierre Pangman Bostonais était le fils de Peter Pangman un marchand de New Jersey et Marguerite Sauteuse, une autochtone du peuple saulteux. Ce Pierre Bostonais a participé à la Grenouillère. L’autre était Pierre Hatsinaton Bostonais était un Iroquois francophone, originaire du Québec, la région d’Oka,  et il était employé des compagnies de traite de fourrures, un Iroquois libre. Une épidémie de la petite vérole qui aurait ravagé les populations autochtones dans les années 1780, bon nombre d’Iroquois ont été recruté pour travailler pour les compagnies du Nord-Ouest et plus tard la Compagnie de la Baie d’Hudson. Ils se sont établis dans les vallées de la rivière Boucane (Smoky), et les Hauts Peace et Fraser. Ces Iroquois connaissait donc le territoire et Pierre Bostonais Tête-Jaune fut embauché en 1825 pour diriger une expédition traversant les montagnes Rocheuses. Tête-Jaune quitte Jasper House le 18 octobre et ils parcoururent 120 miles se rendant à Tête-Jaune Cache le 24 octobre. De là, Tête-Jaune se rend au fort Alexandria avec la brigade. Malade, Tête-Jaune demeure au fort en May 1826 lorsque la brigade de la Compagnie de la Baie d’Hudson quitte en direction du fort Vancouver. Tête-Jaune et son frère Baptiste passeront deux ans dans la Nouvelle-Calédonie chassant, de passage au fort Saint-James en avril 1827. En 1828, Tête-Jaune a été tué par des guerriers du peuple Castor, punition pour avoir chassé sur leur territoire. Malgré sa fin tragique, Tête-Jaune marque le territoire de la Colombie-Britannique, immortalisé par une autoroute, le Yellowhead, un col le Yellowhead Pass, un lac Yellowhead, une rivière Yellowhead ainsi que la communauté Tête-Jaune Cache.

Who was Yellowhead? Pierre Hatsinaton Bostonais was a French-speaking Iroquois from the region of Oka in Québec. He was hired by the fur trading companies as were many other Iroquois as a freeman. In the 1780s, a smallpox epidemic had ravaged the indigenous populations of Western Canada and the North-West trading company and later the Hudson’s Bay Company would recruit Iroquois freemen to work for them and they settled in the Smoky River and Upper Peace and Fraser River regions. Pierre Hatsinaton nicknamed the Bostonian as well as as Tête-Jaune or Yellowhead was hired in 1825 to lead an expedition over the Rocky Mountains. He left Jasper House on October 18th and traveled 120 miles to what is now Tête-Jaune Cache on October 24th. From there, he proceeds to Alexandria, Fort Alexander. Sick, he stays at the fort with his brigade, while the rest of the crew leaves Fort Alexander to head down to what is now Vancouver. In the summer of 1826, Pierre and his brother Baptiste go hunting in the surrounding lands and they would spend two years in New Caledonia, sojourning in Fort Saint-James. In 1828, Tête-Jaune is killed by warriors of the Beaver nation as a punishment for having hunted on their territory.

I hope we can agree that French-speakers have marked the history of the region.

J’espère que vous seriez d’accord avec moi que les francophones y étaient et qu’ils on marqué l’histoire du nord de la Colombie-Britannique ainsi que la province toute entière. La question, toutefois, est ce qui est devenu de cette première vague francophone.  Pour faire ceci, je retourne au début, à l’autobiographie du Père Morice.

Ce nous remarquons c’est le fait que le français est toujours plus répandue dans le nord de la Colombie-Britannique que l’anglais dans les années 1880. Je cite le Père Morice qui a de la difficulté à se faire comprendre lors de son premier voyage chez le peuple Babine:

“J’essayai du tchinouk, jargon en usage sur toute la côte du Pacifique septentrional, et mon homme avoua qu’il ne me comprenait pas assez pour rendre correctement ma pensée dans sa langue. Je pensai que l’anglais serait plus facile, mais je ne trouvai personne qui le connût suffisamment pour m’être d’aucun secours.”

“Je me rabattis alors sur le français du pays, et parvins à me faire comprendre. Mais, hélas! comme Bossuet et Massillon durent tressaillir d’indignation dans leurs tombes!

Savez-vous, par exemple, comment, dans ce bienheureux parler propre aux métis de la région, vous devez dire pour être compris «Quand le Fils se fit homme, le démon était maître de presque tout le monde»? Ecoutez: «L’bon Yeu son garçon quand ca i’ devient la même chose comme nous autres, le Yâble quasiment tout l’ monde son bourgeois».

Soulignons que ceci n’est pas le Méchif, une fusion du français, du cri et autre langues autochtones, mais véritablement du français, le français du Nord-Ouest.

As a side linguistic note, I will remark that in passing Morice reproduces a sentence that he includes in his writing to illustrate the language of the Métis of the region at the end of the 19th century. This was not Méchif, a creole language that combines French, Cree and other languages. It was French, the French of the old Northwest. Finally, the question that I hope you have all been thinking to ask, what about Prince George ?

TAPPAGE ET PRINCE GEORGE

La langue française est toujours très répandue et parler dans le nord. À fort Georges, nous retrouvons le cas très particulier d’un Métis qui étaient un des pionniers de la ville de Prince George. Le Fort George Herald du 23 mars 1912 raconte l’histoire d’un vieil homme nommé Sousa Thapage (Tappage) qui vivaient dans la première maison de la ville, une réserve de quelques acres sur les rives du fleuve Fraser. L’article raconte que dans le passé, Thapage organisait des danses où les autochtones, les Métis (half-breeds) et blancs dansaient toute la nuit des jigs de la Baie d’Hudson toute la nuit au son du violon. L’article explique que South Fort George, maintenant le centre-ville de Prince George, a été construit sur les terres que Thapage et deux autres partenaires avaient achetées de la Compagnie de la Baie d’Hudson. Cet article souligne que dans l’ancien temps, lorsque Thapage était jeune et travaillait pour la Compagnie de la Baie d’Hudson qu’il parlait toujours en français, le français de la frontière du Nord-Ouest. Le journaliste mentionne que si tu parles français, que Thapage te racontera l’histoire de construction de la maison en rondins qui se trouvait sur ses terres. De plus, l’article conclut que Thapage prend la main d’un de ses petits-enfants et lui parle en français.

One of the true pioneers of what is to become Prince George is a Métis man by the name of Thapage or Tappage. Tappage and two partners had bought the land from the Hudson’s Bay Company that would become the nucleus of Prince George. A journalist of the Fort George Herald notes that Tappage was Métis, a half-breed, and that Mr. Tappage organized dances where the First Nations and Métis guests would spend the night dancing jigs to the sound of violins. The article highlights that when he was young he would always speak in French as this was the language of the Hudson’s Bay Comapany and the frontier of the Northwest.

Un autre journal, le Prince George Citizen, publie à son tour l’histoire de Thapage en 1920. Ici, l’article précise que Thapage était un sobriquet qui veut dire un « big Packman » car il était reconnu pour sa force physique en transportant d’énorme poids lors des portages. Son nom véritable était Joe Mer(r)ienne et l’article précise qu’il est un « French-Canadian halfbreed » et que son père était employé de la Compagnie du Nord-Ouest et que son père avait accompagné Simon Fraser lors de son voyage en 1808. Même en 1920, il préfère parler en français.

Another article, published later in the Prince George Citizen notes that his real name was Joe Mer(r)ienne and that his father had accompanied Simon Fraser in his 1808 voyage. Even in 1920, when the article was published, Jos preferred to speak French.

Le journaliste précise, the journalist specifies: « He speaks French patois better than he speaks English, and so it is difficult to piece together a really comprehensive narrative of his remarkable life in this country ».

Jos avait marié une des filles de Jean-Baptiste Boucher que nous avons déjà discuté. Jos had married one of the daughters of Jean-Baptiste Boucher, or Waccan.

Cet article toutefois souligne la transition difficile des anciens habitants à cette nouvelle société. L’article précise que toute sa parenté est décédée ou éparpillé et qu’il ne peut pas recevoir de l’aide du Département des Indiens car il est un Métis (halfbreed). Il explique au journaliste en anglais : « Tout ce que je veux c’est du bois. Ma jambe, ma jambe n’est pas bonne et je ne peux plus couper du bois, je suis trop vieux ». L’année suivante, en 1921, il est décédé et on croit qu’il était centenaire.

The article in the Prince George Citizen highlights nonetheless the difficult transition being made by Tappage and his descendants. The author notes that as a Métis Jos can’t receive any compensation from the Department of Indian Affairs. All that Jos wanted was some firewood, because he said he was too old to go chop his own wood.

Les descendants de ces premiers francophones y sont toujours et sont les ancêtres de la communauté contemporaine Métis de la province. Certains étaient Métis tandis que d’autres y sont devenus Métis pour emprunter la terminologie de Jean Barman et Mike Evans. Par la suite, d’autres francophones viendront à leur tour dans le nord, notamment pour travailler dans l’industrie forestière qui remplacera la traite des fourrures comme industrie principale du nord et de la Colombie-Britannique. Je laisse toutefois cette histoire à une présentation à venir, celle qui s’écrira à partir de Chetwynd….

The descendants of Boucher and Tappage and others are still here, having become the contemporary Métis community of the region and province. Other French-speakers would follow to work in forestry, but I shall leave their history for a future date.

Merci ! Thank you !

 

 

 

 

Anthropology and Folklore: Bridging Gaps

         Я—антрополог. A mundane statement that always begins a long discussion as to what anthropology really is and what it is that I do as a profession. Whereas in North America, anthropology can be defined as the study of humanity, with the prerequisite clarification that anthropology includes archaeology and the study of cultures, in Russia the term is associated with the measuring of skulls, the domain of physical anthropology. To explain what I really do, I have to expand, specify that I am closer to an ethnographer, but that in Russia is also imbued with other meanings. The ethnographer in Russia is the folklorist in Canada. Thus, for over a decade, I have been explaining to Russians anthropology, while invariably being paired with folklorists in the field as we seek to understand human behavior. This presentation, thus, will seek once more to bridge the gaps between disciplines, between countries, between old ideologies in order to analyze how we can create a useful syncretism that will bring us closer together in terms of theory, overlapping already in terms of methodology, while demonstrating that folklore should be concerned with the present and that anthropology should have recourse to folklore to better understand contemporary cultures. I will argue that like an odd couple, North American anthropology and Russian folklore can complete each other, though as any loving couple each will certainly insist on doing it as they see best, pulling at the social blanket of discursive practices to define cultures past and present. One useful avenue is the emergence and growing status of oral history in Canada. The Supreme Court of Canada has legitimized Oral History as a form of history and oral history traditions can be presented to Canadian courts as evidence. Oral history is de facto folklore as it seeks to interview elders to record their memories and traditions, while clearly building upon an anthropological tradition of gathering life histories to better understand how cultures have changed over time. Oral history can serve as a useful testament as to how anthropology and folklore can reconcile their differences and work productively together in studying what it means to be human.

For many years, I have been organizing ethnographic, anthropologically ethnographic, field school in Russia, and quite often the work that was being done would overlap with Russian field schools. Together, Canadian and American students would conduct research in villages, while their peers from Russia would scour the countryside. There were differences, methodological and theoretical. There was a greater emphasis on finding the “babushki” and “dedushki” that is to find the elders to collect from them their memories and accounts of the traditions that had largely disappeared. I admired their zeal: the Russian students would quickly scour the villages finding each and every possible informant and were extremely adept at soliciting from their songs and oral traditions, recording the minutiae of folklore. There were adept at finding the songs that graced weddings, those that were sung at funerals, and the beliefs surrounding a variety of life rituals. I have to confess that the narratives that can be collected intrigued me. In the case of the Komi Republic, there had been a rich belief in a spiritual world that coexisted with the material, with the forests inhabited by “leshy” the forest spirits and waterways occupied by “vaussa” or malevolent mermaids among the other spiritual forces and creatures that coexisted with humans. My regret is that contemporary anthropology had little interest in folklore. I will examine the rupture, how the two disciplines diverged and will propose how they could be reunited, in Russia at least.

Though anthropology and folklore are now seen as distinct disciplines, this was not always the case. Regna Darnell provides an intriguing history of the emergence of the modern disciplines of anthropology and folklore in the United States. In her review of the history of anthropology and folklore, she reviews the influence of Franz Boas, one of the leading figures who shaped the emergence of four-field anthropology in North America, in the history of folklore between 1890 and 1920. She chronicles how anthropologists were publishing in the Darnell affirms that for Boas “folklore was also a part of anthropology” (1973:26) There were nonetheless differences. In these early years, the discipline of anthropology was preoccupied with the exotic other and the folklore being collected by Boas and others focused on the myths of the indigenous peoples of North America, whereas the folklorists wanted to collect the folklore of all the peoples of the continent, including that of the “Old English, Negro, American Indian, French-Canadian and Mexican cultures” (Darnell 1973:26). The early folklorists respected Boas and his students for their thorough methods and even their goals were similar. Boas and other anthropologists believed that that the cultures and aboriginal peoples were disappearing and the goal was to salvage what could be collected before developing overarching theories. In turn, folklorists were striving for the accurate collection of materials, for later study, and they too were seeking to record the folklore of rural populations that were quickly becoming urban. The development of American folklore then was guided by Franz Boas who sought to impose professional standards to the study of folklore and prioritized the recording of first-hand material. Simply put, Boas encouraged the application of anthropological fieldwork to the study of folklore and even encouraged greater theorizing in the Journal of American Folklore he edited than the corresponding journal American Anthropologist. Great importance was accorded to recording the myths of indigenous peoples, and more importantly developing overarching theories to explain the diffusion of myths. “Boas was concerned with the general implication of myth themes, their diffusion, psychological reality, and functional integration within cultures—all of these being questions not raised by the earlier, Washington-dominated efforts towards myth concordance”(Darnell 1973:37). The Washington dominated efforts were those of the Bureau of American Ethnology that was the rival to the growing influence of the Boasian school centered at Columbia University in New York City and would be overtaken by the Boston school that would push folklore towards the realm of literature.

The early pioneering work of Boas nonetheless highlighted the necessity to strive towards theories that would seek to bring together the disparate strands of folklore data, while integrating it into a larger cultural context. The challenge remains as to how to define folklore and position it in the larger humanities and social sciences. Where does folklore fit? As Dan Ben-Amos noted, anthropologists tend to lump folklore with literature, while scholars of literature see it as culture (Ben-Amos 1971). Yet, the problem remains: how to integrate the eclectic folklore that is collected into a larger cultural whole, or how or how to address the unresolved issue of tying together what could be merely trivia into a larger understanding of culture. Or, as Ben-Amos writes, folklorists “circumvented the main issue, namely the isolation of the unifying thread that joins jokes and myths, gestures and legends, costumes and music into a single category of knowledge” (1971:3).

Existential Crisis

         The study of folklore nonetheless never established a strong niche as an independent discipline in United States and Canada. The first university to add a department devoted to the study of Folklore was the University of Indiana in 1949 (Ben-Amos 1973:122). Whereas departments of anthropology gained a toehold in even the smallest universities, department devoted to the study of folklore were far and few between. The American Folklore Society lists 17 universities where one can major or minor in anthropology, 20 where one can get a master’s degree and 16 where one can complete a doctoral degree. Keep in mind that there are close to one hundred universities in Canada alone and over two thousand six hundred colleges and universities offering 4-year degrees in the United States. Given the slow development of folklore as an academic field of study, it is not surprising that the field of folklore studies underwent somewhat of an existential crisis in the 1970s. One of the leading scholars of the field, Dan Ben-Amos (1973:114) published a critical history of folklore studies and he notes “folklore scholarship did not succeed, in many respects, in avoiding the pitfalls of method that are analogous to mere chronicling.” In other words, it successfully collected the data, but did not succeed in developing a larger conceptual framework to analyze the date. In other words, it had not succeeded where Boas had left off close to half-a-century earlier, and the theories that predominated in folklore research had been borrowed from other disciplines from anthropology to psychology (Ben-Amos 1973:116). By the 1970s, folklore studies had become interdisciplinary before inter-disciplinary became a buzzword, but this reflected in large part the low status of the discipline. As Ben-Amos notes, folklore scholarship cited extensively scholars from other disciplines, while they were in turn largely ignored by other scholars (1973:117). All told, folklore scholarship was quickly becoming obsolete.

If the study of folklore in North America maintained any kind of prominence, it is due to the work of one scholar who shifted the emphasis of the discipline from the ballads of the cowboys and Appalachian miners to the tales of contemporary culture. The field was saved from complete obscurity in part through the success of the smash hit Roots in the late 1970s that revived a continent-wide interest in genealogy as well the work of a folklorist who published a best-selling study of urban legends. In 1981, Jan Harold Brunvald (1981) published The Vanishing Hitchhiker, an analysis of urban legends, one of many books that he would publish on the topic (Brunvand 1986; 1988; 1990; 1993; 2001; 2012). He used the tools of folklore studies developed earlier in his career to analyze the modern folklore that was in circulation (Brunvand and Inge 1976) and his previous research included a study of shaggy dog jokes of an earlier epoch (Brunvand 1963). As traditional tales, urban legends were oral stories and legends, transmitted from person to person, and occasionally published in newspaper. Simply put, Brunvand recognized that urban legends were modern folklore. Fantastic legends, they were taken to be real, had no author and were shared across continents. They were also reputed to have happened to the friend of a friend of a friend. Invariably, they had a hidden moral lesson that was being taught, warning the unwary of the dangers that lurked. These were not “leshy” and “vaussa” but they were thought to be just as real and they lurked in urban environments, in suburban homes, or on vacation.

The popularity of the study of urban legends, and their continuing appeal as new urban legends are being created and distributed with greater speed thanks to the Internet, certainly provoked new avenues of research in folklore and this is evident in the publications of the Journal of American Folklore. Here, we see three distinct trends in the articles presented. One is quite anthropological and involves the study of folklore in other countries, other cultures either outside North America or immigrant populations in the United States. An example of such an article would be the study of a bridal lament in rural China (Liu 2012), the curses of a Greek island (Avdikos 2011) or the ways Igbo parents can teach their heritage culture to their children (Njoku 2012) The second is tied to a more traditional folklore: the folklore of the earlier American folk. Such articles will analyze the origins of folk heroes such as the cowboy of yore (Stoeltje 2012), will examine the recorded folk music of the past such as yodeling (Wise 2013) and other research will look at the origins and content of recorded folk tales such as the study of the transmission of Yoruba divination verses to African American folktales (Washington 2012). The third stream of folklore study involves the study of contemporary narratives shared both orally and via the online social networks. Examples of this stream of research include the study of vernacular martial arts developed by African Americans as a means of self defense in prison setting (Green 2012), “Talking Shit” in Louisiana (Laudun 2012), the legends of Hurricane Katrina (Lindahl 2012), scrap-booking as (auto)ethnography (Christensen 2011) and even Harry Potter (Haas 2011). Drawing upon Anthropology and the study of literature, these new folklore studies are a mix of ethnography and culture studies, and would barely be recognizable to traditional folklorists. Nonetheless, they do provide an interesting avenue of research for anthropologists and applied to Russia could prove to be a fertile field of study.

The contribution that anthropology can make to the study of folklore is to highlight the social nature of folklore. It exists in a social context, is performed in social contexts and is understood because it is found in larger social and cultural narratives. Also, anthropology should highlight the necessity to seek out the ways in which past folklore melds into contemporary folk beliefs and tales and should acknowledge that folklore was never static, there was diffusion and there was innovation. Where anthropologists can also provide guidance is in highlighting the futility of seeking “purity” in folklore past and present. Folklore was always influenced by literature and in turn literature and other media drew upon folklore. If folklore can still be said to exist, it will certainly exist in interaction with television and other forms of media, and communities will be formed not only by face-to-face storytelling, but also in the sharing of tales via email and the Internet. Where anthropology and folklore studies could and do find common ground is in applying the methods and theory of both disciplines to the study of contemporary culture and folklore past and present. The new folklore thus will be one part ethnography and one part “netography” (Maria, et al. 2012) as it will be ethnography conducted in both live and online communities.

A recent article in The Journal of American Folklore highlights an innovative approach to the contemporary study of folklore. Margaret Duffy, Janis Teruggi Page and Rachel Young provide an insightful analysis of e-mails being forwarded and the ways in which they served to define conservative social identity in the United States, and they described these forwarded e-mails as “political digital folklore” with the e-mails being sent generally having visual images presenting President Barack Obama as being Anti-American. This visual “folklore” is thus “a kind of digital folklore that is politically motivated, showing how their political dynamics may contribute to constructing not only group identity but also the individuals’ social identity within their e-mail group” (2012:177). The images attached to the email demonize Obama and thus serve to amplify the believability of the message being conveyed. This article begs the question, how is this any different than the tales told in traditional folklore? The folk tales that I will be discussing in another paper were also widely shared and were founded upon folk evidence that demonstrated that they were true. The loup-garou or the French werewolf was not just a story, but presented as a real threat and beneath the tale was a morality lesson being taught. Likewise, the forwarded e-mails in turn present the shared angsts of a group, distributing their “proof” of the hidden evils while communicating a latent moral message that call upon the true believers to take action to protect the community from the masked danger. The men and women distributing their e-mails are much like the old woman in the French-Canadian folktale whereby the Devil is dancing at a local gathering. The Devil is a fine dancer, a true gentleman that is admired, until the old woman realizes his mischief and reveals his true nature by throwing some holy water on him. The e-mail and attachments are meant to be the holy water that are to serve to reveal the Devil that Obama is believe to be. The strength of the folklore comes from its continual telling, or more appropriately its constant forwarding.

The anthropologist and the folklorist seeking contemporary folklore in Russia would thus be counseled to look to sites such as vkontakte and odnoklassniki as here tales are told and retold. Songs are shared, funny video clips distributed, photos liked and the occasional urban legend distributed far and wide. On Facebook, the site truly serves to distribute contemporary folklore across the planet. There are the memes that quickly emerge and crisscross the world. Memes, like traditional folklore, often lacks in authorship. They are passed from one Internet user to another and like folk tales, the original author or authors is forgotten, with authorship being secondary to the telling of the tale. The tale is often subtly changed new versions arise, though the underlying matrix remains. One popular meme was the “Downfall” or “Hitler finds out” meme whereby a clip is taken from the German film Der Untergang and new subtitles are added to the same clip whereby Hitler reacts to a variety of modern events such as Twitter being down, or Hitler being banned from a web forum of social network site. Such memes are not even constrained by language or national barriers, as the “Hitler finds out” meme even crossed into Russia, with one version entitled “Гитлер узнал о запрете Skype в России”[1] and yet another “Гитлер Вконтакте.”[2]

Though new folklore is still being created and distributed, old folklore need not be discarded. A study of the folklore collected in the past can shed light on contemporary communities and present practices. Though Russia is a modern, largely urban country, one should not underestimate the continued vitality of folk beliefs. I must confess, I have had to talk to a mirror more than once because I had forgotten something at home and had to placate the spirits of the house. Then there are all the folk beliefs tied to health. I have certainly been scolded more than a few times for walking around in my bare feet and not sufficiently covering my throat in the winter. We certainly won’t go down the rocky path of eating ice cream should your throat even have the slightest itch that could potentially be a sore throat or certain death. Where these originated, I do not know, but they live one. Attention should be paid to such folk beliefs, beliefs that are tied to an implicit spiritual understanding of the world, and implicit ethno-scientific classification of the larger universe. Though I do enjoy the old women in the villages describing the “domovoi” and other folk beings, I am also intrigued by folk beliefs that are still prevalent to this day, the gifts that must not be giver over the doorsill, nor the hands that must not be shook over this same liminal space. These beliefs continue to guide individuals and their behavior. Likewise, there is the continued folk psychology and divination that occurs in the realm of dreams. Now, it is possible to go Russian websites and share dreams where they will be collectively analyzed online. Is this not folklore? Is this not calling upon collective beliefs to interpret the events of the present? Is there not some continuity between the folklore of the past and the beliefs of the present? Folklore as I have observed in Russia tend to seek the beliefs and folk knowledge of the past, but I did not see any attempts to tie it to the present. Anthropology described communities in ethnographies that were in the unchanging present, while folklorists seek to document an unchanging past. It would be to our common benefit to tie past and present together using critical analysis to better understand the longue durée.

Finally, the study of folklore is a means of fleshing out our understanding of history. In my main field of research, the study of nation and nationalism, the peasant are largely presented as a people without past. They are the simple folk, and they are manipulated and beguiled by the elites who drum words and ideas into their heads. This is seen in the modernist accounts explaining the rise of nation and nationalism. The folk are presented as unaware of the existence of nations until the elites and states inculcate in them a sense of belonging to a nation. Nations are thus seen as being constructed by states and elites and the folk are seen as passively adopting what is drummed into their heads. However, such theories of nation and nationalism do not take into account folklore and preserved oral history. A cursory review of some of Russia’s folklore highlights knowledge of past events. History was recorded in oral history passed down from generation ot generation, and I am convinced that a closer analysis of folklore would demonstrate that the Russian peasantry did see itself as Russian, not merely Orthodox, and that the folk did have greater political acumen than what is generally acknowledged by researchers. Folklore, thus, would serve to complement, and occasionally challenge, the notions put forward by theorists and historians. Folklore is a means whereby we can provide a history to the peoples or folk that were without history, allowing us to provide a more nuanced understanding of the history of the folk and the ways in which the folk understood themselves and their lives.

In Canada, there is a resurgence of research that approximates folklore in indigenous communities, but rather it is oral history. Yet, if we look at oral history, it has many of the same tenets and methods of traditional folklore study or anthropology. Interviews are conducted with elders to record how life was lived in the past. This research is guided by political concerns: oral history is conducted to provide peoples that had been colonized and denied history by Europeans, a process described by Eric Wolf (1982), oral history is collected to provide the legitimacy needed to challenge the existing colonial structures that are a legacy of the past. A turning point in Canada’s judicial system was the 1997 Delgamuukw judgement of the Canadian Supreme Court that affirmed that First Nations peoples may use oral history to prove claims to the land and the aboriginal title to the territory while affirming their right to use the land for a variety of purposes and not solely traditional or subsistence activities (Wyatt 2008:173). Given the relevance and importance of oral history in court, oral history is prioritized in First Nation communities.

In conclusion, folklore has largely waned in Canada and North America in the last century, largely resurgent in academia in the study of contemporary folklore, whether as urban legends or Internet folklore, while it is ethnography in Russia that has become largely folkloric, collecting the songs, legends and other cultural survivals of the past. This gap could be bridged and could even lead to fertile new fields of study. The seeds are there. In 2009, the State Republican Center for Russian Folklore published a volume entitled Internet and Folklore that explores themes that would fit in quite nicely with what is being published in the Journal of American Folklore. However, as Kargin and Kostina (2009:5) highlight, the study of internet folklore is still not fully accepted by established academics, marginalized as the preserve of the young and the “lovers of extreme academic-folklore sensations.” By bridging folklore and anthropology, Russian and Canada, we could provide new venues to understand folk culture, old and new, as well as expanding our understanding of the history of both countries.

 

 

Avdikos, E.G.

2011   ” May the Devil Take Your Head and Brain”: The Curses of Karpathos, Greece, Social Counterstructures, and the Management of Social Relations. Journal of American Folklore 124(492):88-117.

Ben-Amos, D.

1971   Toward a Definition of Folklore in Context. Journal of American folklore:3-15.

1973   A History of Folklore Studies: Why Do We Need It? Journal of the Folklore Institute:113-124.

Brunvand, J.H.

1963   A Classification for Shaggy Dog Stories. The Journal of American Folklore 76(299):42-68.

1981   The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and Their Meanings: WW Norton & Company.

1986   The Choking Doberman and Other” New” Urban Legends: WW Norton & Company.

1988   The Mexican Pet: More” New” Urban Legends and Some Old Favorites: WW Norton & Company Incorporated.

1990   Curses! Broiled Again!: The Hottest Urban Legends Going: WW Norton & Company.

1993   The Baby Train and Other Lusty Urban Legends: WW Norton & Company.

2001   Too Good to Be True: The Colossal Book of Urban Legends: WW Norton.

2012   Encyclopedia of Urban Legends: Abc-Clio Incorporated.

Brunvand, J.H., and M.T. Inge

1976   Folklore: A Study and Research Guide: St. Martin’s Press.

Christensen, D.E.

2011   ” Look at Us Now!”: Scrapbooking, Regimes of Value, and the Risks of (Auto) Ethnography. Journal of American Folklore 124(493):175-210.

Darnell, R.

1973   American Anthropology and the Development of Folklore Scholarship: 1890-1920. Journal of the Folklore Institute:23-39.

Duffy, M., J.T. Page, and R. Young

2012   Obama as Anti-American: Visual Folklore in Right-Wing Forwarded E-Mails and Construction of Conservative Social Identity. Journal of American Folklore 125(496):177-203.

Green, T.A.

2012   Sick Hands and Sweet Moves: Aesthetic Dimensions of a Vernacular Martial Art. The Journal of American Folklore 125(497):286-303.

Haas, H.A.

2011   The Wisdom of Wizards—and Muggles and Squibs: Proverb Use in the World of< I> Harry Potter</I>. Journal of American Folklore 124(492):29-54.

Kargin, A.S., and A.V. Kostina

2009   Nauchnoe Osmyslenie Internet-Folklora: Aktual’nye Problemy I Opyt Issledovaniya. In Internet I Fol’klor: Sbornik Nauchnykh Statey. Pp. 5-18. Moscow: Gosudarstvennomy respublikanskomy tsentry russkogo folk’lora.

Laudun, J.

2012   ” Talking Shit” in Rayne: How Aesthetic Features Reveal Ethical Structures. The Journal of American Folklore 125(497):304-326.

Lindahl, C.

2012   Legends of Hurricane Katrina: The Right to Be Wrong, Survivor-to-Survivor Storytelling, and Healing. Journal of American Folklore 125(496):139-176.

Liu, F.W.

2012   Expressive Depths: Dialogic Performance of Bridal Lamentation in Rural South China. Journal of American Folklore 125(496):204-225.

Maria, G., et al.

2012   Folklore Research and Its New Challenges: From the Ethnography to Netografy. Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences:111.

Njoku, J.A.K.

2012   Establishing Igbo Community Tradition in the United States: Lessons from Folkloristics. The Journal of American Folklore 125(497):327-342.

Stoeltje, B.J.

2012   Paredes and the Hero: The North American Cowboy Revisited. Journal of American Folklore 125(1):45-68.

Washington, T.N.

2012   Mules and Men and Messiahs: Continuity in Yoruba Divination Verses and African American Folktales. The Journal of American Folklore 125(497):263-285.

Wise, T.

2013   From the Mountains to the Prairies and Beyond the Pale: American Yodeling on Early Recordings. Journal of American Folklore.

Wolf, E.R.

1982   Europe and the People without History: University of California Press.

Wyatt, S.W.S.

2008   First Nations, Forest Lands, and “Aboriginal Forestry” in Canada: From Exclusion to Comanagement and Beyond. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 38(2):171-180.

 

 


[1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8B5mKBzHmD8

[2] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSDu1UYMqVw&feature=related

 

Curating The Canadian Nation: Harper’s Remake of Canada?

Curating The Canadian Nation: Harper’s Remake of Canada?

The Government of Canada recently announced that one of Canada’s leading museums, the Canadian Museum of Civilization would be gutted – the euphemistic term being “refocused” – and renamed – aka “rebranded” – the “Canadian Museum of History“ (LeBlanc 2012). This will be followed by the creation of a network of Canadian history museums that will promote “national heroes” and “national treasures”. I will analyse this in terms of promoting new myths, myths tied to a new national discourse that the Prime Minister is clearly trying to cultivate and I will ask why precisely do we need a new Canadian nationalism seemingly focused on Canada’s military past? Drawing upon past research, I will then project some likely consequences of this revamping of one of Canada’s leading museums.

Although the establishment of new museums is laudable, from a critical anthropological perspective, the question remains: what national discourse will be articulated, what voices will be silenced or pushed aside, and what are the politics behind the change? What is the new Canada that will be curated around the “last spike” and Champlain’s astrolabe, and who exactly will gain from the new mythologizing of the War of 1812? Eric Wolf argued that we “can no longer be content with writing only the history of victorious elites” (2010[1982]:xxvi) and I would say the same of museums.  They, too, should seek to uncover and present the “active histories of ‘primitives,’ peasantries, laborers, immigrants, and besieged minorities” (Wolf 2010[1982]:xxvi). While the Canadian Museum of Civilization sought to present social history, I fear the new museum presented will seek to glorify the victorious elites to the detriment of those who were largely powerless, and will follow the Canadian tradition of treating the history of Canada’s First Nations people as an insignificant preface before real history begins.

Building upon anthropological research conducted in Russia and in East Europe, as well as anecdotes from my youth, I will argue that a museum is not merely about exhibiting artefacts of our past; rather it is a political act of curating the past to create guiding myths for the future. As anthropologists, I will argue, our role is to analyze the ways in which discourses and narratives are articulated, to challenge them when necessary, and to demonstrate how the meaning is not solely in the artefacts and the words in museums but also in the subtle discourses created in the “curation” of nations.

The Pioneer Museum

Looking back, it is a small town museum in a hamlet of northern Alberta that forced me to examine the subtle narratives that are hidden behind any museum exhibition. It was only later that I was able to tie the small museum in the French-speaking community of my birth to the larger pioneer narrative that shapes most small museums in Western Canada. Every day for a summer, I would drive to my high school summer job in my parent’s little black station wagon to work in the museum, longing for any visitor. Visitors being rare, I kept myself busy tweaking the displays and trying to make some work for myself.

I remember vividly the wall of axes and the mighty stump that stood in the middle of the museum – that and the five-legged squirrel that had been ironically stuffed and put on display holding a peanut. Years later, I came to understand that the display was not meant to be a typology of axes, rather it was designed to solicit an emotional response as the visitor would see the axes, see the stump and then consciously or unconsciously wonder what it would have entailed to fell such a tree using the axes on display. The hidden narrative was thus the heroism of the pioneers – quite often the fathers, mothers, grandmothers, grandfathers and other relatives of the museum visitor. This masked narrative was not, solely about the past, but about the future, it was defining values projected onto the past to establish a narrative as to what the community should be in the present and what it should aspire to in the future.

The other lesson learned that summer was of the importance of what was not on display in a museum. As a child, I would wander in back of my grandparents’ homestead and would occasionally come across empty brown jugs strewn in the old garbage heaps. Much later, I learned that these were whiskey jugs. I also heard the story of my great-grand-father being killed by his nephews. Apparently, they had a still out in the barn in back. There were no whiskey jugs and no stills in the small museum, and there were certainly no displays on the violence and the other social ills that also were prevalent past and present. Not only is a narrative created in how objects are put on display, it is also shaped by what is excluded.

Finally, the museum did have some arrowheads and a few traces of the First Nations peoples who lived there before the arrival of the pioneers. They were lumped in with the fossils, remnants of a past too distant to matter, though this of course was not overtly stated. The small town museum of my youth was not simply guilty of parochialism; Michael Ames in his analysis of Expo ’86 notes that in the Canada pavilion, the “first panel began with the standard reference to ‘first peoples,’ but by the second panel they dwindled to statistical insignificance” (1992:122). Whether it was Expo ’86, Vancouver’s 1986 centennial or even the commercial by the Hudson’s Bay in honour of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, the ideological underpinnings remain unchanged as Ames notes: “Before the pioneers, then, there was no history except wilderness and a few Indians” (1992:120). The act of “curating” the Canadian nation then is one where “Canada begins as pioneer land without a past; it sees its future as its history” (Ames 1992:120).

It does not matter whether it is a small town museum or a major national museum, these same questions should be asked. What is the narrative that is being masked behind the words and objects, what are the artefacts and voices that are being excluded and what exactly is being shunted aside or relegated to an insignificant past even within the confines of the museum?

Russian War Memorials

Not only has there been a great deal of critical research conducted on museums, there has also been much written on the use of wars and war memorials to cultivate patriotism and nationalism. Following World War I, memorials and monuments were erected throughout Europe, and certainly contributed to shaping discourses that would lead to World War II. However, I would argue that contemporary Russia serves as a good point of comparison to understand how memories of war can be politicized and how narratives in museums are tied to larger popular discourses and then can be used to legitimize political and military actions.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the mayor of Moscow financed major construction efforts to rebuild the city’s landscape. Churches and cathedrals were renovated and rebuilt, including the infamous Christ the Saviour Cathedral where Pussy Riot conducted an impromptu concert. Monuments were erected, including one to Peter the Great’s maritime exploits in establishing the first Russian Navy. Finally, Victory Park was completed to commemorate the victory over Fascism. In this museum, we see the essentials of national “curation.” There is an appeal to emotions as ominous music follows visitors in the early stages of the war. This gives way to uplifting music as the invading forces are pushed back and defeated. The subtle message is that the people rose up and vanquished the invading forces. In the displays, the Communist Party is evacuated, the only reference to the Party are in the actual documents on display.

Likewise, elements of history that detract from the grand narrative are excluded or put at the bottom of displays or in piles of document to the side, such that one must really know where to look and what to look for in the history to correctly interpret it. Thus, the secret Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact is pushed aside, the attempted invasion of Finland and the subsequent early invasion of Poland overlooked and no reference is made to the less than valorous actions that followed the victory of the Red Army, including Nazi prisoners released only to be sent to Soviet prison camps, and the rapes reportedly carried out by victorious soldiers. Of course, Russian museums are not alone in these selective memories of the past: exhibits that challenge popular discourses in North America and Europe relating to World War II will raise the ire of the populace.

Why is it important to study museums? Why should we care what is in museums that most will not visit? It matters because the national discourses being curated will spill over into popular sentiments and vice versa. The museums and Cathedrals being built and rebuilt when Russia was effectively bankrupt in the 1990s would presage the rise of a revived Russian nationalism in this century. The narrative of the Great Patriotic War in Russia (World War II) would define a people rising up to defend itself against invaders intent on cutting up the country, stealing its resources and otherwise annihilating the population.

This narrative was tied to older invasions, and served as a warning to the present that there are still powers that would force Russia to its knees with the intent of chopping up the motherland. Then, this discourse was applied to explaining and interpreting the 2008 war against the Republic of Georgia: the war was presented as a Great Patriotic War writ small, with the Russian forces defending defenseless populations against an invading force intent on genocide, and it feeds into a larger national discourse of Russia facing deadly forces that threaten it today.

Revamping Canada’s Museum of Civilisation

This past experience forces me to question the intent of the announced changes. Why is there an urgent need to “rebrand” (a somewhat annoying term from marketing) a perfectly worthwhile museum to create a Canadian Museum of History? Why is the “last spike” so important and why the recent obsession with the War of 1812? The Globe and Mail columnist Lawrence Martin provides a telling analysis in that he proposes that government is intent on curating the peacemaking out of Canada’s history of peacekeeping to focus on our martial history. What else will be left out of the new discourse? Will the new narrative seek to expunge and silence an honest discussion of Canada’s internal colonialism that has marginalized and continues to marginalize First Nations peoples? Why is the new focus so intent on the British past, bringing back the “Royal” to our designation of our armed and naval forces? How will this new packaging of old history be interpreted and understood by the French-speaking population and likewise how will new and even not-so new Canadians be inserted into the seemingly new narrative that will emerge as to Canada’s past?

Interestingly, the critique that Martin makes of the Canadian Museum of Civilization is that it is “anthropologically dreary” which is perhaps shorthand for it seeking to put on exhibit a history that does more that simply relegate First Nations to the footnotes of history. To cite the museum’s website: “By displaying the remarkable history of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples from sea to sea, the First Peoples Hall underlines their fight for cultural survival and highlights the wealth of their modern-day contributions.” Instead, we are likely to have more displays on the “victorious elites” as the Conservative party in power, as notes Lawrence, has an “affinity for old wars” and there is a concern that they “won’t get it right, that a lot of our history will go missing.” My fear is that they will get it right, in that they will successfully curate a new form of Canadian nationalism that will be more aggressively imperial and colonial.

The changes announced must thus be analyzed I would argue as an initiative to curate the past to create a new narrative to shape the future. Anthropology can challenge the decisions made and contribute to a critical analysis of the politics of the “curation” of nation and explain the likely consequences of the nationalism being promoted or the backlash against the nationalism that will invariably ensue. Ames rightly argued: “In reconstructing our past we reconstitute ourselves according to current values and beliefs” (1992:117). Following the spirit of Michael Ames’ work, I will argue that we must challenge the politics of “rebranding” and revamping the Canadian Museum of Civilization to ensure that the neglected and the dispossessed are not curated out of our past and that a newly curated and mythologized history should not be used as a political tool to impose the values of the new elites on those who still continue in their contemporary struggle for equality and justice.

 

Ames, Michael M. 1992. Cannibal Tours and Glass Boxes: The Anthropology of Museums. Vancouver: UBC Press

Canadian Museum of Civilization. 2012. First Peoples Hall. http://www.civilization.ca/event/first-peoples-hall

Hudson’s Bay Company. 2010. We were made for this. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bh3W7mtl6iQ

Lawrence, Martin. 2012. Don’t curate the peacemaking out of Canadian history. The Globe and Mail.  Published Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/dont-curate-the-peacemaking-out-of-canadian-history/article4613989/

LeBlanc, Daniel. 2012. Museum of Civilization to change name, focus only on Canadian history. The Globe and Mail. Friday, Oct. 12, 2012. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/museum-of-civilization-to-change-name-focus-only-on-canadian-history/article4611129/

Wolf, Eric R. 2010[1982] Europe and the People Without History. Berkeley and Los Angeles: The University of California Press.

I am back…

Aside

I have returned after a long absence. Now, I wrestle with trying to understand how to fix the bugs in WordPerfect. When I try to upload a photo, I get an “HTTP Error.” It seems that the largest size of photo allowed is 50kb. A bit of a nuisance, but will resize the photos to fit until the developers fix the glitch.

Nation, Nationalism and Terra Nullius

The Hudson’s Bay Company has put out a commercial to mark the coming Olympic Games and their “Official Olympic Collection.”

We were made for this

Here you will learn how “We arrived 340 years ago to a land of rock, ice and snow. We outfitted a nation of pioneers, explorers, and dreamers.”

As some colleagues have noted, this fits into the classic colonial vision and discourse of the continent being an “empty land” (terra nullius) that could be taken and “civilized” by the Europeans as even when the existence of First Nations peoples and the Inuit was acknowledged, their contribution did not matter as they had not “outfitted” the land.

Interestingly, no mention is made to the money made over many centuries by the HBC in trading furs and the emphasis is how they “outfitted a nation of pioneers.”

Sadly, after 340 years, nothing has changed and the colonial mindset lives on and is advertised nationally and globally.

In chatting with one of my students, I also realized that this commercial falls into the usual discourse of the “pioneer museum.” The commercial, like many small-town museums across Canada and the United States, depicts the valiant pioneers that built the country (usually Europeans, but with a multicultural hue thrown into the mix in recent decades). They will depict the land as largely empty and a harsh environment tamed by the valiant pioneers. The values attributed to them (hard work and courage) are then set as the model for present generations and future generations. It is a curated past projected into the future to define the contemporary nation.

As my student noted, it is never specified who the “We” is that is continually used in the commercial. Is it the Hudson’s Bay Company, its owners and workers, or is it the collective “We” of the nation?

We thus have a corporation creating a commercial to sell expensive apparel while participating in an act of nation building, defining that nation in terms of “pioneers, explorers, and dreamers” while there is not evidence of any First Nations or Inuit presence in this nation, even though the Hudson’s Bay Company profited from the trade in furs with the indigenous peoples of Canada for most of its 340 years…

Hello world!

Welcome to my blog. I am Dr. Michel Bouchard, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Northern British Columbia. I will be using this blogs to discuss topics relevant to my research and my teaching. I welcome your comments and thoughts.