Abalone Tales

Collaborative Explorations of Sovereignty and Identity in Native California

Abalone Tales

Narrating Native Histories

More about this series

Book Pages: 208 Illustrations: 10 illustrations, 1 map, 1 figure Published: August 2008

American Studies, Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Native and Indigenous Studies

For Native peoples of California, the abalone found along the state’s coast have remarkably complex significance as food, spirit, narrative symbol, tradable commodity, and material with which to make adornment and sacred regalia. The large mollusks also represent contemporary struggles surrounding cultural identity and political sovereignty. Abalone Tales, a collaborative ethnography, presents different perspectives on the multifaceted material and symbolic relationships between abalone and the Ohlone, Pomo, Karuk, Hupa, and Wiyot peoples of California. The research agenda, analyses, and writing strategies were determined through collaborative relationships between the anthropologist Les W. Field and Native individuals and communities. Several of these individuals contributed written texts or oral stories for inclusion in the book.

Tales about abalone and their historical and contemporary meanings are related by Field and his coauthors, who include the chair and other members of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe; a Point Arena Pomo elder; the chair of the Wiyot tribe and her sister; several Hupa Indians; and a Karuk scholar, artist, and performer. Reflecting the divergent perspectives of various Native groups and people, the stories and analyses belie any presumption of a single, unified indigenous understanding of abalone. At the same time, they shed light on abalone’s role in cultural revitalization, struggles over territory, tribal appeals for federal recognition, and connections among California’s Native groups. While California’s abalone are in danger of extinction, their symbolic power appears to surpass even the environmental crises affecting the state’s vulnerable coastline.


Abalone Tales is a beautiful book that does justice to the beauty of abalone itself and to the oral traditions of California coastal tribes. . . . Abalone Tales is a perfect example of collaborative ethnography in which the anthropologist’s calling resonates with the deeply held core identity of the Native Americans with whom he works.” — Robin Ridington, Collaborative Anthropologies

“Les Field and his collaborators have written a rich and multifaceted account of abalone’s profound importance to native tribes of northern California. . . . One of the most compelling aspects of the book is Field’s elegant narration of his careful and self-reflective progression through [the ethnographic] process. This volume is an important contribution to scholarship on indigenous politics and cultural revival in native California and will be of great interest to anthropologists engaged in methods of collaborative ethnography as well as native communities interested in the tools of anthropology.” — Shaylih Muehlmann, American Ethnologist

“Les Field offers an intriguing analysis of the place of abalone shells within the Musekma Ohlone, the Wiyot, Pomo, Karuk, and Hupa cultures and he provides a theoretical framework with abalone as cultural trope. Field also transforms this study into a greater contribution of the field of Native Studies. . . . Read this stimulating book for more than just how abalone were, and are, parts of Native cultures within California.” — Gregory Gagnon, Canadian Journal of Native Studies

“This ethnography deepens our knowledge of how the tasty edible sea snail impacted Native California peoples—as food, adornment, and as tradable commodity and narrative symbol.” — Santa Cruz Sentinel

“This important work by one of the foremost anthropologists working in Native California today employs an innovative collaborative approach. . . . I highly recommend this significant book that exemplifies the writing of collaborative ethnography while delving into important issues of contemporary concern among coastal California Indians. . .” — Kent G. Lightfood, Journal of Anthropological Research

“Though historically important to the people and represented in artifacts, the abalone’s contemporary significance for Native California peoples is made clear in both poetry and essays. Highly recommended.” — L. De Danaan, Choice

“Throughout his journey in Alta, California, Field ties in sovereignty, cultural revivification, government recognition and nearly every contemporary issue affecting Indian country with his abalone shells and tales by inquiring intimately about its use as ceremonial regalia and its history as a resource and commodity.” — Indian Country Today

Abalone Tales shimmers like the mother of pearl in a California Indian necklace. Out from the shadows of the old colonial tradition, the book fulfills the overdue promise of a new collaborative anthropology. It accomplishes this with remarkable intimacy and intelligence, and in so doing gives us new ways of thinking about ethnography, Native America, and the global politics of indigeneity today.” — Orin Starn, author of Ishi’s Brain: In Search of America’s Last “Wild” Indian

“Abalone Tales is a fine example of collaborative ethnography. It adds immeasurably to ongoing conversations among anthropologists and other social scientists about the still-emergent possibilities for producing dialogic, collaborative, and ethically responsible ethnographies.” — Luke Eric Lassiter Marshall University Graduate College


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Les W. Field is Professor of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico. He is the author of The Grimace of Macho Ratón: Artisans, Identity, and Nation in Late-Twentieth-Century Western Nicaragua, also published by Duke University Press, and a co-editor of Anthropology Put to Work.

Table of Contents Back to Top
About the Series vii

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: Why Abalone? The Making of a Collaborative Research Project 1

I. Artifact, Narrative, Genocide

1. The Old Abalone Necklaces and the Possibility of a Muwekma Ohlone Cultural Patrimony 9

2. Abalone Woman Attends the Wiyot Reawakening 50

II. The "Meaning" of Abalone: Two Different Abalone Projects

3. Florence Silvia and the Legacy of John Boston: Responsibility at the Intersection of Friendship and Ethnography 62

4. Reflections on the Iridescent One 84

III. Cultural Revivification and the Species Extinction

5. Cultural Revivification in the Hoopa Valley 109

6. Extinction Narratives and Pristine Moments: Evaluating the Decline of Abalone 137

Conclusion: Horizons of Collaborative Research 161

Notes 173

Bibliography 179

Index 193
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4233-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4216-8
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