Study Guide

Island of the Blue Dolphins Tradition and Customs

By Scott O'Dell

Tradition and Customs

I was surprised that he gave his real name to a stranger. Everyone in our tribe had two names, the real one which was secret and was seldom used, and one which was common, for it people use your secret name it becomes worn out and loses its magic. (1.33)

Why do the island people have secret names? Why does Chief Chowig give his to the Russian sea captain?

"Most of those who snared fowl and found fish in the deep water and built canoes are gone. The women, who were never asked to do more than stay at home, cook food, and make clothing, now must take the place of men and face the dangers which abound beyond the village." (5.6)

Roles change after most of the men are killed. The women must break  the traditions of the island and need to take the place of the men. What trouble does this cause later on?

"I am his son and since he is dead I have taken his place. I am now Chief of Ghalas-at. All my wishes must be obeyed."

"But first you must become a man. As is the custom, therefore, I will have to whip you with a switch of nettles and then tie you to a red-ant hill." (8.21-22)

Why does Ramo assume he's now chief of the island? Is Ramo a man? What does the novel say about this tradition?

The laws of Ghalas-at forbade the making of weapons by women of the tribe, so I went out to search for any that might have been left behind. (9.10)

Why weren't women allowed to make weapons?

As I lay there I wondered what would happen to me if I went against the law of our tribe which forbade the making of weapons by women – if I did not think of it at all and made those things which I must have to protect myself.

Would the four winds blow in from the four directions of the world and smother me as I made the weapons? Or would the earth tremble, as many said, and bury me beneath its falling rocks? Or, as other said, would the sea rise over the islands in a terrible flood? Would the weapons break in my hands at the moment when my life was in danger, which is what my father had said? (9.26-27)

What do you think of images Karana uses to describe what will happen if she breaks the law that says women can't make weapons?

Yet I cannot say that I was really afraid as I stood there on the shore. I knew that my ancestors had crossed the sea in their canoes, coming from that place which lay beyond. Kimki too had crossed the sea. I was not nearly so skilled with a canoe as these men, but I must say that whatever might befall me on the endless waters did not trouble me. It meant far less than the thought of staying on the island alone, without a home or companions, pursued by wild dogs, where everything reminded me of those who were dead and those who had gone away. (10.9)

The distant past encourages Karana to take the journey across the sea. However, it's the <em>recent</em> past that pushes her to go on the trip.

There was a legend among our people that the island had once been covered with tall trees. This was a long time ago, at the beginning of the world when Tumaiyowit and Mukat ruled. The two gods quarreled about many things. Tumaiyowit wished people to die. Mukat did not. Tumaiyowit angrily went down, down to another world under this world, taking his belongings with him, so people die because he did. (12.8)

What's the importance of the island's legendary gods? What do they symbolize?

I turned the canoe around and started back toward the opening. Above it, on a deep ledge that ran from one side of the room to the other, my gaze fell upon a row of strange figures. There must have been two dozen of them standing against the black wall. They were as tall as I, with long arms and legs and short bodies made of reeds and clothes in gull feathers. Each one had eyes fashioned of round or oblong disks of abalone shell, but the rest of their faces were blank. The eyes glittered down at me, moved as the light on the water moved and was reflected upon them. They were more alive than the eyes of those who live. (20.11)

Karana stumbles upon figures of her ancestors – and a skeleton in the middle of them. What does she mean when she says they were "more alive" than living people? Why is she later afraid to be in the cave?

The dress reached from my throat to my feet and I did not like it, either the color of it or the way it scratched it was also hot. But I smiled and put my cormorant skirt away in one of the baskets to wear when I got across the sea, sometime when the men were not around. (29.19)

What new traditions and customs will Karana have to follow on the mainland? Do you think she'll be able to wear her cormorant skirt?