The Wildman of the Woods

Wildman of the Woods Mask - David Neel
Wildman of the Woods Mask

In the fall the Kwakwak'awakw people went to fish for salmon, which returned to the rivers to spawn. There was a man who bathed every morning in icy cold mountain water until his skin was numb; he wanted to purify himself and become a strong warrior. One day while walking back to the fish camp he saw a chipmunk with fire on its tail and he followed it; suddenly he found himself on a high hill above the camp with no memory of how he got there. Repeatedly he tried to walk down the hill to rejoin his people, but he would wake up on top of the hill, with no memory of his return.

After a time he thought of a plan; he gathered the inner bark from a cedar tree and braided it into a rope. He thought that he would get near the camp and tie himself to a tree, and eventually he would be found by one his people. He ran down the hill and quickly tied himself to a stout alder tree within sight of the village. Sometime later he woke up to realize that he was on the top of the hill again without the cedar bark rope, and he couldn't remember how he got there.

When it was discovered that he was missing, the people searched and searched, but they couldn't find him and eventually they gave up. The following year when the tribe returned to the fish camp, some women were in a canoe and saw something on the beach. They thought it might be a bear cub, so they closer to the shore to look and they discovered that it was the lost man, and they returned to the camp and told their tribe.

The next day, several men from the tribe went to capture the wild man, but he jumped over their heads and escaped through the bushes. The next day they tried again; positioning men on either side of the bushes to grab him when he attempted to escape. This was successful, and after the two strong warriors grabbed the wild man, they bound him tightly so that he couldn't escape.

They took him to their big-house; tied cedar planks on the outside, and put heavy rocks on the roof so that he couldn't escape. He was left in the house for many days in an attempt to tame him. He was not able to speak because his tongue was shrunken so that he wasn't able to talk. He was given the best food, such as salmon and halibut, but he only wanted to eat ants, grubs and bugs. A shaman was consulted and he told them to give him rotten wood mixed with salmon roe as a medicine, and after a time the wild-man returned to normal.

Slowly he became tame and eventually he began to talk again. But he had changed and he could jump higher, run faster, and was stronger than anyone in the village. He became a great warrior, and with his help his people won every battle and the village became wealthy.

The Thunderbird

Thunderbird Pendant - David Neel
Thunderbird Pendant

Once there was a great Thunderbird that came down from above, and decided to stay and live among men. He sent his Thunderbird mask and feathers back to the sky world and he transformed into a man. He built the first big-house; the outside was painted with clouds, and stars were painted inside to remind him of his former home. He married and had four children, and became known as La'L!Elamin.

One of his sons, Qa'giwe, went hunting on the sea at Beaver Cove. To his great surprise he came upon Komokwa, who took him beneath the waves to his house under the sea. Komokwa was generous and gave Qa'giwe supernatural treasures, which included a house like that of his own. The house beams were sea lions which protected the house by vomiting on unwary guests. The house shrank down so that it could be placed in a cedar box, and he carried it back to his village; when he placed the tiny house on the ground it grew to be a full size house; there many supernatural gifts inside the house, and there were carved birds on top of it.

He had children, that he named Paddled-To and Ta't!Endzid, who grew and eventually took his place as chief. They built their own houses on the beach at "Rolling Down". La'L!Elamin lived for a many years, and he gave his children and grandchildren the crests that he had obtained from Komokwa as supernatural treasures. When the great flood came his village was flooded, he became homesick, and he put on his Thunderbird mask and returned to the sky world. His children remained and were the first of the La'L!Elamin tribe.

The Copper Frog

Native Frog Bracelet - David Neel
Native Frog Bracelet

There were four brothers who went hunting for deer. At night they gathered around a warm fire and sang the songs of their ancestors. Suddenly, from the darkness of the forest a copper colored frog appeared. The brothers were startled and the eldest grabbed the frog and threw it into the fire. A short time later, another copper frog appears and another of the brothers quickly grabbed the frog and threw it into the fire. This happens and third and then a fourth time. When the fourth frog is thrown on the fire it exploded, extinguishing the fire with a loud bang. The brothers are terrified because they realize that the frogs were supernatural, and they quickly packed their gear and flee in their canoe.

From the shore a woman appeared, crying about her sons who they so cruelly killed. She cursed the brothers, stating that they will all die before they reach home. They paddled in silence, too scared to talk, and then three of the brothers died, one after another. Only the youngest survived to reach the village, where he told the people of their cruel deed and the death of the brothers; and as the last words left his mouth he too died. Since that time the tribe has used the copper frog as a crest, as a reminder of the need to show respect for all the creatures of the animal world.

Gift of the Ravens

Raven Pendant - David Neel
Raven Pendant

A man and woman who lived at Sea Otter Cove had a young son. Every day his mother would prepare his breakfast, but the boy would say "I'm not hungry," and he would refuse to eat. About noon each day he left the house to go play on the beach, and he would be gone all day. As the sun set in the west he would return home, with his blanket frayed and torn. He would complain to his mother that he kept vomiting up whale grease, but he said that he hadn't eaten anything that day. The mother found this very odd, as whale grease was highly prized in those days.

The father decided to follow him when he left the house the next day. He walked unseen behind the son for a long ways, until he reached a beach called Ax axla', where the boy found whales stranded on the beach; this was a huge cache of food for the village. From then on the tribe called that place La'laqa yo'dzas, or "Place of Grease Coming Up". There was many ravens at the beach, which played with boy for many hours. The ravens placed blubber in the boy's head, and that is why he vomited up grease. So the father found that his son had been playing with ravens, and they had torn up his blanket, and had given him supernatural power.

His father called the tribe together for a great whale feast, and told the people that his son had obtained supernatural power. The boy told the people to beat time on their drum, and then he beat on his chest and vomited up many buckets of grease, and the people of the tribe were amazed! The boy told the guests to go down to beach and they would find another whale. "If you don't find another whale then you can come back and slay me", he challenged. All the people went out of the house and down to the beach, to see if his fantastic claim was true, and there lay an enormous whale. They spent a whole day and a night carving up the enormous whale and had meat to last the tribe for months.

O'mal and Deer paint the birds

Omal Trickster Mask - David Neel
Omal Trickster Mask

In Kwakwak'awakw legends O'mal is a trickster and is responsible for helping to create the world as we know it. In his adventures he made the salmon to go up the rivers so the people could catch them; he brought soil from the ocean bottom after the great flood and created the first land; he obtained water for the people when the earth was dry and parched; and he caused the tides to come twice a day so the people could gather shellfish at low tide. In his escapades, which often have selfish intent, go awry and end up doing good for the world, which is why he is known as a trickster.

At one time all the birds were of the same color, and O'mal decided that it would be better if they were different colors, like the land and sea creatures. So he called together all the birds and set about painting them wonderful colors. The robin, harlequin duck, buffle head duck, and hummingbird all had distinctive markings. But O'mal is impatient, and soon he grew bored and wanted to prepare his canoe for hunting, so he called his friend Deer to come help him paint the birds. But Deer was very lazy, so he painted all the birds the same color.

While O'mal was burning the bottom of his canoe to make it smooth, deer was rubbing clay on a sea gull to make him gray, and using coal to paint crow and raven black. After a time O'mal returned to find that Deer, had painted a score of birds just one color. That is why some birds have beautiful markings while others are simply black or gray.