Legends

Raven Steals Beaver Lake[1]

This is a tale where Raven assumes a disguise to conceal his identity and reputation as a meddler.  Raven was travelling about looking for something to steal from one of his favorite victims, Beaver, who was known to be wealthy. 
Raven transformed himself into a young man to assure he would be respectfully received. He was invited into the Beaver’s home and entertained with attention and wonderful food.  Beaver was normally preoccupied with labor and industry, not fine food.
Beaver told the young man to look away as he moved a screen at the back of his lodge. Raven did look away but had a mirror in which he could see the reflection of a salmon, a new creature. The salmon was the source of this wonderful food.
A messenger arrived to request the presence of the Beaver at an urgent meeting, so he excused himself and told the young man to feel at home, but not move beyond the screen.

 


[1] [1] [1] [1] Wyatt, Gary. Mythic Beings Spirit Art of the Northwest Coast. University of Washington Press, 1999. P. 112

 

Pookmis (Pooq-oobs, Pukmis), Wild Man of the Sea, is a spirit transformed from a whale hunter lost at sea. Pookmis masks are painted white to evoke the effects of drowning, the lips are pursed to indicate Pookmis’s distinctive cry, and the hair is often tied in a whale hunter’s topknot. Pookmis is the complement of Bukwas, the Wild Man of the Woods.

 

Bukwas (Bukwis, Bukwus, Pugwis), Wild Man of the Woods, is a spirit who roams the woods at the edge of the sea or along rivers, gathering shellfish and offering food to human beings in order to lure them into the spirit world. Bukwas is closely associated with Pookmis, the Wild Man of the Sea. Stories about Pookmis and Bukwas often overlap.

 

Tsonoqua (Dzunuk’wa, Tsonokwa), Wild Woman of the Woods, is a mythic being with dark skin and hair, about twice the size of a human being. She reputedly has great wealth, although by reputation she is slow-witted and has poor eyesight. She captures children and carries them in a basket on her back, planning to take them home to eat; the children typically manage to outsmart her and escape.

Portrayals of Tsonoqua show her with pursed lips to evoke her wild cry, which resembles wind whistling through cedar forests. She has long, pendulous breasts and matted hair, and her eyes are rimmed with red, set in deep sockets.

 

Raven

 Raven is a transformer, trickster, and creator. In Kwakwaka’wakw culture, Raven is both mischievous and self-centered. He can transform himself into other creatures at will.

Raven, like other tricksters around the world, has positive attributes and has benefitted others as well as himself. It was Raven who released the sun, moon, and stars; he found the first human beings hiding in a clamshell; he set rivers flowing; he brought people berries and salmon; and he showed people how to fish and hunt. Although Raven acts out of self-interest, he can be helpful to people, or even heroic, albeit not always by intention.

 Raven Steals the Light

One of the best-known Raven myths tells how he stole the light and brought it to the world. The story goes back to a time before there were animals moving across the land, sea creatures swimming in the sea, or birds flying in the air – except, of course, for Raven, who has always existed and always will.

There was also an old man who lived in a house on a riverbank with his daughter, who may have been as beautiful as sprays of hemlock, or she may have been as ugly as a sea slug. They could not know, because in those days there was no light at all; they could not see a thing.

The old man kept a box in his house that held a smaller box that in turn held a still smaller box, on and on to the very smallest box of all, which contained all the light of the universe. Raven disliked the darkness, which caused him to bump into things and made it hard to engage in his favorite amusements.

One day while gallivanting around, Raven bumped into the old man’s house and overheard the man and his daughter talking about the light kept inside the infinite nesting boxes. Determined to capture the light for himself, he waited for the daughter to go outside. He transformed himself into a hemlock needle and slipped into a bucket of water. When the daughter drank the water and swallowed the hemlock needle, Raven changed himself into a tiny person inside her. He grew and grew until she gave birth. Raven-child looked strange indeed, but in the darkness the old man and his daughter could not see his long, sharp nose, his beady black eyes, and the few feathers that still clung to him.

Raven, in his child-guise, gradually won over the old man and started plotting to steal the light. One day, he asked the old man to give him the largest box. At first the old man refused, but Raven-child made such a ruckus that the old man finally relented and gave him the box. Over many days, Raven-child squawked and wheedled and ranted enough to get the old man to hand over another box to him, and another, and more and more. As the number of unopened boxes dwindled to the last few, a soft radiance spread through the room, revealing shadowy shapes never seen before.

In his sweetest voice, Raven-child cajoled the old man into letting him hold the light for a few moments, and finally the old man gave in, lifting a glowing sphere from the last box and tossing it to Raven. As the light flew toward him, Raven-child transformed himself into an enormous Raven, caught the sphere of light in his great beak, and flew up through the smoke-hole of the house into the deep darkness.

As Raven carried the light across the sky, the mountains and rivers became visible and life awakened across the world below. Raven, entranced, was not aware of Eagle, who saw him in the growing light and flew toward him. At the last moment, Raven glimpsed Eagle’s sharp talons and curved beak, and swerved to avoid the great bird of prey. As he did so, half the light he was carrying fell to the rocky ground and shattered. One large chunk and many tiny shards bounced back up into the sky, where they became the moon and stars.

Eagle pursued Raven beyond the rim of the world, where Raven, exhausted, dropped the remaining light, which floated on clouds until it rose up over the mountains to the east. In their house, the old man and his daughter watched as rays of light from the new sun slanted in through the smoke-hole. Now the old man could see that his daughter was indeed as beautiful as sprays of hemlock.

And that is how Raven brought the sun, moon, and stars to the world.

Raven and the First People

 After the great flood that covered the earth for a long time had receded, Raven had a hankering to go out and create some new mischief. Not long before, he had stolen the light from the old man; now he could see everything, but still felt restless.

Flying along the shore, Raven kept alert for intriguing sights and sounds, cawing as he went. A faint cry caught his ear, and he spied a white object half-concealed in the sand. Swooping down to investigate, he saw a giant clamshell filled with tiny creatures, terrified by his huge dark shadow. Shifting to his most mellifluous crooning voice, he gradually coaxed the little beings to emerge. They walked on two legs like Raven, but were featherless and had only small sticks instead of wings. Their noses were much flatter than his shiny, sharp beak, and they had long black hair on the tops of their heads. These were the first Haida people.

NOTE: Raven myths based on Bill Reid and Robert Bringhurst, The Raven Steals the Light (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996, 19-24; 33-37).

Hamatsa

In the Hamatsa dance ceremony, one of the most important dances in Kwakwaka’wakw tradition, members of the sacred Hamatsa society perform dances that narrate tales of the cannibalistic giant from the north end of the world, Baxbakwalanuksiwe’. In the story, several brothers lost on a hunting trip come across a mysterious house with red smoke rising from the smoke-hole. The owner is away, but one of the house posts is a living woman with her legs implanted into the floor. She warns the brothers about the owner, Baxbakwalanuksiwe’, who has four man-eating birds as companions: Gwagwakwalanuksiwe’, the man-eating raven; Galugwadzayi, Crooked-Beak of Heaven; Hamasiwe’, a smaller bird with a duck-like bill; and Huxhugwadzayi, a spirit-crane who cracks people’s skulls to suck out their brains.

The brothers manage to lure Baxbakwalanuksiwe’ into a pit and throw hot stones on top of him until he dies. With the giant’s death, the men acquire mystical power and sacred treasures from him, including wooden whistles, a bear mask, bird masks, costumes, and a Hamatsa pole, all used in later ritual performances.

In preparation for the dance ceremony, members of the Hamatsa society abduct the Hamatsa initiate, a young man about to enter adulthood, and take him into the forest to a secret location, where he learns the secret traditions of the society and undergoes ritual cleansing to increase his receptivity to the spirit of Baxbakwalanuksiwe’.

During the dance festival, attended by many clan members and guests, Hamatsa society dancers call forth the spirit of the cannibal giant and bring the initiate to the ceremonial house. He wears hemlock boughs to signal his wild state. The veteran Hamatsa dancers guide him about the longhouse as he gnashes his teeth and even attempts to bite members of the audience. Subsequent dances recount the tale of Baxbakwalanuksiwe’, and the giant man-eating birds dance around the fire. Ultimately, the society members, together with a female relative, the Hiligaxste’, succeed in taming the Hamatsa initiate, replacing the hemlock with woven cedar-bark ritual garments. For the final dance, the Hamatsa initiate appears in a blanket with skulls to represent the taming of the cannibal spirit, his readiness to assume a leadership role, and his achievement of inner balance that will shape his relationship with the world around him.

 

Kumugwe (also Komokwa or Goomokwey) is a figure in the mythology of Pacific Northwest peoples. Known as “Copper-Maker”, he is the god of the undersea world revered by the Kwakwaka’wakw and Nuxalk indigenous nations. He has a house under the sea filled with riches, and his name means “wealthy one”. He is sometimes identified as one and the same as Qaniqilak, the spirit of the summer fishing season, and is then regarded as the adversary of Tseiqami otherwise known as Thunderbird, the guiding spirit of the Winter Hamatsa Dance season.

Kumugwe is master of the seals. The posts and beams of his house are living sea lions. Sometimes he appears on the surface of the sea, but his head is so big that it looks like an island. He is responsible for the rising and ebbing of the tides, as well as the riches these tides deposit on beaches, and those claimed by the vagaries of sea weather, both material and human lives. One terrific story recounts how he eats human eyes as if they were crab apples. Kumugwe has the power to see into the future, heal the sick and injured, and bestow powers on those whom he favors.

Many heroes went on quests to reach his undersea abode; those who made it were rewarded with riches and spirit magic. His world is guarded by the octopus. Sometimes Kumugwe himself is conceived of in octopus form. Kumugwe would teach the hero who entered his abode the ways of the sea, and give him gifts of blankets, coppers, songs, masks, and regalia. These items of mystical regalia are called Tlugwe (or Tlokwe) in Kwak’wala.

One of Kumugwe’s epithets is “Copper Maker.” He has a wife named Tlakwakilayokwa, which means “Born to Be Copper Maker’s Woman.” She is also sometimes named Kominaga.

Masks of Kumugwe often show him with sea creature attributes, such as rounded fish eyes, and rows of gills at the corners of his mouth, not to mention fins encircling his head, the suction cups of an octopus, fish and aquatic birds which frame or sit upon his head. His most important totemic animals are loons, seals, sea lions, octopuses, orcas, and sculpins.