Dr. Woody Morrison and the Moldy (Salmon) Collars - P.O.W. Report

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Dr. Woody Morrison and the Moldy (Salmon) Collars


Tlingit and Haida peoples of Alaska is my favorite Facebook page [that you should follow] below is a story from Dr. Morrison:

This is a story I heard a number of times when I was still a pre-teen. The lesson has remained with me now for about 70 years.


Moldy (salmon) Collars
As Told by Helen Sanderson to Virginia Morrison--Feb. 12, 1973.
Foreword by Ḵáawan Sangáa


Although a lot of Haida History, and the lessons learned from it, were carved on poles, screens, hooks and, tattooed on individuals, the primary medium for passing knowledge was and remains passing knowledge from individual to individuals, and groups, orally, i.e., the “organic transfer of knowledge”. Most often the sessions were informal, late Fall and Winter storytelling sessions while others were formal and reserved to select individuals, however, a major part of these sessions was teaching not only the specifics of the culture but teaching the listeners to be observant.

However, “storytelling” is more than simply relating facts, data, ideas, feelings, etc., it is a very complex way of “experiencing” both the tangible and intangible parts of the Universe. One of my teachers, when I was about 20 years old, said to me, “When you can see the power that is the wind, you will understand what is true and correct.” Over the years I was able to catch faint glimmerings of what he mean but it wasn’t until a full 50 years later I finally realized the import of those words.

He had also told me that there is no “line” that separates the “physical” from the “metaphysical” world, it is “...your ability to see it.” He then explained, when you seek to see below the surface into the depths of the water and all you see is your own reflection, you have to “Gúudangáay stíihldaang”, change your point of view, your world perception. Then not only will you be able to peer down into the depths of the water, but you become that water. A Clue.

“The drum can make lots of noise but without a song to give it life that is all it is... noise. That is the difference between a “Strong Man” and a “Tough guy”. Water always travels with a song... if you are to become a man you have to have your own song... you have to split the fern with your thumbnail... all the plants are your grandmothers. A Clue.

The “highest” Power exists nowhere, in nothing and brought everything Into Light. It is so big it fills not only every corner of the Universe, but also every fiber of my Being. When the Drum starts, the People begin to Move. A Clue.

I had to let go of notions of reality that I had learned in the “Western” world and re-immerse myself into the Haida World in which I was born and trained. I had to be able to see not only what is supposed to be there but also see that which is not supposed to be there, what is not there and The Unasked Question.

The specific techniques involved a view of “time” that is not consistent with that of the non-indigenous world. In short, the “past” is in front of me while the “future” is behind me, I cannot see it. It is like I am standing in a river and time flows from behind me. When something comes into view I have to deal with it right at that moment because it will never be there again. This view gives a very different worldview.

As earlier stated, one of the primary functions of “storytelling” was to pass on the specifics of the culture so, the teller holds an absolute responsibility to pass on those details accurately. And, unlike Aesops Tales, there is no “moral” to the Haida stories... the Story is the Message. One views the entire message and uses it as a guide to life, S’ahljúugahl ’láanaa Yáagudáang (Drawing a straight-line to the highest values of the population).

Moldy (salmon) Collars

This story took place on the east coast of Prince of Wales Island in Southeastern Alaska near the village of Guskúu (the place where everything starts out from) – today it is called “Kasaan”. On the maps the specific location is called “Carta River”, a major Sockeye-producing stream.

One day a boy of about tadáa tlaahl (ten years old) came in from playing to ask his mother for something to eat. As food was rather low which often happened after poor fishing seasons, his mother cut off a portion of the collar tip of a dried Sockeye from her scant supply. The boy looked at it and, not only dissatisfied with the size, he also noticed a moldy spot on the tip. In a sulky mood he took with him that small, moldy piece of salmon and walked down to the beach and sat down on a rock.

He noticed a small hollow in the rock containing salt water. Though hungry as he was, he eyed the piece of fish with distaste. Nevertheless, he bit a piece off and commenced chewing. Being of gyúuts’iyaa (a stubborn nature), he swallowed the juice but wouldn't swallow the fish, instead, spat it in the hollow rock. He kept at it till the fish was gone. Then he noticed that the chewed fish he spat into the bowl-like rock, swelled up in the water making a considerable amount.

His Ḵ'íitgasdla (ugly disposition) changed and he was filled with remorse as he viewed the tempting mound. Reproaching himself for his foolish behavior, he felt the pangs of hunger more, but dared not go home to ask his mother for more. While he was still sitting there feeling sorry for himself, a couple of strange young boys appeared before him. They asked him to go along with them.

Without another thought, he jumped up and went along. They walked and walked for a long time through parts unfamiliar to the boy until they came to a large village. The two boys took him to the largest community building in the center of the village, a location designated to ones of prominence.
The boy was treated with great hospitality which is characteristic of Haidas. After several days he noticed an old woman sitting in the corner of the dais. One day she beckoned to him and upon approaching her, he noticed she was Jan-gaa t’íij ḵwaa (half stone woman). A punishment resulting from G̱anaa (breaking a major taboo).

Jan-gaa t’íij kwaa cautioned the boy about many things to avoid mishaps and trouble and how to get along with people. She told him if he ever got hungry for fresh Sgwaagaan (Sockeye Salmon), to go to a certain Sgwaagaan Gandlaay (Sockeye Stream) on the outskirts of the village, get himself a Sockeye, clean it and run a stick through it, stake the end in the ground by a bonfire.
After eating the fish, to make sure no morsel was left in the hole where the Kitsáawaay (roasting stick) was staked. The boy followed the old woman's advice and he consumed many an enjoyable roasted Sockeye in private.

One day upon his return, the chief's son was tossing in agony on the dais with sk’ats’gahl (extreme pain) in his right eye. The old woman motioned the boy to her hastily, told him to run back immediately to where he had eaten the fish and to look very carefully in the hold where the fish stick had been staked and if any piece of the fish had dropped in, to take it down to the salt water.

The boy hurriedly complied. Looking into the hole, he noticed the pupil of the fish eye had dropped in. Carefully scooping the dirt and the eye, he carried it to the water's edge like the old woman directed. Disposing of it in the water, he fearfully returned home. Top his surprise and relief, the chief's son had fully recovered and was playing around.

One day toward spring there was the sound of loud singing and dancing from a nearby community house. A celebration of some sort was going on. The old woman beckoned the boy to her and instructed him to go to the woods and break off some nice hemlock branches, go to the building where a big event was taking place. Lower the branches through a corner hold in the back side of the building, hang onto the branches till it felt heavy.

She went on to warn him, “No matter what, do not to look inside.” The boy did as told and ran back to the building, found the hole and lowered the branches through. After awhile he felt the branches getting heavy and as curiosity goes, he couldn't resist the temptation to peek. Immediately, his eye filled with herring roe (Raven's eye), fortunately he hung onto the branches.

After working the eggs out of his eye with one hand, he pulled the branches out, he was amazed to find the branches laden with very thick layers of Ḵ’áaw (herring eggs). Taking them home, the old woman told him to dip them in hot water for a shore period of time, till the eggs turned slightly white, then generously pour X̱utáw (seal) oil over them. The boy followed her directions and, found to his delight how delicious it tasted. To this day in the month march, during the herring spawn, big piles of hemlock branches are cut and buoyed in spawning areas.

Hemlock ranches are used as it is free of pitch taste and the eggs peel off easily after dipping in hot water. There are two ways to preserve herring eggs now, by salting in barrels and package plain for freezing. Before, the kelp and branches were sun dried for winter use.

An early summer approached, there was a feeling of tense excitement, an anticipation of a coming event. Finally the Chief gave orders to get ready to move.

There was a lot of activities in the village. Winter belongings stored, summer equipment made ready and stored on canoes. (Haidas being of a nomadic type moved to their respective seasonal camps.) When all was in readiness, the Chief stepped forward, giving last instructions to each canoe load as to their destination Sockeye streams. The canoe the boy was on was instructed to the Sockeye stream in Karta Bay, his parents' camp.

Arriving in front of the camp, the boy saw his mother sitting on the beach cutting fish. Since she was facing the water, he noticed her tear-streaked, blackened face (in mourning, faces were covered with pitch from spruce trees then rubbed over with charcoal). He was so touched by her appearance, he stood up in the canoe to hail her.

Some one yelled excitedly on the beach, "Ay-Yoh", there goes the first Sockeye. He tried again, only to have the same "Ay-Yaoh!" greet him. (A celebration for greeting when the Salmon returned).
For the first time the boy realized he had turned into a Sockeye.


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