Northwest Coast Art

Stories
           

 

THE STORY OF SKAGA BELUS

           

Haida tribes of Queen Charlotte's islands

Very long ago our fathers and mothers tell us, lived a good Skaga (Shaman). He was the best man that ever lived in Haida land, he was good and kind of heart ever ready to attend the sick and to help the poor and distressed. He was always advising the people to love each other because he said if they lived in unity there would be no war or bloodshed nor thieving and all the Haida tribes instead of fighting and trying to destroy each other would live and love one another like brothers and sisters. After living amongst them for many years and having gained the respect of these people from the eldest to the youngest he called them together and to their sorrow told them that he was going to leave them. They were not to grieve over his absence because after a while he would return and never again leave them. So wishing them all keel-slie (farewell) he took his departure. As to the moce of his going away I may say a few words. Some of the people say he died and was buried others of them say that his body lay dead for a year and that his soul went to heaven where it heard and saw wonderful things, along with their parents in the beautiful country to which they had all gone.
He told them that all who had led good lives were happy in that beautiful country beyond and that at the end of life's journey one would not only be met by their relations gone before, but would each one of them have homes prepared for them corresponding in beauty to the lives led by them while on earth.

When he left he was sorely missed by all the people who never failed to look forward to his return. At the end of a year's absence he suddenly made his appearance amongst them again. After he returned he lived with them so long and grew so old that except his spine all other parts of his body were dead and shrunken. Still anxious to teach them everything good, the more earnest was he to urge them to love and help each other and above all to keep from inter-tribal wars. He further told them if they did so they would become a great and happy prosperous people. If, on the contrary they fought tribe against tribe and made slaves of their brothers and sisters they would become weak and few in numbers, and that a fair complexioned race of people from the land of the rising sun would come and take possession of their country and all their belongings until their existence as a people would cease and their name be forgotten and of their language nothing but a few names of places would remain. When these people came they      (the Haidas) were neither to kill nor ill treat them because they would bring amongst them implements far better than the rude stone ones then in use, he also told them that these people would give them a new and different sort of food.
The tradition says he conversed with them in this manner as long as his strength lasted, and with his latest breath could be heard to say
"Be kind to each other."
 

 


                       

Mink and Cloud     
Coastal Salish Tribes
                                                                                

Mink had many wives in his lifetime. He wanted to marry many things. One day he was watching the clouds in the sky and one cloud was very beautiful, soft and white and gentle."I love you," Mink said to Cloud. "I want to marry you." "I cannot marry you," said the little white cloud. "You do not know what I am like when there is a storm. I am not always soft white and fluffy. Sometimes when the wind is strong I am grey thin and ragged. Sometimes I am scattered into small pieces all across the sky. You would have a hard time keeping me together in those times." "Please let me marry you," Mink insisted. "I will love you even when you are grey and thin and ragged. I will hold you together in all of the storms." Finally one lovely sunny day Mink and Cloud were married. They floated together for many days. They floated in the warm blue skies and they floated in the cool starry nights. But one day a wind storm came and the little white cloud started to break up in small pieces of fluff. Poor Mink did not know what to do. He began jumping from one small cloud piece to another, but each cloud piece became thin and wispy. Mink had nothing to stand on, nothing to hang onto. "Help!" he yelled as he fell to the ground. He landed on a pebble beach and was knocked out cold. He lay on the rocks for several hours. In time, flies came and settled around his mouth. Later that day a group of children came down to the beach to play. "Look! Mink is dead!" one of the girls called when she found Mink's body lying flat and still on the ground. The other children gathered around Mink. They were shocked to see Mink's face. Some of the children started to cry. "Poor dead Mink," they crooned. "Poor dead Mink." Suddenly Mink sat right up straight. "Who is dead?" he demanded; and scared the children half-to-death. "We thought YOU were dead," they explained. They were happy to see that Mink was alive. It was wonderful. They played with him awhile, and they ran off to do something else. Mink was alone. He sat down on a large rock and thought and thought.

"I will never marry a cloud again," he said. "I will never marry a gull or a raven or anything that flies. I will not marry a rainbow or a star. From now on I will find a wife on the ground."
Mink stood up and looked at the sky. Cloud was becoming full and fluffy again, but Mink knew their marriage could not work. "Good-bye!" he called to her, and she smiled wisely....Mink set off to search for a new wife.          
         

                       




Bluejay Brings the Dead girl to life
Coastal Salish Tribes

 

Everyday Bluejay would talk with a certain girl in the Cowichan village, she was very beautiful, kind, and had a very gentle personality; they would spend all day talking, laughing, and having fun together. Bluejay knew that he was falling in love with her, and she was falling in love with him. The two of them were inseparable; Bluejay really wanted this woman to be his wife. Bluejay asked her father for her to be his wife, but her father refused. Her father was one of the great Chiefs of Cowichan people, and neither he nor her Mother favored Bluejay's suit. Both her parents said to her, "Don't take him! He's no good at all; he comes from a very poor family. We want you to find a husband from a rich family". Not long after this the girl fell sick, and though many of the best Indian Medicine men tried to cure her none of them could do anything, and she died. Her people mourned for her and placed her body on a scaffolding. Bluejay was very respected as a traditional Medicine man and though no one came to him, when he heard that the girl had died, he felt so sad inside that he was willing to give half of his soul in exchange to bring her back to life. After five days had passed, he said, “I will go and see what I can do for her." So he came and saw where she lay on the scaffolding, wrapped in blankets, and mats, and with great quantities of blankets and goods of all sorts around the grave, it clearly showed that her father was indeed a very rich man. At night, Bluejay came to the grave and sang a whisper song, and called to the girl, "Get up! Get up!" He heard the body move slightly on the scaffolding and then he knew he could bring her back, and he was so happy inside. He took off the blankets and mats in which the body was wrapped and pulled her out. He carried her to his canoe and started up the river. Whenever he came to a rapid, he stop and sang in a “whisper song” his tam’mut (wishing/craving for something you cannot get), he would wash her body with cedar branches, and then move on up-stream. By the time he had done this the third time, the smell of death was hardly there at all. At the fourth rapid the girl began to get warm. When they reached the fifth rapid Bluejay shook the canoe and said to the girl, "Get up! Get up! We are almost home." And the girl sat up. Then Bluejay fixed her eyes and her breath and told her to stand up and walk, and she did so. "Well, are you awake now? Do you know me?" asked Bluejay. "As soon as we pass these rapids we shall be at my house. I am your husband now for half of my life is inside of you, so please wife don't ever try to leave me, for if you do you will die, and I will be unable to bring you back, and what I have sacrificed for you will all be for nothing". The girl did not know that she had been dead; she thought she had been asleep. When they reached Bluejay's house the girl was glad to get there, for she was tired. And Bluejay took her in and said, "Now, if your father or mother come to take you away, please don't go with them, for your soul is connect to mine, and you will surely die if you leave". Not long after someone did happen in at Bluejay's house, and when he saw her he wondered and asked if Bluejay had brought her to life. Bluejay said he had. The girl heard then for the first time that she had been dead and asked Bluejay if it were true, and he answered, "Yes, I loved you so much that I took you from the grave. But unfortunately, for you to remain living you must stay close to me". When the news reached her home the girl's father would not believe it until he went to the grave and saw that it had been disturbed and that the body was gone. Then the people gathered and talked it all over and said, "Let us go to Bluejay's and get her back." So they went up to Bluejay's house and found the girl in bed. Her father said to her, "Come, my daughter, get up and come with us." Bluejay sat still and never said a word. The girl got up and asked her father, "Did I really die?" "Yes," he told her, "and now I want you to come back and live with me". "But, Bluejay is my husband and I am his wife,” said the girl, and if I go back with you I shall die again."  "Never mind," replied her father, "come with me." All this time Bluejay never said a word. So they started for the canoes, the girl leading the way out of the house while Bluejay followed last. As they pushed off, the girl tried to tell her father that she loved Bluejay, and how happy he made her feel, and that he treated her really well. But the father said he was not good enough for her that he was to poor. Bluejay’s feelings were so hurt, he called after her; “Now be sure you get a good man this time, for your father says I am of no use to your family". When they got the girl home, they gave her food, but she could not eat. They put her in her old bed and she immediately went to sleep. Next morning her mother called her to get up and wash and get something to eat but the girl did not answer, and when they went over to her they saw that she was dead. Then her family felt worse than ever and wept and mourned. Some of the people were angry at the way her father had acted, and told him he ought to go up and see Bluejay again and get him to cure her. So he sent a message to Bluejay saying, "We want you to come and doctor my daughter, for she is dead again, and this time if you cure her you can have her for your wife." But Bluejay said to the messengers, "No. I have sacrificed all that I can. Tell them to get her a good man for I am no good, and I won't go".The messengers went back and told the girl' s father what Bluejay had said, and someone proposed, "Let's offer lots of blankets and the girl too, if he will cure her." So they went up again with lots of blankets. But Bluejay said, "No, I won't cure her again, and I’m not interested in your material possessions; life isn’t about material riches, it's about people. Keep your blankets”. After that, Bluejay called a gathering for all the medicine men of all the Coast Salish villages, and when they arrived, Bluejay stood up, and he made an announcement that if any medicine man hereafter should shorten their life, and sacrifice their soul as he did, that the people might act the same way. Bluejay then spoke words, in a whisper song from a language long forgotten; after this, the Coast Salish medicine men can doctor the sick, but not the dead. If people are once dead they shall remain so forever, and then Bluejay flew away. 
To this day, the Bluejay is very noisy and aggressive as can be, but Bluejays are very secretive during the nesting season, and around the nest the Bluejay abandons its loud calls, and communicates with its mate in a very beautiful Salish “whisper song”. 

      


                                                                                    
 
 

Tlingit Frog Story                                                                 

 

The Tlingit have a high regard for frogs believing that they bring good luck and fortune. One day a young woman saw a frog in her path and made a slighting remark about frogs. This was a serious offense which the Tlingit believed would be firmly punished. Soon afterward she met a handsome young man who asked her to marry him. (He was actually a frog but appeared to her in human form.) She agreed to meet him later at a certain lake in the woods. He told her he would take her to his home where his father was a chief. At the edge of the lake he instructed her to step on a patch of water lilies but she was afraid until he stepped on them. They followed a path and were soon in a large village. He took her to his father's house, though she did not know it was the frog's home beneath the lake.
Knowing that the young woman had offended the frogs, her relatives decided to give a feast to them in the hope that they would return her. An invitation was delivered to the lake and the feast prepared. Toward evening they saw the young woman with two frogs, a large male and a small one - her husband and child. They were sitting on a marshy spot in the middle of the lake but soon disappeared. Then her relatives drained the lake and recovered the young woman. She related her experiences but did not live long afterward.
It is said that those who live extremely pure lives may sometimes see her rise from the center of the lake. One must fast many days and follow strict taboos in order to see her, but great luck and riches will come to anyone who succeeds. She is most apt to be seen when the sun is shining on the water. Then her hair gleams with a bright luster.






Wildman of the Woods

Bukwas ( Kwakwaka'wakw)
(a.k.a. Bakwas, Bookwus, Bukwis, Buk'wus, Pugwis, Pu Gwis, Pu'gwis)

Bukwas, or wild man of the woods, is a significant supernatural spirit being of the Kwaglulth nation and casts a haunting figure in their great annual winter dance. Bukwus is actually a ghost associated with the spirits of people who have drowned. The spirit of Buk’wus, Chief of the Ghosts and woodsmen, is said to live in the forest in a house that is invisible by day, subsisting on ghost food and cockles and drawing the spirit of the drowned to his side. He sometimes entices people to feast with him on his ghost food, thus eternally trapping them in the spirit world and eventually turning them into a Buk’wus." On sunny days, Bukwas creeps down to the beach to warm himself, and dig for cockles, his favorite food. He is extremely timid, and constantly peers over his shoulder to make sure he is not being watched


 



Dee-Kee-On-Kaw-Woo

The legend of "Black and White Raven


In the beginning the world that we now know it was encompassed in total darkness, and void of all light. During this time there was an old man who was known as 'grandfather' who lived with his 'granddaughter' in a great 'hit' (house). Grandfather had in his possession, encased in a great chest within his house, the sun, moon, and stars, and also sickness, disease, famine, mosquitos, and other parasites which, if released in the atmosphere would cause great harm to man. So, under no circumstances was the chest to be opened by anyone other than grandfather himself.In the meantime, Raven in his white spiritual form of the raven, was aware that grandfather had these items in his possession and was particularly interested in the sun which radiated light. Raven immersed himself in great thought as to how he could obtain these items for the world. Each day as he watched the 'hit' (house) he noticed that granddaughter would come out to fetch some water from a nearby stream, and usually began by taking a sip of water before filling her pail. This intrigued Raven for he began to devise a scheme by which he would disguise himself as a speck of dust to flow down the stream at the time granddaughter scooped up her first drink. This, Raven did, at the time granddaughter scooped her first drink. Raven had managed to flow into her cup and was ultimately swallowed by granddaughter. Nine months later, to the happiness of grandfather, Raven was born by granddaughter in the human form of a boy. This pleased grandfather immensely, and he was very proud of his great-grandson. As Raven grew older he eventually asked grandfather about the contents of the great chest but grandfather explained that under no circumstances was the chest to be opened by anyone other than himself. As time went by, grandfather instilled much trust in raven to the point of explaining the contents of the chest. Raven eventually started asking grandfather if he could play with the sun and moon and stars to occupy his time, mainly because he had no one else to play with. Each time grandfather became more trusting and let Raven play with these celestial objects, but had always instructed Raven to return them to him to put back into the chest. Otherwise, if someone other than grandfather took out and retained these objects, the famine, disease, sickness, mosquitos and other parasites would be released in the atmosphere to harm man. Eventually, there came a time when Raven was the only one in the house and he thought that the moment to steal the sun, moon and stars was just right, so he immediately changed himself to his true spiritual form of Raven opened the chest and took out all the celestial objects under his wing and at the same time released all the sickness and diseases known to man. He immediately flew to the top of a smoke hole in the great house but because his wings were so full of the celestial objects, he could not get through the smoke hole. In the meantime, grandfather had returned and saw Raven in his true form and realized his deception. He immediately ran to the fire which was located directly below the smoke hole and rekindled the flame which caused a great heat and soot to rise and tarnish the feathers of Raven from White (which was his original color from the beginning) to turn to Black. Raven could hardly breathe from the heat and soot so he let the celestial objects go and managed to escape. Because the sun, moon, and stars had no control they flowed out of the smoke hole and assumed the space in the present positions they now hold.
This is the legend as to how light came to be, why there is sickness and famine and mosquitos today, and how Raven became black.

"as told by Tlingits of Southeastern Alaska"

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