UC Berkeley recordings of Ishi added to Library of Congress registry

Recordings of songs and stories told by Ishi, a Yahi tribe member who was taken in by UC Berkeley anthropologists in the early 1900s, have been added to the Library of Congress registry. Thought to be the last-surviving member of the Northern California Yahi tribe, Ishi emerged from the Mount Lassen foothills and arrived in Oroville in 1911.

Listen to Ishi

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He was subsequently taken in by UC Berkeley anthropologists Alfred Kroeber and T.T. Waterman, who recorded him at the University of California Museum of Anthropology, then in San Francisco. The recordings have since been held at the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology at UC Berkeley. Ishi spent his final five years working as a research assistant at the San Francisco-based anthropology museum.

“It’s very appropriate that the Library of Congress chose this year to put Ishi’s recordings in the registry, ” said Ira Jacknis, a research anthropologist at the Hearst museum who has analyzed and written about the recordings. “Ishi showed up 100 years ago at the end of August. In September of 1911, his first sound recordings were made at the UC anthropology museum. We’re going to mark that anniversary this fall at the museum.”



Ishi’s songs and stories, including “Wood Duck,” were recorded on 148 wax cylinders between 1911 and 1914, and comprise the largest collection of the extinct Yahi language.

While school children have been taught for nearly 100 years that Ishi was the last Yahi, a subgroup of the Yana Indians, UC Berkeley research archaeologist Steven Shackley reported in 1996 that Ishi apparently wasn’t the last full-blooded Yahi after all.

Shackley analyzed the campus’s large collection of Ishi’s arrowpoints and found that the hundreds of projectile points Ishi made after he left the wilderness contrasted in shape and size with those from historic Yahi sites.

An expert in stone tool technology, Shackley said that although Ishi spoke Yahi and lived in the ancestral Yahi homeland, he also had either Wintu or Nomlaki blood.

Each year, the Library of Congress selects 25 recordings that are culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant to preserve for all time.

In addition to recordings of Ishi, this year’s list includes “Take me out to the Ball-game” (Edward Meeker, 1908); “Stand By Your Man,” (Tammy Wynette, 1968); “3 Feet High and Rising” (De La Soul, 1989); GOPAC strategy and instructional tapes (1986-1994); Phonautograms, (Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville, ca. 1853-1861); “It’s the Girl” (The Boswell Sisters with the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra, 1931); “Mal Hombre” (Lydia Mendoza, 1934) and “At Sunset” (Mort Sahl, 1955)

More details about Ishi from the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology