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Throughout history various civilizations have sought to preserve their cultures and traditions in different eras. Culture, being an important part of learning and imparting education to the younger generation, was passed primarily by word of mouth. This is especially in the past, where culture was passed and therefore preserved through the word of mouth as there existed no other ways of preserving culture. However, with the advent of different ways of writing, many tribes gradually adopted writing as the mode for culture preservation. One of the tribes whose culture was preserved through oral literature texts was one of the Pacific Northwest tribes referred to as the Clackamas Chinook Indians (Thompson 19). These texts, whether folk songs, epics, stories, myths, proverbs or legends inform about various aspects of specific tribes or peoples’ culture, history and traditions. The last member of the Clackamas Chinook Indians is already dead but their culture is preserved in various oral literature texts such as Victoria Howard’s "Awl and Her Son's Son" among others by different authors.

The text of "Awl and Her Son's Son" highlights various aspects of culture of the Clackamas Chinook Indians. Principally, it deals with various social issues such as including inter group contact, especially relationships between men and women and their different social roles with regards to their age and function. In addition, it highlights the function of wishes as well as the power dynamics within and between the sexes. Generally, this paper evaluates the status of women in terms of their relationships, social roles as well as the power and relationships’ dynamics with other women and men through the analysis of a Clackamas Chinook Indians’ oral literature text, "Awl and Her Son's Son". Specifically, this paper argues that the Clackamas society had well established gender roles for both men and women, additionally highlighting disruption of the set traditional gender roles, especially with the hunter’s assumption of feminine duties.

"Awl and Her Son's Son": Text Overview

In this text a hunter breaks his awl, a tool for repair, while at home repairing his moccasins. Disappointed, he throws the awl under his bed saying, “I wish you would turn into a person” (Howard 8). The next day he went for a hunt where upon his return from his hunting trip he found the fire burning and footprints around the household. Thinking that it might be a male person, he made a bow and arrows and put them near the fire but the mysterious person did not touch these tools and, instead, fixed his things and had spruced up his bachelor household. The hunter eventually discovered that the mysterious person was none other than the “Awl” which had transformed into an older woman who dotes on him and claims that he is her grandson.

The old woman did all the chores expected, such as preparation of food, serving, washing and even collecting berries for the hunter as she could not eat herself, proclaiming that he had ‘broken’ her, that is, the Awl (Howard 9). With that kind of care from the old woman, the hunter started living nicely indeed igniting rumors of his nice living. As time went by, five sisters noticed how well he was living and one by one from the eldest to the youngest one, began visiting his house. However, as they visited the hunter, they were killed by the homicidally jealous ‘Awl’, from the eldest sister to the fourth youngest one.  However, the last and the youngest girl discovered what the old woman did to her elder sisters; so, she planned and indeed killed the old woman and eventually married the hunter.

These arguments highlight the status of women in terms of their relationships as well as the gender roles of women and men in the Clackamas society. "Awl and Her Son's Son" shows the distinct gender roles of both men and women. For example, men’s main role in the society is seen as hunting while women do all the rest of the work including collecting ripe berries, fixing the man’s things and the house in general and root digging among others (Howard 9). However, the text also highlights a contradiction of these gender roles where men can be seen as assuming feminine duties. Primarily, through my understanding and interpretation of the text, I believe the text highlights a disruption of the set traditional gender roles, especially with the hunter’s assumption of feminine duties.

To highlight the distinct social roles of women and men in the Clackamas society, the hunter is seen leaving the bow and arrows for the new mysterious person, a decision based on the assumption that the mysterious person is a male. However, upon realizing that the mysterious person had fixed his things and spruced up the house, he deduces that the mysterious person is a woman which indeed was she and she proved it by taking the root digger. This highlights the traditional customs and gender roles of the Clackamas Chinook Indian men and women. However, the text also shows a contradiction in the assumption of gender roles for both women and men. For instance, the first paragraph in the text states that one day the hunter decided to stay home and patch up his moccasins, a responsibility at home largely reserved for women (Howard 8). This is highlighted by the result of the situation, where the awl broken by the hunter, after being mocked, changes into a woman and not a man, as it is the duty of women to sew and patch up moccasins.

The fact of placing the root digger for the woman by the hunter as opposed to the bow and arrows highlights the distinct gender roles of women and men in that society. This shows that root digging was a part of the main duties of the Clackamas Chinook Indian women. However, the hunter as a man in the Clackamas society is seen as assuming the duties reserved for women. The hunter is seen as proclaiming why the old woman had come, ending up disturbing everything in the hunter’s home (Howard 8). In this case the hunter frowns on why the woman comes even though he knows that he needs the help, but he wants to do the feminine duties himself, which highlights a contradiction of women’s and men’s social roles in the Clackamas society. This is tied to the breaking of the awl which highlights the hunter’s unsuitability for the duty and therefore it is confirmed to be suitable and carried out by women.

Another factor that highlights the distinct social roles of men and women in the Clackamas society is the hunter’s suggestion that the woman collects the berries. The hunter himself had gone to the garden patch where the berries grew and did not collect them himself but went back to the woman and suggested that she goes and collects them (Howard 9). The old woman’s acceptance in collecting the berries as well as the young women’s actions of collecting and aiding the old woman to collect the berries underlines berry collecting as a woman’s duty. However, there exists another contradiction in this setting of gender roles. It is clearly shown by the woman’s actions after the hunter comes with a deer at home where the text says that since the old woman did not eat, she merely assisted him in preparing the meat by smoke-drying it. The hunter is seen as assuming the feminine duties of food preparation reserved for women.


Through the wish fulfillment and transformation as highlighted by the breaking of the awl and the appearance of the old woman, "Awl and Her Son's Son" shows the distinct gender roles of men and women and disruption of traditional gender roles. The text highlights that like other cultures, the Clackamas society was also defined by clear traditional gender roles but also shows a disruption of those roles; maybe because of new changes and realities. This generally highlights the significance of the text which supports my argument that the Clackamas society had distinct gender roles for both sexes but which are being disrupted, a fact shown by the hunter’s assumption of traditionally feminine duties. The distinct gender roles include:  the men’s responsibility in society is hunting while women do all the rest of the work including collecting ripe berries, fixing the man’s things and the house in general and root digging among others.

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