Sacred Texts  Native American  Northwest  Index  Previous  Next 

After the rich opponent of QonAlgî'c had lost all of his property, his wife left him, and he went away from that town. He made a bow and arrows and wandered about in the forest like a wild animal. Coming down to the beach at a certain place, he found a fine bay and built his house upon it. There he began to collect clams and fish which he dried for himself. He was gone all winter, but in those times the Indians did not care for foolish people, viewing them as though they were dead, so his friends did not look for him.

While he lived in that place the chief heard a drum sounding from some distant place, but he did not take the trouble to see what it was. Finally he discovered that the noise was caused by a grouse and said to it, "I see you now. I have been wondering what it was that I heard so much." Then he said to the grouse, "You are a great dancer, are you not?" "Yes, I dance once in a while when I am lonely." "Come along and let us have a dance. I am pretty lonely myself." So that evening he saw all kinds of birds, which were the grouse's friends, and they had a dance. They danced so much that this man forgot all that he had been grieving about and felt very happy. Therefore people always dance for one who is mourning, to make him forget it. This is where the first dance came from.

Then the chief said to the grouse, "How came you to know about dancing?" "There is a person out on that island who knows a lot about medicine. He knows how to make medicine for dancing and fighting." "You must let me see him," said the man. The bird answered, "If you want to see this great medicine-man you must fast to-morrow. This is the great person who knows all about medicines." Now, after the chief had fasted, he went to sleep and dreamed that a man came to him, showed him a certain leaf on the marsh and said, "Take that leaf and put it into this sack. Then go down toward the beach. As soon as you get down you will see an eagle lying there. Take off its claws and feathers, and, after you have put the leaf in them, draw the cords so as to pull its talons tight around it. After that go down to where the waves are coming in, and at the place the tide has left, stoop down, pretend to pick up something and put it

p. 140

into your sack. That will be the wave. Then take a feather from the back of the head of an ayahî'ya (a solitary bird that continually flies about on the beach) and put it with the rest. You will become a great dancer like that bird. Finally take this medicine to a point running far out into the ocean where the wind blows continually. Tie it there to the top of a tree, where it will always be blowing back and forth."

The man did as he had been directed, and the day after began to think of composing a song. On account of the medicine this was not hard for him. He also felt that he could dance, and began dancing the same evening. While doing so he was very light upon his feet. He was as if in a trance, not knowing exactly what he was doing. Then he thought to himself, "I am going to the next town." So he went there and began singing, and it was soon noised about, "A man has come here who is a great singer. He is going to dance to-night." Then all the people went to that house where he was to dance. He danced and taught the women his songs, which were very sad. He sang about the different clans [among the Haida], picking out only good clans. So the young women of those families began to bring him presents, and each thought, "I will give the most." They gave him all kinds of things, robes, fur shirts, blankets, leggings. He was becoming very rich through dancing.

In the same town was the young son of a chief who wanted very much to learn to dance and said to him, "How did you come to learn to dance?" He answered, "I have medicine for dancing." "You must show me how. I will pay you well. I want very much to learn." Then he showed him how to make the medicine. He said, "You have to fast. If you do that you will learn. Fast to-morrow, and the next day I will take you up to the woods." When they went up he said, "After you have learned how to do this, you must think of composing a song, and you will see that you will be able to do so at once. You will be so happy over it that you will feel as though you were making a great fire." In the morning the young man sang and found he could compose songs. Then he went up to the woods and danced all alone by himself. Like the other, he felt light as if he were in a dream. By and by it was reported all over town, "This chief's son can compose fine songs." He danced for them, and, because he was a younger person than the other, he danced far better. At this the youth's boy friends said to him, "What makes you do, such a thing? It doesn't look right for you to do it." They tried to make him believe he was above dancing, because they were jealous of him. So he went to the man who had instructed him, and the latter said, "People will do this (i. e., dance) all over the world. You will soon hear of it. You and I will not be the only ones doing it. They say this because they are jealous of

p. 141

you." The youth had composed so many beautiful songs that all the girls had fallen in love with him. That was why the other youths were jealous of him. The first dancer also said to him, "It is not high-caste people like yourself merely who will compose songs. Everybody will learn these and compose others. Anybody that composes songs like this after having made medicine will have his name become great in the world."

When this youth had told his father all he had learned, his father asked all the people of that town to come to his house and repeated it to them. Then he said, "I do not think it is well for a high-caste person to compose songs and be a dancer. They say that a person's name will become very high and be known everywhere if he composes songs and becomes a dancer, but a chief's son's name is already high, and a chief's name is known everywhere. Why should he compose songs and dance to make it so? It is better that the poorer people should do this and make their names known in the world." If the chief had not said this, people that compose songs and dance would be very scarce among us. It is because the chief said, "Let it be among the poorer people so that their names may be known," that there are so many composers and dancers among us. For no chief composes or dances without giving away a great deal of property.

Thus it happens that there are two kinds of dances, a dance for the chief and his sons and this common or Haida dance, (Dekî'na Al!ê'x). In the latter, women always accompany it with songs, and, if the composer sings about some good family, members of the latter give him presents. When the chief is going to dance, he has to be very careful not to say anything out of the way. He dances wearing a head dress with weasel skins, a Chilkat blanket, and leggings and carrying a raven rattle. He is the only one whose voice is heard, and he speaks very quietly. Meanwhile, until it is time for them to start singing for him, the people are very quiet and then only high-caste people sing. The Haida dance, however, is always accompanied by noise. It is rather a dance for pleasure, while the chief's dance is more of a ceremony. Although most of the people who witness it are high-caste, anyone is welcome. All watch the chief's actions and listen to his words very closely. If he makes the least mistake, showing that he has not studied his words beforehand very well, they have too much respect for him to say anything to him at that time. Next day, however, after he has found it out, if he does not take his words back, the people that had heard will disgrace him by giving away a great deal of property. The Haida dance was done away with years ago, while the chief's dance has been given up only in very recent times.

After this the man that first taught dancing married in that town and forgot all about the wealth he had lost. This shows that he was

p. 142

not smart, for a smart man, when he loses a very little of his property, thinks of it and next time tries to do better. One time he and his wife went away in a canoe and upset. His wife was drowned, but he was captured by the land otters who named him Tûts!îdîgû'L, and he has strength like that of a shaman among them. When anyone is drowned by the upsetting of his canoe, they say "Tûts!îdîgû'L has him."


Next: 31. Raven, Part XIV