Syukhtun Editions

beware, white man, of the friendly forest,
of the painted desert, beware of the singing water
lest you find your mother
and she pounce and devour you

- Jaime de Angulo
Home Among the Swinging Stars
La Alameda Press    2006

... fancy caballero from "down the Coast"

Jaime de Angulo was born in Paris of Spanish parents. He lived a picaresque life, including stints as a cowboy, cattle rancher, horse-tamer, medical doctor, psychologist, linguist and cross-dresser. He survived a very dramatic suicide attempt after cutting his throat from ear to ear in Berkeley. Ultimately, he was a linguist who contributed to the knowledge of certain Northern Californian languages, as well as some in Mexico. He analyzed thirty Native Californian, Southwestern and Mexican languages, though lacking a Ph.D. The field work done in Mexico was due to the auspices of Franz Boas and Alfred Louis Kroeber. When de Angulo was nonchalant about responsibilities concerning the Mexican field work, Kroeber was outraged over his ingratitude and never again trusted this quirky man. Many of his ideas about introducing phonetic spellings in English, or about poetry, or about art in general, cannot be taken seriously. However, Jaime de Angulo made a great contribution to Californian ethnography, not least of which are his records of native music, which have been one of the main sources for my Variations on Native Californian Themes for solo guitar. Borrowing songs as I have done in this collection was in fact common practice, as Jaime de Angulo describes:

It’s important to recall that an Indian who, during a trip, learns a song that pleases him among another tribe – war song, dance song, or other – will have no scruples about taking it back home and introducing it there as a gambling song. Thus it happens that a group of Indians in a visit to a distant tribe, are invited to a gambling match. Very innocently, they begin to sing, and the others burst out laughing: "But that's our song! It's not a gambling song at all. It's a hunting song!"

Jaime de Angulo: The Music of the Indians of Northern California, edited by Peter Garland, Soundings Press, Santa Fe, 1988 (source of de Angulo’s field notes below).

Jaime de Angulo at work

“Ye Gods! Only twenty days left, and a million and a half things to do yet! We will be away all summer. Off on a gypsy tour, in a ‘house on wheels’ namely a sort of prairie schooner affair with bed, stove and table, the whole on a Chevrolet truck chassis, which is being built for us right now, and in which we will successively camp and visit the Pomo, the Achumawi, the Miwok, then trek across the desert to our beloved Taos. Does it not make your mouth water?” (Jaime de Angulo to the ethnologist Edward Sapir, May 12, 1925)
The Old Coyote of Big Sur , Gui de Angulo (Jaime’s daughter),
Stonegarden Press, Berkeley, California, 1995

Jaime de Angulo with Achumawi
medicine man Old Blind Hall

Jaime de Angulo believed that "going native" was the best way to confront native cultures. His particular delusion was that as a Spaniard he was more "native" than other "white men". Among the Achumawi he pretended to be a "non-white", a savage descendent of a "Castillian" tribe, a ridiculous con-game that was worthy of Coyote himself. But they saw through his charade, while remaining his friend. The academic community, however, was less kind concerning these coyoteesque outrages. Reports that he liked to ride around naked on a horse in Big Sur (where he was said to have gotten drunk one night and burned down the house), and others like it, led to Jaime becoming a cult figure in California after his death.

“We have a Pit River Indian staying with us. He sang last night, for my Edison phonograph, an old war song, to sing while you waft on a stick the strung ears of your enemies, sing their vengeful souls into appeasement. ‘Wah-e-ho, Wa-ho-hoho.’ They call it a triumph song, and the tune is as near a dirge as can possibly be. It starts on a high key, then it drops, unaccountably, into a minor key, and trails off...and that’s all." (Jaime de Angulo to Cary de Angulo, Fall, 1925)

The Old Coyote of Big Sur
(purchase this book at: Henry Miller Library, Big Sur)

de Angulo's field notes for "Puberty Chant"

de Angulo's field notes for "Gambling Chant"

Update September 17, 2006

After years of following Jaime de Angulo’s life and work comes the pleasant discovery of Home Among the Swinging Stars: Collected Poems of Jaime de Angulo. (La Alameda Press, Albuquerque 2006) This new book is edited by Stefan Hyner with an in-depth essay by Andrew Schelling. Jaime de Angulo was a master of languages, with an artist’s instinct guiding him much more than a scientist’s. Thinking of Keats’ feeling for the fundamental “poetic character” of the English language, one must remind the linguists that indeed, languages have a home in the arts much more than the sciences. Andrew Schelling has followed Jaime’s life closely, and his revealing essay “The Songs of Jaime de Angulo” is truly connected to the magical aura surrounding this quirky Spaniard - Don Quixote and Coyote in one soul. Schelling writes how Jaime was not highly regarded in the university environment during his life, and also nearly fifty years after his death. When Schelling attempted to qualify for an English MA degree at UC Berkeley, he proposed a thesis on the work of de Angulo. “Not one of six professors I approached would sponsor me. After a dispiriting exchange with a Department staff member over whether de Angulo was worth an academic study, I quit school & and did not return.” This sounds like my experience with “higher education”.

The university is in the final analysis a scientific institution – even the “humanities” are confronted in an abstract, scientific manner. The calling of Art is out of place at the university. Its milieu is life. Nor did the major playwright on this side of the Atlantic have any fondness for the university. Flowering into dramatic maturity not in London, but in New London, swimming in the “other” Thames, Eugene O'Neill's failed attempt at Princeton in 1906, with its stale curriculum and all the “required courses” that result in so much wasted time, made him wonder: “Why can't our education respond logically to our needs?[...] I think that I felt there [Princeton], instinctively, that we were not in touch with life or on the trail of the real things.” ( O'Neill: Son and Playwright, Louis Sheaffer, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1968) In a like manner we can see how one of the most intelligent souls of all time - William Shakespeare - made do with an ordinary grammar school education!

The odd irony is that this great playwright (O'Neill) entered the university as one of the best-read members of his class, with one of the best minds, and yet he was the least qualified to succeed at the university. Creative intelligence was an obstacle for him in the halls of Academia! In A Moon for the Misbegotten O'Neill portrayed a character for whom the university was everything: “He is simply immature, naturally lethargic, a bit stupid.” The poet Robert Graves expressed a similar idea in his treatise on poetry The Common Asphodel: the university is unable to deal in depth with magical essences encountered in Native cultures around the world. In-depth investigations in this domain require the instinct of artists. (See also: Rock art and science) Jaime's proposal that ethnographers should write like artists has not been understood, judging by the ongoing "scientific sound" of anthropological papers.

Judging from Gui de Angulo’s biography of her father, it seems that Alfred Kroeber, to his credit, showed very much patience with Jaime, alert to his profound talent for languages. But, like Coyote, Jaime went too far and Kroeber lost patience. The Native Californian world revealed in de Angulo’s classic Indians in Overalls has moved many readers. Schelling believes that “Jaime knew this world better than anyone else of his day.” This statement as well perhaps goes too far. For example, Jaime’s contact with Native California did not surpass the epic scope of John Peabody Harrington’s, whose own peculiar coyoteesque delirium astonishes to this day. Alfred Kroeber’s disciplined records of extremely long and ancient Mohave epic myths, recorded in writing as they were sung, as well as those of the Yurok and Karuk, could not be accomplished by “drunkards who go rolling in ditches with shamans,” as Jaime saw himself. Following Kroeber’s footsteps requires an entire lifetime. Jaime never achieved this depth, precision and scope in his own studies of Native California, for which we owe Kroeber profound thanks, despite his racism and academic pride.

Gui de Angulo writes that for most of his life Jaime avoided poetry. His stubborn wish for phonetic spellings of English words is that of a linguist, not a poet. We must recall that English was not his mother tongue. Thank heaven that the sacred poetic structure of English, undergoing a never-ending metamorphoses for 1,500 years, with all its quirky spellings and idiosyncrasies, is totally unaffected by the wishes of linguists like Jaime who want to make conscious changes to this profound mystery! (Spanish words are much easier to spell.) "I have never known what art is, and I have always wanted to know." (Jaime to Gui de Angulo, 1944)

One gets the impression that some of the poems in Home Among the Swinging Stars may be translations of the songs of Pit River, Modoc and Pomo medicine people Jaime encountered. As a poet, I do not feel in them the emanations of a veritable bard as I do in the poetry of Robinson Jeffers, Kenneth Patchen and William Carlos Wiliams. The poet intensely lives his culture and language deeper than any other members of society. Similar depth as that emanating from Native Californian poetry can only be achieved by Euro-American poets after delving into the thousands of years of occidental poetic tradition, as did Jeffers. No Euro-American can achieve equal depth into Native poetic traditions, since no one among us has truly lived them.

However, reading Jaime de Angulo's more occidental-rooted poetry is a special treat. His thorough knowledge of Garcia Lorca's poetry shines in his own mysterious verses. In French he evokes Rimbaud, and following his tracks in English, Spanish and French in Home Among the Swinging Stars I encounter the astonishing enigma which is the soul of Jaime de Angulo.

Growing up in California is to be exposed to the lethal radiation of American shallowness and love of mediocrity. It wreaks havoc in souls. Caught up in this all-American free-for-all and Destruction Derby, Jaime emerged onto the threshold of his death almost unscathed. But he left a blessing for California, one of depth and intelligence that is a healthy contrast to the Disneyland state with any famous weight-lifter from any town in Austria able to be governor. Reverberating like Rimbaud, Jaime saw himself as

Fils du néant
issu des ténèbres qui furent le monde ancien
(Son of nothingness
born from the darkness that was the ancient world)

tr. Stefan Hyner

Arriving at this truth, Euro-Americans and Native Americans have a common origin, as they have a common destiny, with Earth as our common ancestor.

Jaime de Angulo's home was Los Pesares, The Sorrows, high over the Pacific Ocean with clouds and redwoods as neighbors. How he suffered, poor Jaime... Although his caprices bring to mind another flamboyant Spaniard - Salvador Dalí - he was much more courageous and authentic than Dalí.

Many people have the scholar's thorough knowledge of poetry, its various styles and history, and yet lack its magic. Jaime emanates poetry's magic splendidly. At whim he strolled in and out of the "poetic trance", which Robert Graves saw as essential to true poetry. Without the "poetic trance" according to Graves there can be no true poetry. Read Home Among the Swinging Stars and be emersed in this sublime trance-state.

Home Among the Swinging Stars
(purchase this book at: Henry Miller Library, Big Sur)

(translated from the French by Peter Garland)

The impression that Indian music makes on whites
The first impression naturally is one of strangeness. But you don’t know at first whether this strangeness comes from the melody, rhythm, or yet from the way of singing which is completely unique: the throat is very strongly contracted; the mouth is barely open and they sing between their teeth; many singers use a very pronounced vibrato, which can even reach the proportions of a rapid series of glottal accents). The men pass into their head-voice much more easily than us, and the women frequently sing from their stomachs.

One must say, that for most whites, even for those who like the songs, there is nothing musical about this. It rather strikes them as a monotonous and choked humming without any musical quality. To those kind of people, all Indian songs sound alike. Whether they are war songs, gambling songs, or shaman songs; whether it be an Achumawi song, a Paiute song, or a Pomo song, it’s always the same thing. But after a little while, you begin to recognize certain differences, certain types. Thus, you soon recognize some common features in all the Paiute gambling songs. Likewise for the songs sung by the Achumawi on the occasion of the young girls’ puberty. And equally fast you learn to recognize the Pomo ritual songs, etc.

But however; when, following that, you begin to learn the songs yourself, and finally to notate them musically, you discover that basically they all stem from the same system, and that their particular differences are above all due to the method of singing and to the rhythm. The melodic system stays the same; and we can, up to the present, characterize it in a few words: pentatonic scales and the abscence of semi-tones. (And yet many more quarter-tones!) This applies to the central and northeast regions. Whatever you may feel about the differences between these two regions, you recognize right away that their tunes belong to the same musical system. [This is a questionable assertion—PG].But what we have just said does not at all apply to the northwest region. Its music is completely different from that of the other regions.

Classification of the Songs
Even if you aren’t very familiar with Indian music, you are soon able to say when hearing a new tune: that must be a gambling song, and probably Paiute; or yet: this tune must come from the Achumawi; or yet again: this is more likely a war song than a shaman song. Thus you see that there are two different ways of classifying the songs, one by regions: Paiute, Achumawi, Pomo; or northeast, north-central, intermediate-north, etc.. .; the other by types: gambling songs, shaman’s songs, animal songs, war songs, etc... I admit that I’ve always found it more difficult to recognize the type of song than the region it came from.

And the Indians themselves? What is their sense of this? To begin with, you must remember that the California Indians have always been very sendentary – very fixed, little inclined to neighbourly visits. In general (and only in general, for there are many exceptions, and certain individuals are very conservative while others have a taste for the new) when you sing a Pomo song to an Indian of the northeast, for example, he finds that ‘it is no more music’ than a song of the whites!’ By contrast, if you sing him a song of his region that he has heretofore never heard (such as a song belonging to a neighboring tribe of his), he will categorically decide that it is a shaman’s song, or a gambling song, or a war song, etc. Unfortunately, experience has shown me that they’re wrong as often as I am!

[...] I am anxious to repeat that there are all sorts of variations permitted in a song. The important thing is to give the impression of going along really together – that is, of coming together at certain points. To sing exactly in unison, in the same rhythm, that’s already very beautiful. But to introduce variations and give, however, the impression of unity on the cadence, that’s even superior from the Indian’s point of view.

Jaime de Angulo: The Music of the Indians of Northern California
edited by Peter Garland, Soundings Press, Santa Fe, 1988.

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