XII Legends in Cedar
Next to "Raven," the most popular subject for totempole art was the Gonakadet. Known also to the Haidas as "Wasgo," this monster is generally depicted as an aquatic wolf with some aspects of the killerwhale. One story about it relates that it had a head like a "house," but whether this referred to shape or to its size is no longer known.
There are many Gonakadet stories but the most popular one concerns a high-born young man who was having mother-in-law trouble. Being the wife of a chief and used to having her own way, she seems to have despised him because she could not dominate him as she would have liked to and especially was she irked by his gambling. After each meal she would order every bit of food put out of sight so that there would be nothing left when he came home. Then she would order the slaves to put out the fire so that he could not cook anything for himself. When the gambler would come into the community house long after dark, the woman could remark, sarcastically, "My fine son-in-law has been cutting wood for me." A similar remark would be flung at him at every opportunity.
Although the young man had a kind and loving wife he found that he could not endure her motherís constant nagging forever. At some distance back of the village there was a lake in which the monster Gonakadet was reputed to dwell. Here at the lakeside he built himself a small cedar cabin where he lived alone. But he was not idle since it was his intention to try to trap the monster. First he felled a tall cedar tree into the lake and carefully stripped it of its branches. Then with fire-hardened hardwood wedges and stone maul he split the log nearly to the butt. Next he inserted long crosspieces which sprung the two halves wide apart and held them there at great tension.
When summer came and the villagers left for the fishing grounds the young man went with them and caught many salmon. These he took to his cabin and with them baited his salmon. These he took to his cabin and with them baited his trap. By letting the bright red salmon down into the water on a line, the Gonakadet was finally lured into the space between the sprung tree-halves whereupon he knocked out the trigger and the monster was trapped. For hours it thrashed about, at times dragging the tree completely under water but eventually it gave up the struggle and died.
Now the young man removed the Gonakadet from the trap, skinned it and carefully dried the skin. When it was cured he got into the hide and went into the water. As he had hoped, dressed in the skin, he had all the powers of the Gonakadet itself. He explored the lake bottom, finding there a beautiful house which had been the home of Gonakadet.
The secret of his good fortune he kept from everybody but his wife and she was charged to reveal it to no one.
The following spring found all the peopleís dried salmon used up and the village was faced with the prospects of famine. Then the young man put on his Gonakadet skin and swam in the sea every night. Only his wife knew of his whereabouts and to her only he revealed the supernatural aspect of his gift. "I will be back each morning before the raven calls," he said, "but if the raven calls before I return, do not look for me, for I shall be dead in this life."
That night he caught a salmon and before the raven called he brought it to the village and laid it on the sand in front of his mother-in-lawís house. Rising early next morning this woman spied the salmon and concluded that it had drifted there with the tide. According to custom, all the village was invited to partake of it.
The following night the young man caught two salmon and left them in the same place. When the mother-in-law found these she was overjoyed and wondered what it was that was bringing her this good fortune. "It must be a spirit," she thought.
The son-in-law now slept during the day, being tired from swimming in search of salmon all night. His mother-in-law would berate him soundly, saying, "Imagine men sleeping all day when there is a famine. If it were not for me going around picking up dead fish the whole village would starve!" His wife, however, knew who was providing the salmon.
The next morning the woman found a halibut before her door, and sensing a rhythm in the strange happenings predicted two halibut would be there on the morrow. The young man, hearing her prediction, fulfilled it by catching two halibut. Then she told her husband, the chief, to forbid anyone to go on the beach until she had gone first, giving as her reason that "she had had a vision." Of course she wished only to make sure that she should get full credit for everything that was found. Then she predicted that she would find a seal and, as she had foretold, a seal was there in the morning. The hair was singed off, the skin scrubbed white and the seal cooked whole for the benefit of the community.
People now began to regard her as a great shaman and she did everything in her power to encourage such belief. She ordered a claw headdress made, such as shamans wear, and a rattle and an apron decorated with puffinís beaks, and a mask which she named "Food-Finding Spirit." She continually talked about "her spirits" and sang songs about their power. High caste people paid much attention to her and praised her spirits. Popularity made her still more cruel to her son-in-law and she now spoke of him derisively as the "Sleeping Man."
As time went on she called successively for two seals, one sea lion, two sea lions, one whale. Now she was selling food to the villagers and had so much stored away in boxes that the people were awed by her great wealth.
Each night the task had been getting greater for the young man and he had barely gotten in with the whale before the raven called. To his wife he cautioned, "Do not take any of that food unless she offers it." And then he added, "If I am found dead in this skin, put me along with the skin in the place where I used to hide it, and you will get help."
Then the day came when the pseudo-shaman called for two whales. The young man caught them, but to bring them in exceeded the strength even of the Gonakadet. All night long he struggled to get them ashore but just as he reached the beach the raven called and he fell dead, instantly.
The mother-in-law went out as usual and found the two whales with a strange monster lying dead between them. All the villagers came down to see it. It had claws like copper and a big head with long upright ears. Two great fins stood up on its back and it had a long curling tail. The simple villagers thought it must be one of the shaman womanís spirits.
Just then they heard someone crying and upon looking in that direction saw the chiefís daughter approaching, weeping bitterly. "Why does the chiefís daughter call that monster her husband?" they asked each other.
When the girl reached the shore she turned on her mother angrily, saying, "Where are your spirits now? You lied! You said you had spirits when you actually had none. That is why this happened to my husband."
Everyone in the village was now crowded about. "Mother, is this your Food-Finding Spirit? Why did your spirit die? Real Spirits never die. If this is your spirit bring it to life again."
Then the girl requested the help of someone who was spiritually clean and they opened the monsterís mouth revealing the body of her husband. "He must have been killed by that monster," said the villagers.
When the young woman and her helpers went to the lake to deposit the body according to the dead manís instructions they saw the trap and the tools he had made it with and then for the first time they knew the truth. All the village went there to see for themselves and to pay their respects to the man who had saved them from starving. That is, all but the mother-in-law, for her shame was more that she could bear and she died in convulsions, bloody froth coming from her mouth.
Every evening thereafter the bereaved young lady went to the tree containing her husbandís body and wept. But one evening she perceived a ripple on the waters of the lake and then she saw the Gonakadet rise. Speaking in her husbandís voice it called her to it. Then it said "Get on my back and hold tight." She did so and down beneath the waters it plunged.
They still live there beneath the surface in a beautiful house and their numerous children are known as the "Daughters of the Creek." They reside at the head of every stream and to see them or either of their spirit parents will surely bring one good lick. (See also pictures on pages 73 and 75.)
The Sun And Raven Pole
This prominent member of the Saxman cluster originally stood in a little cemetery on the north end of Pennock Island opposite Ketchikan. It was carved by a Tlingit craftsman in 1902 for a woman of the Raven phratry as a memorial to her two sons. In 1939 it was taken down by the C.C.C.I.D., removed to Saxman where it was repaired, repainted and set up as the first rehabilitated totempole in the Saxman group, on the highway just outside of Ketchikan.
Although there are several theories as to just what stories are told on this pole (see picture on page 133, also color picture on cover), the most commonly accepted are those of two of Ravenís adventures: his sojourn in the heavens during the flood and his adventures under the sea. Reading the pole from this viewpoint, the uppermost figure is Raven, his head carved in the likeness of a personified "Sun." On his chest are the Sunís three children while beneath his feet is the face of his mother. The next figure is a more realistic "Raven" and at the bottom is "Frog," both characters in the second adventure.
The upper story is a detail in the adventures of "Yethl" or Raven, a version of which is told in Chapter VIII. After Raven's miraculous "originial" birth in the land of supernatural beings which resulted from his motherís having swallowed a heated white pebble upon the recommendation of Crane, he rapidly grew to manhood and stole his uncleís beautiful wife. His uncle caused a flood to cover the land, hoping to drown his erring nephew. But Yethl, taking the Raven form, flew into the heavens where he was graciously entertained by the Sun and his family until the flood waters subsided, whereupon he descended and began the Creation of the World and Man. It is only the brief sojourn in the heavens that is illustrated here. Because of this experience, the Raven phratry claims Sun as one of its symbols.
Beneath this story, Raven is shown clinging to Frog on a trip beneath the sea where Raven is shown clinging to Frog on a trip beneath the sea where Raven saw all the fishes and other denizens of the deep. These are pictured along the edges of the pole.
An older, but not so elaborate pole of this same type can be seen in the Ketchikan ball park. It originally stood in New Tongass village, but was removed to Ketchikan by the American Legion along with several others that they sought to preserve. (See also Chapter XI.)
Goo-Teekhl, The Cannibal Giant
Many years ago there dwelt in the forest north of Klukwan, a cannibal so huge that he was the terror of all the Chilkat country. Said to be 16 feet tall, more powerful than a grizzly, and of voracious appetite, this wild man would rush out of the woods, strip the salmon from the peopleís drying racks, gobble it up, then retreat to the fastness of the forest. Warriors sent against him were invariably killed and eaten, for their arrows and spears could not pierce his thick hide.
Frequent incursions of the cannibal against the Chilkats and their stores of winter food threatened the very existence of this Tlingit tribe. Something had to be done or the entire village would be exterminated.
Eventually it fell to the people of the Ganaxadi who dwelt in the frog house to take steps that were to free them from the scourge of the forest. Members of this clan searched for the home of the cannibal until they came upon a huge house deep in the timber, from the smoke hole of which red smoke was billowing. Certain that this was the place, they dug a deep pit such as grizzly bears are trapped in. Near the bottom of the pit they set a large net made from sinew, strong and elastic. Over this pitfall, branches and leaves were carefully placed until it looked as natural as the forest floor.
Into this trap the cannibal Goo-teekhl was lured. Fighting to free himself, the Giant was soon so entangled in the meshes of the net that he lay helpless on his back.
The Frog House people thereupon heaped dried leaves and sticks upon their captive, intending to destroy him with fire. He, however, scoffed at their efforts, saying that though they did burn him up, he would continue to eat them alive, throughout the years and for all time.
For four days and nights fuel was heaped upon the burning pyre until not a vestige of the cannibal remained. But to be sure that he was entirely consumed they took long poles and stirred among the hot coals. Then an unaccountable thing happened. As the multitude of fiery sparks spiraled up into the air, they took the form of mosquitos and immediately attacked the people with fury, biting through their skins and sucking their blood. Goo-teekhl had made good his threat!
So the people of the Frog House went back to their village and carved an image of the cannibal which may still be seen to this day in the Frog House of Klukwan. And every day this totem of Goo-teekhl is fed; oil is poured in its mouth, flour is sifted on its body. Perhaps it is because they believe the spirit of Goo-teekhl was freed of evil when his cannibalistic tendencies were transmitted to the mosquitos and perhaps it is in the spirit of appeasement that they feed him in the hopes that some day he will relent and the mosquitos will thereupon cease their torment and be as harmless as butterflies.
(This story is recalled on the Tagcook pole at Wrangell and on a fine model pole in the Territorial Museum at Juneau. See also pictures on pages 90 and 136.)
In old Taqdjik-an (Tuxekan), the ancient seat of the Klawak people, dwelt Galwet, a chief of the Takwanedi or "Winter People." Every day he bathed in the sea for strength and his people bathed with him. In the cold, gray mornings he would rise, run down to the sea, and rush in, followed by his clan. Then they would whip each other with switches until their blood ran hot. After that they would go to a certain tree where the Chief attempted to pull a branch out. Then they would go to another tree which the Chief tried to twist from top to bottom. He was testing his strength in preparation for an expedition against the sea lions.
Galwetís nephew was a great disappointment to the entire village. He was weak and cowardly and would lie abed when all the others were bathing for strength. They called him Duktoothl or "Black Skin" because he never bathed and was blackened with soot from sleeping close to the fire. One day, however, his aunt took him in hand secretly, told him how he was disgracing the clan, that they would lose caste when he became Chief. He promised her that he would make himself strong and worthy the respect normally accorded a chief.
However, Duk-toothl continued to feign weakness, and though he continued to lie in bed when the others bathed, at night after all were asleep, he would steal off and do the same thing himself for hours and hours. He remained in so long that he had to float to rest his feet. On coming out he would throw water on the ashes of the fire so as to make it steam and lay his mat on top. That was the only bed he had. The people thought that he was a low, dirty fellow, but in reality he kept himself pure and would not lie or steal. He did not say a word when they made fun of him, though he was strong enough to have done almost anything to them if he had so desired. When they sent him after big pieces of firewood he acted as if they were very hard to lift, and they thought he was so lazy that they gave him very little to eat.
The people went on in this way, bathing every day with their chief, while Black-skin bathed at night. After they were through, the village people would make a big fire, take breakfast and then go after wood. As soon as the people came up, Black-skin moved into a corner and slept there.
One night, while Black-skin was bathing, he heard a whistle that sounded to him like that of a loon. He thought, "Now that I am seen I had better let myself go." So he went toward the place where he heard it and saw a short, thick-set man standing on the beach clothed in a bear skin. This man ran down toward him, picked him up, and threw him down upon the beach. Then he said, "You canít do it yet. Donít tell anyone about me. I am Strength. I have come to help you."
Toward morning Black-skin came in feeling very happy, for he thought that he had seen something important. He kept thinking of Strength all the time. He could not forget him, but he was quieter than ever in his demeanor. When they were playing in the house he would pay no attention, and if they said mean things to him, he let them go unnoticed, although he was a member of the chiefís family. Anything they wanted they asked him to get, and he got it.
In olden times the boys used to wrestle in the chiefís house while their elders looked on, and they would try to get him to wrestle too. Sometimes the little boys would wrestle with him, and he pretended that they pushed him down. Then they would make fun of him, saying, "The idea of a great man like you being thrown by a child."
The next time he went in bathing, Black-skin felt very happy, for he knew that he had strength. Anything hard to do, when he looked at it, it appeared easy to him. That night he heard the whistle once more. He looked around and saw the same man, and the man said, "Come over this way. Come over to me." Then they seized one another, and as soon as the short man felt his grip, he said, "Donít throw me down. Now you have strength. You are not to go into the water again. Go from here right to that tree and try to pull the limb out." So he went to the tree and pulled it right out. Then he put it back again. After he had done so, the man told him to go to the other tree. "Twist it right down to the roots," he said. So Black-skin did. Afterward he untwisted it and made it look as before.
Just after he got to bed the people started in bathing. As they passed him the boys would pull his hair saying, "Come on and go in bathing, too," but he paid no attention. After they had bathed they went up to the limb as usual, and Galwet pulled it out with ease. Black-skin lay in bed listening to the shouting they made over this great feat. Then Galwet ran to the other tree and twisted it down to the very roots. When they came home, they told the story to one another, saying, "Galwet pulled out that limb!" The chief himself felt very proud, and the people of the village were very happy that he had done so, especially his two wives. Then they tried to get Black-skin out of bed. They laughed at him, saying, "Your chief has pulled out the limb. Why couldnít you? He has also twisted that tree. You sleep like a chief and let your chief go bathing in the morning." They laughed at him, saying, "He is sleeping in the morning because he has pulled out that limb and twisted that tree."
They had been bathing in order to hunt sea lions, so the young men said, "Tomorrow we are going after sea lions. I wonder which part of the canoe Black-skin will sleep in. He is such a powerful fellow."
And one boy said, "Why this Black-skin will sit in the bow of the canoe so that he can land first. He will tear the sea lions in two."
Black-skin listened to all this, but he paid no attention to them. The whole town was going all day long to see the place where the limb had been pulled off and the tree twisted down to the root. Those people almost lived on sea lion meat, but it was very scarce and only powerful people could get it. For this reason they picked out only the strongest fellows from among those who had been bathing with the chief, to go after them to the sea-lion island. This island was very slippery because the sea lions stayed there all of the time and very few could get up to the place where they were. That is why they went through such hardships to get at them.
The elder of the chiefís two wives had had pity on Black-skin, and would do little favors for him on the sly. So Black-skin, after he had bathed secretly, came to his uncleís wife and said, "Will you give me a clean shirt; it doesnít matter much what it is so long as it is clean, and something for my hair?"
"Are you asked to go?" she inquired.
He replied, "I am not asked, but I am going."
So she prepared food for him and put it in as small a package as she could. All prepared, they got into the canoe. Last of all came down Black-skin, and, when they saw him, they said. "Donít let him come. Donít let him come."
Seeing that he was determined to get in they began pushing the canoe out as fast as they could. Black-skin then seized the canoe, and they struck his finger to make him let go. It sounded like beating upon a board. And, although all of them were shoving it out, he exerted a very little of his strength, pulled the canoe back, and jumped in.
Then the people talked very mean to him, but the chief said, "Oh, let him be. He will bail out the canoe for us on the way over."
So he sat in the place where one bails. The uncle might have suspected something after his nephew had pulled back the canoe, but he did not appear to. As they went rapidly out they said, "Black-skin came along to tear the sea lions in two."
They asked him, "How many sea lions shall I skin for you?"
But Black-skin said nothing.
The sea lion island had very precipitous sides against which great waves came, so Galwet waited until the canoe was lifted upon the crest of a wave and then jumped ashore. He was a powerful fellow, and seizing a small sea lion by the tail, smashed its head to pieces on the rocks. Then he thought he would do the same ting to a large one. These large sea lions are called "men-of-the-islands." He went to the very largest of these and sat astride of his tail, intending to tear it in two, but the sea lion threw him up into the air, and when he came down he was smashed to pieces on the rocks.
Now, when Black-skin saw what had happened to his uncle, he felt bad. Then he put his hand into his bundle of clothes, took out and put on his hair ornament and his clean shirt while all watched him, and said, "I am the man that pulled out that limb, and I am the man that twisted that tree." He spoke as high-caste Indians did in those days, and all listened to him. He said to them, "Take the canoe closer to shore." Then he walked forward in the canoe, stepping on the seats which broke under his weight, precipitating their occupants to the bottom of the canoe. The young men that were sitting in his way he threw back as if they had been small birds. Then the people were frightened, thinking that he would revenge himself on them for their meanness, but he jumped ashore where his uncle had gone and walked straight up the cliff.
The small sea lions in his way he killed simply by hitting them on the head and by stepping on them. He looked only at the big one that had killed his uncle, for he did not want it to get away. When he came to it, he seized it and tore it in two. A few of the sea lions escaped, but he killed most of them and loaded the canoe down. When he was doing this, however, his companions, who were very much ashamed of themselves and very much frightened, paddled away and left him. They said to the people in the town, "It was Black-skin who pulled out the limb and twisted the tree."
Then the town people were troubled and said, "Why did you leave him out there? Why didnít you bring him in?"
Meanwhile Black-skin took out the sea lion intestines and dried them. He had nothing with which to make a fire and did not know what to do.
So he lay down and went to sleep, his head covered with his blanket. Then he heard something that sounded like the beating of sticks. Suddenly he was awakened by hearing someone say, "I have come after you." He looked around, but could not see anything except a black duck which was swimming about in front of him. Then he saw the black duck coming toward him and said to it, "I have seen you already."
It answered, "I am sent after you. Get on my back but keep your eyes closed tight."
So he closed his eyes and then the duck said, "Now open your eyes."
He opened them and saw that he was in a fine house. It was the house of the sea lions.
It is through this story that the natives to the present day say that everything is like a human being. Each has its "way of living." Why do fish die on coming out of the water? It is because they have a "way of living" of their own down there.
Meanwhile the elder wife of the chief who had helped Black-skin, was mourning for her husband and nephew. Her husbandís body was still on that island. The older people were also saying to the people who had left him, "Why did you do it? A powerful fellow like that is scarce. We want such a fellow among us." Then the widow begged the young men to go back to the island and bring home her nephew and her husbandís body but the younger wife did not care. Finally some other people did go. They found the body there, but Black-skin was gone. Then they took the body aboard, loaded the canoe with the bodies of sea lions, and went home. When they heard of it, the wise people all said that something was wrong. The shamans said that he was not dead and that they would see him again. They said that he was off with some wild animal. This troubled the village people a great deal. They felt very bad to think that he had kept himself so very lowly before the low-caste people, and they feared that he was suffering somewhere again when he might just as well have occupied his uncleís place.
Black-skin, however, continued to stay among the sea lions. They looked to him like human beings, but he knew who they really were. In the same house there was a boy crying all the time with pain. The sea lion people could not see what ailed him. Black-skin, however, could see that he had a barbed spear point in his side.
Then one of the sea lions spoke up, saying, "That shaman there knows what is the matter. He is saying, ĎHow is it that they cannot see the bone in the side of that child?í"
Then Black-skin said, "I am not a shaman, but I can take it out."
So he cut it out and blood and matter came out with it. Then they gave him warm water to wash the wound, and since the young sea lion belonged to high-caste people, they said to him, "Anything that you want among us you can have."
So he asked for a box that always hung overhead. This box was a kind of medicine to bring any kind of wind wanted. The sea lions would push the box up and down on the water, calling the wind to it like a dog, whistling and saying, "Come to this box. Come to this box."
So the natives now whistle for the winds and call them.
Then the sea-lion people told Black-skin to get into it, and as soon as he did so, he saw that he was far out to sea. He began to call for the wind that blows shoreward, and it carried him ashore. Then he got out of the box and hung it out on the limb of a tree in a sheltered place. He did this because the sea lion people had told him to take very good care of that box and not go near anything unclean with it.
Black-skin had landed only a short distance from his own town, so he walked home, and his uncleís wife was very glad to see him, feeling as if his uncle had come back. The dried sea lion entrails he wore around his head. Then he asked all of the town people to come together, and the people who had been cruel to him were very much ashamed, for they thought that he had gone for good. He, however, looked very fine. He eyed his enemies angrily but thought thus, "If I had not made myself so humble, they might not have treated me that way." So he overlooked it. Some of the people that had left him on the sea lion island were so frightened that they ran away into the woods. Some of the old people and the good-hearted people were glad that he was back, but he could see that others hung their heads as if they were ashamed. Then he said, "Some of you know how cruel you were to me. You know well that you are ashamed of yourselves. But I can see that some of you feel good because you know that you felt kindly toward me. It will always be the case that people who are cruel to poor people will be ashamed of it afterward."
They had thought that he would avenge himself on them, but he talked to them in a kindly manner saying, "Do not make fun of poor people as you did when my uncle was alive."
After this Black-skin was known no longer by his nickname but by his true name, Ka-ha-si.
(Note: Ka-ha-si appears on many totempoles, always in the act of rending a sea lion in two, and generally with a headdress made of braided sea lion intestines. See picture on page 75.)
The Kwakiutl Thunderbird Totem
No totempole on the Northwest Coast enjoys so much prominence and universal popularity as the Nimpkish Kwakiutl Thunderbird pole, several original styles of which may still be seen at Alert Bay, B.C. Because of its beautifully-designed outspread wings and gay, contrasting colors, artists perennially select it for magazine illustrations, travel folders and advertisements. Souvenir totempoles, ornaments, pins, etc. in gold, silver, bone, ivory and wood are made in its design in Alaska, Mexico, Seattle, Switzerland and prior to the war were also made in Japan, to be sold in competition with the original replicas produced at Alert Bay by the natives. The reason, of course, is that the Indians, not having gone into mass production of their curios, cannot meet the ever-growing demand for souvenirs of this and other types of Northwest Coast art and handicraft.
The figures on the pole consist of the Thunderbird with spread wings at the top, perched upon the head of a ferocious grizzly bear. The bear generally holds a slave in its paws but often only the slavesí head is carved, beneath which is a Chiefís "copper" in the conventional form of a shield (see picture on page 146). A story suggested by these figures and adapted from one of the several versions follows:
In the dim, prehistoric past of the fogbound land of the Nimpkish Kwakiutl, the earliest men dwelt in the still deeper fog of ignorance and superstition. Without human knowledge and lacking the instincts of animals they were the most wretched of Godís creatures.
So it came to pass that "Thunderbird," looking down from his abode on high, saw mankind in all its misery, and having compassion, decided to descend to earth to teach men the way in which to live.
Flying down to the land below and assuming the form of man, he selected a promising spot in a berrypatch beside a salmon-filled river. There he began constructing a community house from huge cedar logs which he felled in the adjacent forest. The house was made spacious and strong and he decorated it inside and out with carved and painted designs of great beauty. Then he made hunting and fishing equipment such as bows, arrows, hooks and nets and household articles such as boxes and wooden dishes all decorated with symbols and designs. He made baskets of spruce-root and mats of cedar bark. Then he caught and smoked many salmon and rendered candlefish and stored the oil in tight bentwood boxes. Berries were gathered and dried for winter use, and seaweed he pressed into cakes and stored away in boxes tied up with cedarbark rope which he manufactured himself.
All summer Thunderbird and his personal slave labored to produce this vast wealth and when it was at last assembled he took a grizzly bear and commanded it to guard his possessions. He was now ready for the "social season" which followed the "salmon season" so he rested and patiently awaited a visit from men who dwelt in the neighborhood.
Sometime later, as Thunderbird had anticipated, a band of natives passing by in their humble hollowed log saw the wondrous house and paused awe-stricken at the sight. Thunderbird went down to the riverís edge and invited the travelers in. He then showed them in great detail just what everything was and how it was made and used. Then he set before them a great feast of the finest food they had ever eaten and again he explained how everything had been prepared and bid them to return to their homes and follow his instructions.
But when the guests made ready to leave they began to carry Thunderbirdís property away. He vainly tried to explain the laws of private possession to them but in the end they not only took away all of his movable property but, because he had objected, took him also, as a prisoner.
They had not gone far, however, when a great storm arose, threatening to destroy the frail craft and all its occupants. The wind rose to a gale, the waves ran mountain high and rain poured down, drenching them. Then black clouds descended, lightning flashed intermittently and thunder rolled ominously about them.
The fleeing natives were now in a panic, fearing that all would be lost. But one of them chanced to notice that the prisonerís eyes flashed like fire before each clap of thunder. It was then that they realized for the first time the connection between their unworthy act and their present predicament. Now they were aware that their hostage was none other than the god, Thunderbird, in disguise. Thereupon the party fell to their knees and implored Thunderbird to spare their lives, promising if he did so, to return his property and to follow his teachings thereafter.
Thunderbird forgave the erring natives and promised to save them. Immediately the wind died down, the sea became calm and the sun again shone forth from a cloudless sky. Thunderbird was thereupon returned to his house with all his possessions and the natives departed, vowing to spread his instruction among all their tribes.
As time went on, Thunderbird married the princess, daughter of a nearby chief, and this couple became the ancestors of all the Nimpkish people under the Thunderbird totem. When the great benefactor died, his nephew succeeded him as chief, and when he did so, he had a fine, carved and painted pole erected to the memory of his famous ancestor. This memorial was surmounted by Thunderbird with his wings outspread. Beneath him was his guard, the grizzly bear who held in his paws the slave of Thunderbird, and in the slaveís hands was carved a "chiefís copper" signifying the great wealth and princely status of his master. And as generations succeeded generations, each chief was honored in the same way by the nephew who succeeded to the chieftainship.
Even today at Alert Bay one may purchase replicas of this famous totempole, made by descendants of the original Thunderbird, the great benefactor of all mankind.
The Chief Skowl totempole (see picture on page 133), elaborate monument which so plainly shows European influence, was erected by the great Haida chief, Skowl, at Kasaan in the early 80ís and has since been removed to Ketchikanís city park. It was ordered carved to commemorate the baptism of the chief and his family in the Greco-Russian Church at New Archangel (Sitka). The unusual art style is derived from that on cards picturing saints, cherubs, etc., given to Skowl by the Russian bishop.
The eagle surmounting the pole is Chief Skowlís totem. Beneath it is the figure of a Russian saint. The third figure, apparently emerging from the clouds, is the face of the Archangel Michael, and beneath it the Russian bishop. Next comes another eagle, beneath which is the figure of Skowlís son-in-law, Vincent Baronovich, an Austrian by birth, hailing from Trieste, Dalmatia. Baronovich was an English subject and, together with Skowl, held in contempt the "Yankee Government"; so it is unlikely the lower eagle represents the United States which had recently purchased Alaska.
Skowlís daughter, Mrs. Vincent Baronovich, largely financed the carving and it was no doubt for her sake that her husbandís figure was included. He died in 1879 and Skowl in the winter of 1882-83.
Chief Johnson's Pole
This tall totempole is often the first that one sees upon reaching Alaska. It stands near the Federal Building in Ketchikan, at the junction of Mission and Stedman streets where it was set up in 1901 during a Potlatch by Johnson, house chief of the Kadjuk group of Tlingits. The pole (see picture on page 133) is surmounted by the "Kadjuk," a mythological bird, the inspiration of which was perhaps the golden eagle, a species never seen on the Coast but sparsely found on the mountains of the Interior. As the fable goes, this bird amuses itself by dropping stones on unsuspecting ground hogs. If one is lucky enough to acquire one of these stones his prosperity is assured for all time. Because of the extreme high caste of this bird, a great expanse of undecorated pole separates him from the more lowly creatures below. No doubt it also symbolizes the Kadjukís lofty habitat.
The twin bird forms appearing next are Gitsanuk and Gitsaqeq, the slaves of Raven who appears beneath them with spreading wings. While these slaves are actually ravens, they cannot be identified as such by their beaks, which in this case are hooked. This is accounted for by the fact that Raven had previously sent these slaves to get fire for the earth. In carrying the stolen embers in their mouths, heat caused their beaks to melt and bend downward as seen in this carving.
The large female figure holding two salmon is the Fog Woman who, in this interval of Ravenís philandering life, is his wife. This figure may be recognized as female by the large labret worn in the lower lip. In past years the Indian women of the Northwest Coast wore these decorations and thereby gained the name "wooden-lipped people" from early navigators. They were never worn by the Indian males.
The story recalled on this pole goes back to the days when there were no salmon and Raven had to make out a miserable fare of cod, sculpins and an occasional halibut. One day Raven, who was encamped at Anan creek with his two slaves, went out midchannel to fish. Suddenly a heavy fog settled down and Raven and his companions were lost, for they could not see beyond the bow of their canoe. Presently, however, a beautiful woman materialized in the center of their canoe. She asked for Ravenís spruce-root hat and, upon receiving it, turned it upside down, whereupon all the fog poured into it, leaving the sky clear again. Raven thereupon ordered his slaves to paddle to his cabin, taking the woman with him, for he had already decided to make her his wife.
One day when Raven was absent from his cabin, Fog Woman sent one of the slaves to get water in Ravenís spruce-root hat. When he returned with the water, to his surprise a bright fish was swimming in the hat. This was the first salmon and the woman bade the slave to cook it at once so that they might eat it before her husband returned.
When Raven came home he detected the red meat of the salmon on his slaveís teeth and from him learned that Fog Woman had created the salmon. Upon inquiring how she did it, the woman told Raven to build a large smoke house while she went up the creek to wash her hair. On the fourth day, he was to go look for salmon.
Following her instructions Raven built the smoke house and on the fourth day, upon going to the bay early in the morning, found it full of salmon. Fog woman told him to look in the stream and he found it, too, choked with salmon.
Now, together, they began the labor of catching, drying, smoking and storing enormous quantities of this precious fish. Raven began to feel happy and independent in his new wealth and security. He soon forgot that all his good fortune was due to his wife and began to ignore and abuse her. As time went on his actions became more and more intolerable and she could do nothing to please him. Finally in a fit of temper he struck her with a salmonís backbone and the sharp spines pierced her side. Deeply humiliated she got up and started to run toward the beach. Raven followed, attempting to stop her, but each time he reached for her she slipped through his fingers like mist and drifted out over the waters, never to return.
Raven tried to reconcile his loss by the fact that he was still very wealthy but just then he heard a peculiar noise. Turning around he was amazed to find that his fine dried fish had suddenly come to life and were streaming down to the water and swimming away. Even the cache containing his boxes of smoked salmon was empty and only tracks leading towards the beach were left to show where his salmon had gone. Raven found himself as poor as before. But salmon had been created and have remained in Alaska to this day.
Some say that Fog Womanís daughters, the Creek Women, live at the head of every stream. It is culminating joy of the salmonís life to fight its way to the headwaters of the stream for just one look at this goddess. All of them die in the attempt save the steelhead who, by special dispensation, comes back year after year.
The One-Legged Fisherman Totempole
The story related on this pole (see picture, page 152) is one of the adventures of Kayak, a mythological Tlingit hero. It was he who slew his father, Lakishina, a wolfish ancestor who delighted in killing his own children by sawing them to death on the spines of his red cod-skin coat. Kayakís mother had saved him and a brother and sister by changing them into puppies whenever their father was home. However, by a strange curse, this sister was forbidden ever to look upon her brothers, on pain that if she did they would be turned to stone.
In this particular exploit, Kayak and his brother, learning that there was a fisherman at Yakutat who had a magic harpoon, journeyed thither in hopes of obtaining it for his own use. The fisherman turned out to be a supernatural being of the eagle order except that it had only one leg (the totempole shows two, doubtless a concession to the dictates of Northwest Coast Art). By means of the magic harpoon it secured salmon easily, strung them on ropes, then flew to its home in a grizzly-bearís den far up the creek.
The coat worn by the fisherman was ornamented with two bearís heads which, upon arriving home, removed the salmon from the strings. One head tossed fish to a large male grizzly bear and the other unstrung and tossed them to an old female bear, which incidentally was the mother-in-law of the fisherman since he was married to her daughter.
On the following day Kayak, who had observed all this, dressed in the skin of a sea monster he had killed in an earlier adventure at Sitka, and hid underwater at the place where the salmon were schooled together. When the fisherman came down and threw his magic harpoon at a salmon, Kayak grasped it. Then cutting the line, he swam underwater with the coveted weapon until he could emerge from the water unseen. The fisherman dived for the lost harpoon-head repeatedly but finally gave up trying to recover it.
Sometime later the fisherman caught Kayak with the harpoon in his hand and in the struggle for it the fisherman was killed. Kayak thereupon skinned his opponent and got into the hide himself with the intention of deceiving the fishermanís wife. She, however, detected the masquerade and together with her parents attacked Kayak. In the battle which ensued, all three bears were killed and Kayak went on to more adventures.
After many harrowing escapades, none of which are recorded on this pole, Kayak and his brother met their end crossing the Stikine River. The current was swift, and their sister, apprehensive that they might be swept away, looked up at them, whereupon both were instantly turned to solid stone. The stones are still pointed out to travelers on the Stikine River not very far from Wrangell.
Origin of The Woodworm Emblem
Many years ago, among the natives of the Northwest Coast, it was the custom for high caste girls to be placed in seclusion for a period of several months just before they reached maturity. They were given a special compartment behind a painted symbolic screen and were not allowed to look at men or any of their equipment for to do so would make them unlucky.
Now it happened at old Tuxekan that a girl of the Ganaxadi while so confined picked up a woodworm that had been brought in on the firewood and secretly tried to make a pet of it, for she was very lonely. But the woodworm would not eat anything that she offered it and was about to die. Finally in desperation she gave it her breast where it thereafter suckled as if it were her child.
As time passed, the woodworm grew to enormous proportions and the girl had an increasingly difficult time keeping it concealed. At night, however, it crawled about the village through a system of tunnels it had dug and ate the dried fish and grease that the people had put by as their winter stores.
One day, the girlís mother, wondering how her daughter occupied herself, investigated her quarters and found the girl singing a lullaby to the woodworm which was now as big as a human being. Horrified, she called the Chief who took one look and immediately sent for the girlís uncle. Through a ruse they got the girl away from her quarters long enough to have a good look at the huge white monster which they found hidden behind the food boxes. Now they knew what it was that had been stealing all the winter food stores. Because of this and through fear that the monster might become dangerous they decided to kill it.
In secret preparation, the men made long wooden spears and fire-hardened the points. Then one day the girlís aunt sent for her, for they were making the marten-skin robe which she was to wear in the ceremony which was to terminate her confinement and at which time she was to be presented to the villagers as eligible for marriage.
As soon as the girl was out of the way, the men attacked the woodworm with their spears and killed it. Shortly thereafter the maid returned and tearfully accused them of murdering her child. She could not be consoled and day after day and night after night she sang the woodworm lullaby until she died.
Because of this event the family took the woodworm as its crest and migrated northward, settling at Klukwan. There today, in the Whale House, one may still see the Woodworm interior house post, one of the very finest in Alaska (see picture page 155). On it the girl is shown holding a woodworm in her hands while two others form her headdress. Also in the Whale House is the Woodworm dish, a fourteen-foot ceremonial food trough, carved many years ago in the form of a giant woodworm to commemorate this event. It has a long segmented body, feet like a human being, and a human face with round, fat cheeks.
The Killisnoo Beaver
The use of the Beaver as a crest of the Decitan clan of Tlingit Ravens is traced to an experience with a supernatural beaver. A chief of the Decitan, who are principally from the vicinity of Angoon, once kept a small beaver which he had captured, as a pet. He was fascinated by its cunning ways and its clean habits and came to giving it more attention than he accorded the members of his own household. On account of this, jealousy arose, and some of the clansmen began abusing the beaver out of spite.
The beaver not only appealed to the Chief for protection but demanded that his tormentors be punished. Unsuccessful in thus securing the aid of his master, the beaver prepared to take action himself. Secretly it began composing songs by which it invoked the aid of certain spirits. Then it dived into its pond whereupon it became a giant beaver in which form it dug great tunnels under all the houses of the whole village. Nobody knew what the beaver was up to, for it always resumed the form of a common beaver whenever it was among the people.
One day it went into the forest and fashioned a beautiful spear with its teeth. When it was finished it hid the spear in a hollow tree and went back to the village. But a passing hunter, noticing the fresh chips, investigated and found the weapon. He brought it at once to the village and showed it to the Chief. Everybody gathered around to see the remarkable craftsmanship, for it was the finest spear they had ever seen.
The Chief questioned each man, trying to find who had made it, but each denied having ever seen such a spear. Finally, the beaver spoke up saying, "That is my make!" It sounded so ridiculous that even the Chief laughed derisively with the rest whereupon the beaver was enraged.
"You are lying when you say you made that spear," said the Chief. At that the beaver grasped the weapon from him, saying, " I will show you that I am strong enough to use it," whereupon it thrust the Chief through the heart. Then it slapped its tail against the earth with tremendous power. The village shook as if in a terrific earthquake, then fell part and disappeared into the beaverís excavations. Not a house in the whole village was saved.
Those that escaped with their lives, knowing the cause of the disaster, took the beaver as their crest. They made a Beaver Hat and since then people who can trace their ancestry to the Decitan clan may have the Beaver insignia on their blankets and carve it on their totempoles. It may always be recognized because of its prominent teeth, its cross-hatched tail and the magic spear which it holds. (See picture, page 133.)