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Paul Kane Watercolour - Ojibwe Cermonial Drum
Painted Cree Frame Drum
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Xwi Xwi Mask

Kwakwaka’wakw Dances and Dancing: Traditional Dances

by William Wasden Jr.

The Kwakwaka’wakw have two sacred ceremonies. The first is known as the T’seka (Winter Ceremonies), the second is the Tła’sala (Peace Dances). The Peace Dances were originally called Dłuwalaxa (Returned from Heaven Ceremonies).

The T̕seka is the most sacred of all Kwakwaka’wakw ceremonies. In our culture, the hosting family will invite guests from neighbouring families and villages to come and witness the family’s history, which will be reenacted through songs, dances and stories. The family honours its guests through the feast and the giving of gifts. image

The Hamat’sa
At the centre of the Winter Ceremonies is a dance we rank among the highest: the Hamat’sa (Cannibal Dance).  The dance comes from the spirit of Baxbakwalanuksiwe’ (The Man Eater from the North End of the World).  In ancient times, this supernatural being lived far in the mountains with his family. Baxbakwalanuksiwe’ would fly down into nearby villages, capture people and carry them back to his home to eat. Baxbakwalanuksiwe’ killed many people. Few saw him and lived.

Some lucky ancestors had spiritual gifts that protected them.  Baxbakwalanuksiwe’ was unable to harm these people. On these occasions, as a gift for discovering him, he was willing to give them some of the rights to his ceremonies.  In some legends, Baxbakwalanuksiwe’ was killed, and through his death the ancestors could claim his songs, dances and names.  From that time on, the spirit of Baxbakwalanuksiwe’ has dwelled in our forests and mountains. His spirit comes in the wintertime, which in this part of the world is moderate.  At that time, families that have the right will send their initiates into these forests.

Choosing the Initiate for the Secret Society
The Hamat’sa is more than a story, it forms the basis of our most sacred secret society.  Other Northwest nations once had secret societies, too.  Some, such as the Haida, once had one that was similar to the Hamat’sa.  But the Kwakwaka’wakw are the only people among all Northwest nations to have preserved their history and this amazing rite.

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Usually, the Elders select a family’s eldest male to become the Hamat’sa. Sometimes he is a person who the people regard highly for the respect he shows to others and himself.  The initiation into the Hamat’sa takes place when the adolescent is ready to enter manhood. The Elders send him into the forest to cleanse himself. He fasts to clear his mind and bathes in icy-cold waters to purify his spirit.  This is necessary so he will lose his human scent.  Only a person who has properly prepared himself can get closer to the spirits, in particular, to Baxbakwalanuksiwe’.

A little later, when the Winter Ceremonies begin, the family brings the Hamat’sa back to the village. The Hamat’sa is in a state of wildness because the spirit of Baxbakwalanuksiwe’ has taken over his body. He is trembling with spiritual power. The Hamat’sa is crying, “Hap!” which means he wants to eat.  Spirit whistles are blowing and the people know that these are the sounds Baxbakwalanuksiwe’ makes.

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The Hamat’sa has many mouths all over his body and they whistle as he moves. The old Hamat’sa dancers, the Solatłala, guide the new initiate to the ceremonial house. They know the ancient rituals to tame a Hamat’sa. They guard him closely so that he does not bite or hurt anyone, especially the guests the family has invited.

The Role of the Hiligaxste’
The Hamat’sa’s Hiligaxste’ is a special woman, a close relative the family has chosen to prepare the Hamat’sa’s food and accompany him.  She is important in his initiation and helps in his taming. She carries a copper, a shield-shaped metal sheet that represents a human body.

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Facing backwards towards the Hamat’sa, she dances in front of him and lures him into the house where his taming will begin.

Both dancers enter dressed in hemlock branches that show they are wild and come from the forest. During this time the Hamat’sa continues to cry “Hap!” in his hunger.  He craves human flesh. His hands are reaching forward and shaking. Supernatural power has filled him. The dancers go around the dance floor in a counterclockwise direction.

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This is the sacred direction of our ceremonies.

The Hiligaxste’ leads him in front of the singers at the rear of the house. Then she quickly disappears into a sacred room that the family has prepared for the Hamat’sa and the secret society. As his Hiligaxste’ leaves him, he yells out his cannibal sound. Then, because she is gone, he goes into a state of wildness once again. You can read an interview with Pewi Alfred, a Hiligaxste' initiate, here.

Four Rounds to Cast Out the Powerful Spirit

Now the old Hamat’sa take over the ceremony. They guide the initiate around the floor in four ritual rounds to begin driving out the powerful spirit of Baxbakwalanuksiwe’.  Four is the sacred number of our tribes and has great power in our culture.  We speak of the four sides of our health: mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual.  We also know the four spiritual realms: sky, earth, sea, and underworld.  Four seasons make up our year: spring, summer, fall and winter.  The world has four directions: north, west, south, and east, and the sacred cycle of the salmon requires four years. The Creator gave these teachings to us to show that the sacred number is important.  Four is the number that completes everything.

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Now, the initiate has gone around the floor four times. He squats facing away from the fire. Humans make fire and he does not like this. The Hamat’sa is like one of the animals. He is still wild and does not want to look at the fire. Now a singer who chants a sacred song that assists in the purification leads four old Hamat’sa Chiefs to the floor.

Each Chief carries a part of sacred red cedar bark regalia that the Hamat’sa will wear. Cedar bark is the most powerful spiritual gift the Creator has given us. Our Elders teach us that when we wear it, it makes us feel good and protects us from all harm. The Chiefs attempt four times to dress the Hamat’sa in the cedar bark, but the Hamat’sa backs away and yells in protest.  The Hamat’sa is afraid of the sacred cedar bark because he can feel its power.

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Finally, after the fourth attempt, the Hamat’sa’s spirit is broken. He is weakened enough to allow the Chiefs to dress him in the regalia and he does not protest any more. Then he allows the old Hamat’sa to take off his hemlock branches. After the special rituals, the initiate is calm enough to allow himself to be dressed with sacred dyed blood-red cedar bark that spiritually keeps him calm. His regalia include a woven headpiece, twisted neck rings with tassels, a long skirt, wrist and ankle bands.

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All are made of inner cedar bark that is pounded and woven to signify his status thus far in the Hamat’sa society. This shows the initiate’s desire for the Chiefs to tame him.  Soon, the cedar bark’s power controls his spirit. It will keep him calm while he dances, and lessen his yells of “Hap!"

Hiligaxste’ with Copper for the First Song of the Taming Ceremony
At this time, someone calls the Hiligaxste’ to come out, so she can guide the Hamat’sa around the floor once again. The family’s Chief has hired professional male singers to sing the Hamat’sa’s first sacred songs.  They use a log drum, a wooden box drum, a conventional bass drum, wood rattles and hand drums.

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The songs begin the final stages of the Hamat’sa’s taming and help to send away the spirit of Baxbakwalanuksiwe’.

The Hiligaxste’ carries the copper again and leads the Hamat’sa around the dance floor once.  Both dancers move slowly to the fast beat of the song. They dip and move around the floor. Sometimes the beat changes and has rhythm.  Both dancers alternate their feet to each beat. The Hamat’sa is still wild, so the old Hamat’sa watch him carefully.

To continue the taming, the Hiligaxste’ symbolically feeds the Hamat’sa the copper until she satisfies his cannibal spirit.

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After this, she leaves the floor. Now, the Hamat’sa can dance by himself.

The first song in this taming ceremony has a fast beat and little rhythm. This is because the Hamat’sa has just begun his ceremonial dancing. He dances with his hands thrust forward as if reaching for food. He purses his lips in an “o” shape. This shows his wildness and cannibal desires.

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The Taming Ceremony’s Second Song
After the first song ends, the old Hamat’sa surround the initiate. During the second ceremony, he is closely guarded by veteran Hamat’sa called Solatłala who are experienced in the procedures of driving out the spirit of Baxwbakwalanuksiwe’. He is squatting facing away from the fire, still wild but starting to become tame. Now he waits for his second song, which has a steady beat. The Hamat’sa follows the beat. Sometimes he will turn when the beat changes. This song tells about the Hamat’sa’s ways.  To release his cannibal spirit, the Hamat’sa uses hand actions that represent the song’s words. This song, which is long and keeps a steady beat, helps the Hamat’sa in his taming. As the Hamat’sa dances he become more upright. His hands reach forward as if still searching for food, but he now makes his cannibal cry less and less. When the song ends, the Hamat’sa’s attendants corral him. He squats and awaits his third song.

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The Third Song
Next, the words tell of the treasures of the Hamat’sa. In the legends, Baxbakwalanuksiwe’ was supernatural and had many servants. He could transform into these servants, among whom were four supernatural birds that captured, killed and ate people for their master. The song lets the people know that the birds will soon appear.

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The birds or Hi’hamsamł came to the Kwakwaka’wakw through marriage and warfare from our northern neighbors, mainly the Awik’inuxw of Rivers Inlet and the Hiłdzakw of Bella Bella, where these dance societies originated. The first bird is Galugwadzayi (Crooked Beak of Heaven). Galugadza’yi has an elaborate prominence over its nostrils, often cut out to emphasize the strong curve. Many Crooked-Beak masks have a face carved on the lower jaw with a significant projection representing the nose. Crooked-Beak is often said to be female and is married to the man-eating raven. With her powerful beak she is able to crush the skulls and bones of men.

Next is Huxhugwadzayi (The Huxwhukw Supernatural Crane-Like Bird of Heaven), who has a long, narrow beak that is usually squared off at the end, with large flaring nostrils. The cedar bark regalia is decorated with white feathers to accompany the natural and dyed red cedar bark that represents the feathers. He uses his powerful beak to crack the skulls of men and suck out their brains.

Hamasiwe’ (Small Man Eating Bird or Eater Forehead Mask) tears the meat from the bones of man. Hamasiwe’ is a rare smaller version of the Crooked-Beak of Heaven and includes a flat duck-like beak with extremely flared nostrils. On top of his beak he has a small raised ridge somewhat like a narrow nose-bridge.

Finally comes Gwagwakwalanuksiwe’ (Raven from the North End of the World) who plucks the eyeballs from the skulls of men. His mask has a long slender black beak like a natural raven. His cedar bark regalia are usually adorned with black feathers imitating the feathers of a raven.

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These masks conform to certain strict elements of form and are trimmed with pounded natural and dyed-red shredded cedar bark. They can also be distinguished from each other by the individual characteristic of the beak and by each bird’s particular sound. The beaks are hinged so that the jaw can be snapped shut with a string pulled by the dancer from under the cedar bark trim. A harness, tied around the dancer’s chest, supports the mask. All of the Hi’hamsamł are decorated with natural and dyed red cedar bark representing the feathers of these magnificent birds. The red and white colors also represent blood and bones ,­indicating the birds' importance in the man-eating Hamat’sa society. The emphasis on the colors of black, red and white in the masks are also reflective of the character of this society. The red lips and flared nostrils display the frenzied state of these birds when they are eating human flesh.

The Hamsamala “Dance of the Man-Eater Birds” is the third part of the Hamat’sa ritual and is a very sacred and serious event. In ancient times, women and children were not permitted to watch this ceremony; they would bow their heads and hide their faces with their blankets. During the Hamsamala veteran Hiligaxste’ who are related to the family are hired to secretly chant to appease the Hi’hamsamł. These songs are sacred and belong to those women who have been previously initiated with their Hamat’sa into this society. These women are hidden while chanting and use a special rattle to accompany their appeasement song. Emerging one at a time from behind the dance curtain, the Hamsamala enter backwards dancing upright.

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Following the beat change, the dancer suddenly squats and swoops back and forth in front of the fire. Then, sitting on the ground, he trembles as he sways the beak close to the floor and lifts it in long sweeping motions, then rises and kneels and begins snapping the beak rapidly and shouting the dramatic cry of that particular bird. After he stands and dances to the next position on the floor, another bird emerges and they dance opposite each other across the fire, clapping their beaks and dancing in accordance to the style of that particular bird. Up to four dancers may participate at a time depending on the family’s rights to certain birds.

The singers will sing about the most important bird, the raven, last.  When the Hamat’sa hears this, he will go wild because the raven is his greatest companion. To hear its name brings back his state of wildness. He runs wild once more around the floor until the attendants grab him and escort him around. Then he returns to his sacred room. As soon as he enters, the servants of Baxbakwalanuksiwe’ make a sound like a clapping beak.

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As the birds dance, old Hiligaxste’ will sing their sacred chants, but the singers hide their faces under their blankets. Their chanting keeps the birds calm and ensures that everything goes right. The raven is the first to dance, because he is the most important. After all the birds have danced, the exhausted Hamat’sa runs one last time.  The appearance of the birds brings out the last part of his wildness. The spirit of Baxbakwalanuksiwe’ has finally been released.

To complete this most sacred ceremony, a Chief, an old Hamat’sa, will dance. He sings a sacred chant to give thanks to our Creator for everything going good that is done right.  This is because, in our culture, mistakes during the Winter Dances would bring harm and suffering to our people.

The Hamat’sa’s Final Dance
The last song and dance have come.  The initiate wears a blanket of fur with skulls that shows his status as a Hamat’sa.  He might also wear a headdress that represents the story of his ancestry or his Hamat’sa dance.  Again, the Hiligaxste’ accompanies the Hamat’sa.  The initiate dances upright and no longer makes his cannibal cry; the rituals have tamed the Hamat’sa and reunited him with his family.  As he continues to dance, the Hamat’sa initiated in previous years join him to show that they accept him into their secret society.

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When a family chooses a Hamat’sa, he will be trained to be a leader. A Hamat’sa must be a role model and a protector of the people. He secludes himself to find out who he is as a person. He cleanses his spirit to have a clear vision of life. Through this spirituality, he comes to know what his role is in his family. An initiated Hamat’sa has acquired the highest Kwakwaka’wakw spirituality. The ceremony teaches the Hamat’sa to live in harmony and balance within himself. When he achieves this, he does the same with everything in this great universe.

The ceremony teaches everyone else important truths as well.  Through song, dance and ceremony, we tame the Hamat’sa. We drive out the dreadful spirit of Baxbakwalanuksiwe’. This proves that we have the power to achieve balance; that good will always overcome evil. [

You can read about Marcus Alfred's experience in the Hamat'sa ceremony here.

TłA’SALA (Peace Dances), originally called DłUWALAXA (Returned-from-Heaven-Dances)
The Tła’sala has come to certain Kwakwaka’wakw families from northern tribes through marriage, mainly the Awik’inuxw from Rivers Inlet and the Hiłdzakw from Bella Bella. Tła’sala dancers wear headdresses with finely carved frontlets that are inlaid with abalone. This headdress represents their families’ histories. When the dancers perform, light reflects off the abalone and shows the power of the heavens as the daylight shines down. The headpieces are of white rabbit fur., crowned with a ring of sea lion whiskers, inside which is eagle down.  These are the fine inner feathers from the eagle that symbolize peace and good will. They float up into the air as the dancers tip their heads.

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The down blesses the guests and the dance floor. Often at a dance, the children try to catch the down in mid-flight.  The back of the headdress has a long train decorated with white ermine skins that represent chiefly wealth.

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In ancient times, if two Chiefs fought, they would dance the Tła’sala together. As their eagle down settled to the floor, so would their anger towards each other. This is why we also call them the “Peace Dances.”

The following is a paraphrase of the Dłuwalaxa as witnessed by Drucker:

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"The second night of the Potlatch is the time for the novices to dance. He dances, then returns to his room. Now the master of ceremonies (Alkw) is requested to call down the spirit of the dancer. He asks what he is to say, and the Chief tells him. So he shouts (for example), 'Come down, come down, you great Moon of Heaven!' There is a roaring noise, and something lands with a crash on the roof. Spirit horns are blown in the house and from the novice’s room. Then a mask representing the moon appears above the screen. The Chief says to the master of ceremonies, 'Blow the sacred eagle down on it, and ask if this is really the moon.' So he blows down toward the mask, and asks, 'Is this really you, great Moon of Heaven, whom we called?' The mask replies, 'Hm, hm, hm, hm,' and wiggles from side to side. The master of ceremonies announces, 'Yes, this is the one.' Now the musicians shout 'Wey!' and the spirit vanishes. They strike up a song. The novice comes out of his room to dance. After the dance, he reenters the room. The Chief follows him in, emerging to report, 'He is not speaking very plainly yet. You had better call down (for example) the Great Swan of Heaven.' So the master of ceremonies calls on the Great Swan in the same fashion as he did the Moon. The novice comes out to dance again. The Chief requests one of the guest Chiefs who is a healer (hayalikila) to 'heal' the dancer. The guest Chief rises, and puts on his headdress and other regalia. Then he dances around and around the novice. He has a clapper (carved split-stick rattle) in each hand for keeping time. At the proper time he hands his clappers to an attendant, and takes a spirit (a wooden figurine, apparently) from the child’s mouth. (The 'spirit' is really handed to him by the attendant.) The healer displays the spirit three times and on the fourth, throws it (or pretends to) out the smoke hole, as all the people shout 'Wo!' the spirit horns blow as the spirit departs" (Drucker 1967:215).

The Tła’sala dancers also wear a red button blanket and an apron.

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The blanket-crafters have ornately emblazoned each one with family crests, usually in black, that they have outlined with hundreds of small white buttons.  In the olden days the buttons were abalone, but now people use mostly store-bought buttons.  The apron has noise-makers of deer hooves, copper bangles or cones. The dancers might wear leggings adorned with noise-makers. The jangling, clacking sounds clear unwanted spirits from the dancers’ paths.

Opening Dance Hoylikala
Before the Tła’sala dance begins, a Hoylikala (healer or shaman) dances to purify the house and clear the way for the new Tła’sala dancers. The Yaxwi’we’ is the traditional attire of the Hilikalał “Healing Dancer” in the Tła’sala ceremonies; it is also referred to as the Hoylikalał. This is the highest­-ranking dancer who is the first to appear in these ceremonies. The Hoylikalał dances to welcome the guests who have come to witness, and cleanse the dance house by the spreading of eagle down with flicking movements of his head. The Hoylikalał are a shaman’s society and they dress wearing the prestigious Tła’sala headdress and a cedar bark neck ring displaying their membership in this sacred order. They wear a finely made button blanket or a robe of their family’s prerogatives, apron and leggings adorned with puffin beaks, deer hooves or copper ornaments to rattle. His Gwaxadan (raven rattle) calls his spirit helpers. The hoylikala’s dance begins with short quick steps.  When the quick beat changes, he makes large circles as the eagle down in his headdress floats to the floor.  After the hoylikala has made up to four large turns, he finishes his first dance and a second song that has steady beats begins. This slow and graceful dance celebrates the beginning of the Tła’sala ceremonies.

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The Tła’sala Initiate
After the Hoylikala dances, the older Hoylikala who know the ceremony will bring the new Tła’sala initiate to the floor.  The Alkw (master of ceremonies or speaker of the house) asks the singers to sing a new song that belongs to the new dancer. The dancer moves in a sliding motion from side to side to the beat of the song. He moves his head in a flicking motion to release the eagle down from the crown. The old Hoylikala attendants look on, then move toward the new dancer and begin to taunt him. They ask if he has truly gained supernatural power. They tell him to prove that he is supernatural. After awhile, the dancer leaves through the front door or behind the curtain. If the dancer leaves by the front door his gift is from the ocean. If he leaves behind the curtain, it comes from the heavens or the forest.

The song comes to an end and the speaker of the house asks the Hoylikala attendants to check on the dancer. They leave the house to see what has happened. Then a magic horn sounds outside, which means something supernatural has taken place. The attendants return, but only with the dancer’s headdress.  The attendants report that the initiate has disappeared. The speaker of the house asks where he has gone and they respond, “Taken to the heavens.”  Now another spiritual sound occurs outside. The speaker asks the attendants what it could be, so they leave to check.

When they come back they report that a supernatural being is outside. The speaker asks if it is the new dancer. The old dancers report, yes, that he has returned. The dancer has gone up into the heavens and has transformed. He has now returned to the gathering in another form. He has come to prove his spiritual power. The speaker requests the attendants to escort the supernatural being. When they arrive at the door, the speaker asks what the dancer has become. The old dancers announce what the supernatural being is.

The Initiate Returns With Supernatural Power
The speaker asks the singers to sing the sacred song of the supernatural being. The song has quick beats with a low bass sound from the box drum. The dancer now represents a spirit and enters the house backwards. He does this because spirits do everything backwards. They reverse even their language. The dancer slowly enters the house and imitates the supernatural being to which his family has rights. He imitates the creature in full drama and makes a quick circuit around the fire. The guests know exactly what he is portraying.  Then he disappears quickly behind the left side of the curtain, which is also the reverse of other ceremonies.

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After the dancer leaves, his attendants shout “Wey, wey, wey, wey!” This announces the end of a powerful ceremony. To complete the dance, the family of the new initiate will wear Tła’sala headdresses and regalia.  They will dance to an old family song to celebrate the spiritual power of the new dancer. After the family members finish, they will repeat this pattern of Tła’sala dancing. The dances will continue further, depending on the number of treasures the family owns.
For example, a family may hold the right to the Sisiyutł.

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The Sisiyutł “Double-Headed Serpent” is a powerful spiritual symbol to the Kwakwaka’wakw. Possessing supernatural powers, this serpent with a central human face could live on land or sea. To see this creature brought ill luck and to touch it meant death. But to those who were bestowed with its magical protection, it gave gifts of healing abilities and was the helper of warriors and medicine men. Sisiyutł has many magical properties including a canoe that is a Double-Headed Serpent as well. As related by Chief Henry Speck, the Sisiyutł is a powerful supernatural being that bestows its power on the initiates of the spirit Winalagalis (Making War Around the World). The canoe and paddles of Winalagalis are made of copper and when commanded by him, can magically disappear. This is why our ancestors say they could sometimes hear copper ringing out in the water in front of the village when they saw nothing passing by. His canoe is self-propelled and cannot be harmed by mortal weapons.

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To eat, touch or even see a Sisiyutł can cause instant death by dislocating the joints of the unfortunate person and twisting the head completely backwards. If one were to encounter a Sisiyutł, they should back away and not take their eyes off this supernatural being, for if they do they could also faint or die by turning into stone from its supernatural power. The Sisiyutł is a crest used on headdresses for the Hawinalał “Warrior Dancer,” ceremonial belts, blankets and aprons, ceremonial weapons like bows, spears, clubs, feast dishes and many other ceremonial objects. Dant’si’kw “power boards” are treasures that are conjured up by Tuxw’id dancers who are bestowed with supernatural power by Winalagalis; the design on the boards represent Sisiyutł.

Here is part of a Kwikwasut’inuxw “Gilford Island Tribe” legend that refers to the power of the Sisiyutł:

Then T’sekame’ “Head Winter Dancer” spoke to his wife T’segiłi’lakw “Winter Dance Woman” and said, “Oh Mistress! What may be the sound coming from my salmon trap? It sounds like rocks avalanching down.” His wife said: “Oh, My Dear! Go up to our watch pole and see what it is.” Then T’sekame’ went up and when he reached the top he saw something like fire going from one end to the other in the salmon trap. T’sekame’ ran down from his watch pole and told his wife. He said to her: “Oh Mistress! What could it be, it looks like fire on its body, going from one end to the other in our salmon trap?” Then his wife replied: “Oh, My Dear! Can’t you guess what is the name of this salmon? It may be the salmon of your elder brother, Thunderbird. Now go back to it, but this time, draw some blood from your tongue.”

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T’sekame’ went to his salmon trap and brought his fish club. Then he tried in vain to club this wonderful different kind of salmon, but the salmon broke down the salmon trap. Then T’sekame’ thought about what his wife said. He bit the sides of his tongue to draw blood. He spat some of the blood on the salmon, which was a Sisiyutł. The Sisiyutł calmed down. Then T’sekame’ spat on his club, and spat again on the salmon, and when he had spat four times on the salmon, he clubbed the Sisiyutł, killing it.

T’sekame’ carried the Sisiyutł and went to show it to his wife. T’segiłi’lakw said: “Oh, My Dear! I thank you on behalf of our son”. Then T’segiłi’lakw took a new cedar mat and spread it on the floor. She put their child on it. Early in the morning, T’segiłi’lakw arose and cut the Sisiyutł. As soon as she had cut it, she woke her husband up and said to him: “Oh, My Dear! Do not stay in bed long, but go and wash our son”. T’sekame’ arose and took a cooking box, for that is the washtub for newborn children. He poured water into it and added red-hot stones to heat it up. The water was luke-warm. Then he took his son and washed him. When he had finished, T’segiłi’lakw asked her husband to take some clotted blood from the backbone of the serpent and put it on the hands of their son. T’sekame’ did this, and then he put some of the blood into the cooking box. Then he washed his son in it. After he had washed him, he stepped on his son’s toes and pulled him. Now he became a full-grown man. Then T’sekame’ took the clotted blood of the Sisiyutł and rubbed it on his son’s hands. His hands immediately turned to stone. Then T’sekame’ told his wife: “Oh Mistress! Didn’t the hands of ‘Nalagitasu’ “Day on Body” turn to stone?” T’segiłi’lakw said: “Oh, My Dear! Thank you for your words, for I wish that he shall be a warrior.”

After four days, T’sekame’ washed his son again and did not step on his toes. He asked his wife to take some more of the clotted blood from the backbone of the Sisiyutł and rub it over the body of their son. T’sekame’ said to her: “You have wished that our son shall be a warrior.” Then T’sekame’ took some blood and rubbed it all over his son’s body. When T’sekame’ had finished, the body of ‘Nalagitasu’ changed. His whole body turned into stone. His body became black and his eyes became wide open, and his mouth was large and round just like a Dzunuk’wa “Sasquatch.” Then he grew twice the size of a normal man. As soon as ‘Nalagitasu’s body had changed, he cried like a Dzunuk’wa.

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When T’sekame’ had finished working on his son, ‘Nalagitasu’ spoke: “Oh Father! Now I will cease to have the name ‘Nalagitasu’. My name shall now be, T’łat’łakwas T’i’samgid “Food Giver” “Stone Body”, for I am going to make war all over the world, I will rob the Chiefs of all the tribes of their crests, so that they will become our crests and that the Chiefs all round the world will become our slaves.” Now, T’i’samgid spoke to his mother and said: “Oh Mother! Don’t you have a canoe for me to travel in?” His mother replied: “Your father has a canoe, go and ask him”. So T’i’samgid asked his father and he responded: “Oh Son! Let us try my canoe.” As soon as the canoe was in the water T’i’samgid tried to get into it, but it sank at once, for his body was all of stone. After they hauled the canoe back ashore, T’i’samgid felt badly, for he had no canoe. Then T’sekame’ thought about what ‘Namugwis “Only One on the Beach” had said, when he had told him that he was going to give him a Sisiyutł canoe.

The next morning T’sekame’ went to see ‘Namugwis. T’sekame’ and asked him for his Sisiyutł canoe.  ‘Namugwis was glad that he had come to ask for it. Then T’sekame’ left the house of ‘Namugwis. As soon as he left, he saw both ends of the large Sisiyutł sticking their tongues out and in the middle was the head of a man. Then they got into the canoe and then ‘Namugwis told T’sekame’: “Oh Brother! Listen how I speak to the death bringing Sisiyutł Canoe.” Then he said: “Go, now, paddle!” The Sisiyutł Canoe sounded “Wo!” as if many men were shouting that way. Then all the paddles started at once going really fast, for it was not a normal thing. When T’i’samgid saw the canoe, he got right in the middle of it and said “Wo!” long and loud. The Sisiyutł canoe started. Then T’i’samgid said: “Oh ‘Namugwis! Thank you for your canoe. Now I will go and make war all over the world, so that you shall have the Chiefs of the world for slaves.

Today, the teachings of Sisiyutł are about balance. Each serpent with extended tongues facing in the opposite directions represents good and bad. The face in the center represents we humans who are given choices in life. It is up to us to choose our path and whatever direction we take, we determine our own fate. The serpents and human face are all adorned with spiral horns indicating the supernatural qualities of all three figures.

The Sea Monster ‘Namxiyalegiyu Dances During Tła’sala Ceremonies
The dancer comes in, walking on his hands and knees backwards through the front door.  The dancer keeps as low as possible, and when he turns and begins dancing, he weaves back and forth. As he moves, the dancer snaps his jaws together as if devouring people. Somewhere out in the bay or in front of the village, a deep-toned whistle, like that of a steamboat, blows.  When the people hear this sound, the ‘Namxiyalegiyu, which has a blowhole and supernatural horns, inflates his gills.  A dancer, who wears a black bearskin blanket, blows eagle down out the blowhole. He moves very slowly around the fire. As he gets near the right side of the singers, the dancer leaves quickly through the side opposite where other dancers exit. The singers yell, “Wey, wey, wey, wey!”.

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This project was made possible with the support of the Department of Canadian Heritage through Canadian Culture Online



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