Saturday, June 30, 2007

Island of the Blue Dolphins

This book is based on the true story of Juana María the "Lone Woman of San Nicolas," a Nicoleño Indian marooned for 18 years on San Nicolas Island off the California coast.
More About Juana María :

In 1811 hunters began scouring the California coast for otters, whose pelts were affectionately referred to as "soft gold". As the intensity of the hunting took its toll the otters nearly became extinct on many islands although San Nicolas was, at the time, mostly untouched. Under contract to the Russian-American Company approximately 30 Aleuts from Russian Alaska were hired to hunt otters for several weeks on San Nicolas Island. Unfortunately, this outing grew into a year, and a bloody conflict among the otter trappers and islanders (who opposed the hunting) drastically reduced the population of the local men. By 1835 the island's Native American population, which had once numbered 300, had shrunk to around 20 individuals. Some sources give the number as 7, all female except for one man named Black Hawk.
When news of the massacre reached mainland the Santa Barbara Mission decided to sponsor a rescue operation. In late November 1835, the schooner [a type of sailing vessel] the remaining Native Americans living on San Nicolas Island. Upon arrival to the island Hubbard's party gathered the Indians on the beach and brought them aboard. Juana María, however, was not among them by the time a strong storm arose, and the Peor es Nada's crew, realizing the imminent danger of being wrecked by the surf and rocks, panicked and sailed toward the mainland, leaving behind María. A more romantic version tells of María diving overboard after realizing her child had been left behind, although archeologist Steven Schwartz notes "The story of her jumping overboard does not show up until the 1880s… By then the Victorian era is well underway, and literature takes on a flowery, even romantic flavor."This version is recorded by María's eventual rescuer, George Nidever, who heard it from a hunter who had been on the Peor es Nada; however, he makes it clear he may be misremembering what he heard.
Hubbard brought the islanders to San Pedro Bay where many chose to live at the San Gabriel Mission. The missions, however, despite their best intentions, had a high fatality rate as the Indians had no immunity to Old World diseases. Black Hawk, the last male islander, reportedly became blind shortly thereafter, and drowned after falling from a steep bank. Hubbard was unable to return for María at the time as he had orders to take a shipment of lumber to Monterey, and unfortunately, within a month the Peor es Nada sank at the entrance to San Francisco Bay after hitting a "heavy board" which caused the schooner to roll "over and over and over" until it sank. A lack of available ships in the mid-1830s delayed any further rescue attempts.

Rescue In 1850, Father Gonzales of the Santa Barbara Mission paid Thomas Jeffries $200 to find María, though he was unsuccessful. However, the tales Jeffries told upon returning managed to capture the imagination of George Nidever, a Santa Barbara fur trapper, who launched several expeditions of his own. He failed to find her at first, but on an attempt in 1853, one of Nidever’s men, a Carl Dittman or Charley Brown, discovered human footprints on the beach and pieces of seal blubber which had been left out to dry. Further investigation lead to María's discovery, who was living on the island in a crude hut partially constructed of whale bones. She was dressed in a skirt made of greenish cormorant feathers.
Afterwards, María was taken to the Santa Barbara Mission, but was unable to communicate with anyone. The local Chumash Indians could not understand her, so the mission sent for a group of Tongva or Gabrieleno who had formerly lived on Santa Catalina Island, but they were unsuccessful as well. Four words and two songs recorded from María suggest she spoke one of the Uto-Aztecan languages native to Southern California, but it is not clear to which branch it is related. A University of California, Los Angeles study by linguist Pamela Munro focusing on the words and songs suggests that María's language was most similar to those of the Luiseños of Northern San Diego County and of the Juaneños near San Juan Capistrano. Both groups traded with the San Nicolas islanders and their languages may have had some influence. This evidence, when taken as a whole, suggests that María was a native Nicoleño. However, other scholars contend that because all attempts to decipher her dialect by local Indians were in vain, María may have been the descendant of an Aleut man and a Nicoleño widow. Life at Santa Barbara Mission María was reportedly fascinated and ecstatic upon arrival, marveling at the sight of horses, along with European clothing and food. She was allowed to stay with Nidever, who described María as a woman of "medium height, but rather thick… She must have been about 50 years old, but she was still strong and active. Her face was pleasing as she was continually smiling. Her teeth were entire but worn to the gums."María apparently enjoyed visits by curious Santa Barbara residents, singing and dancing for her audiences.

One of the songs María sang is popularly called the "Toki Toki" song. Knowledge of this song came from a Chumash man named Malquiares, who heard María sing it, and later recited the words to his friend Fernando Kitsepawit Librado (1839 – 1915). The song's words are as follows:
Toki Toki yahamimena (x 3) weleshkima nishuyahamimena (x 2) Toki Toki…(continue as above)

Librado recited the words to Aravio Talawiyashwit, who translated them as "I live contented because I can see the day when I want to get out of this island"; however, given the lack of any other information on María's language; this translation dubious, or perhaps an intuitive guess. Anthropologist and linguist John P. Harrington recorded Librado singing the song on a wax cylinder in 1913. The following text was published by an anonymous writer in a Sacramento newspaper on October 13, 1853:

“The wild woman who was found on the island of San Nicolas about 70 miles from the coast, west of Santa Barbara, is now at the latter place and is looked upon as a curiosity. It is stated she has been some 18 to 20 years alone on the island. She existed on shell fish and the fat of the seal, and dressed in the skins and feathers of wild ducks, which she sewed together with sinews of the seal. She cannot speak any known language, is good-looking and about middle age. She seems to be contented in her new home among the good people of Santa Barbara.”

Death Just seven weeks after arriving on mainland, María died. Modern analysis suggests she contracted dysentery, but Nidever claimed her fondness for green corn, vegetables and fresh fruit after years of little such nutrient-laden foods caused the severe and ultimately fatal illness. Before she died Father Gonzales baptized her and christened with the Spanish name Juana María. She was buried in a grave on the Nidever family plot at the Santa Barbara Mission cemetery. In 1928 a plaque commemorating her was placed at the site by the Daughters of the American Revolution. Here is a picture of her grave stone:

María's water basket, clothing and various artifacts including bone needles which had been brought back from the island and were part of the collections of the California Academy of Sciences were destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. Her cormorant feather dress was apparently sent to the Vatican, but it appears to have been lost.


A film version of Island of the Blue Dolphins was released on July 3, 1964. It was directed by James B. Clark and starred Celia Kaye as Karana. Jane Klove and Ted Sherdeman adapted the script from O'Dell's novel, and the film was produced by Robert B. Radnitz and Universal Pictures. The film was made on a slight budget and did not receive a wide release, and reviews were mixed.


Ms Dawn Chia said...

Based on your research, how close did the author try to adapt the book to Maria's life. Identify distinct similarities or differences.

Ms Dawn Chia said...

Can someone source and post a picture of the promotion poster for the movie version of Island of the Blue dolphins please. Thanks.

D.Amirul said...

there is alot of information that u give.