The Sacred Tlingit--Darek St Clair - P.O.W. Report

Saturday, July 20, 2019

The Sacred Tlingit--Darek St Clair

Boy o' boy, do I have a story for you today! This post was made by Darek St Clair on "SeAlaska Celebration" as always, please follow their page for more great posts.  

Sacred Tlingit

While the Tlingit were still living a famine broke out. There was an orphan girl there named Djîyî'n who was taking care of herself. Once in a while her father's sister would help her, but all were starving, her father's sister also being poor.

One day some women were going off to dig ts!êt roots, and this orphan very much wished to accompany them, but they would not take her. They said she was dirty and would bring them bad luck. When she laid hold of the canoe they struck her fingers to make her let go, but she was very hungry and very persistent, so that her father's sister finally took her in. When they encamped that night she did not come back, and they did not know what she was living on. The women who were angry with her said, "What is the matter with her? Why doesn't she come back to eat?" When they got ready to start home the orphan had not returned, and they left her there alone. They also threw water on the fire.

The girl's aunt, however, procured a coal and threw it into the brush house where they had camped, along with a piece of dried salmon.

She was careful not to let the others see what she was doing. Then she went back and said to the girl, "Are you coming?" "No," she replied, "since they don't want to take me, I better stay." Then her aunt said, "I have put a live coal in that brush house along with a piece of dried salmon."

As soon as the others had gone away the orphan made a big fire and cooked her roots and salmon, but she did not feel like eating. Therefore, instead of doing so, she went away and dug some more roots. In the evening she went back to her brush house, thinking she could eat now, but found that she had no appetite. So she lay down and went to sleep. Early in the morning she was awakened by a great noise which she found on looking out was made by a flock of brants . She felt so tired that she lay down again and went to sleep, and, when she awoke once more, she thought she would set out after more roots. Going down to the flat where these roots grew, she found it covered with brants feeding upon them. When they saw her they flew away. Then she began removing the dead grass from the place where she was going to dig, and to her surprise came upon several big canoes looking as if they had been buried there, which were loaded with eulachon oil, dried eulachon, dried halibut, and dried salmon. She felt very happy. She thought how lucky it was that she had remained there when all of the village people were starving.

Now the orphan thought that she would eat something, so she took some salmon and a bundle of halibut home with her. On roasting a piece of salmon, however, she found that she could not eat it. She did not know what had gotten into her that she could not force herself to eat. She wished that her aunt were with her. Next morning she discovered that the spirits were keeping food away from her because she was becoming a shaman. The brants had become her spirits. The brant spirits always come to Raven people like her.

So she became a great shaman and was possessed by spirits every day, while sea gulls, crows, and all kinds of sea and woodland birds sang for her. This happened every day. Two or three times a day she would go to see the buried canoes, but she could not eat anything, and she gave up digging roots because she had no way of sharpening her sticks. Meanwhile everyone in the village thought that she had starved to death.

After some time had passed, the girl wished that someone would come to her from the village, and the day after a canoe appeared in sight. This made her very happy, especially when it got close and she found it contained some people of her acquaintance from the village. She called them up to her brush house and gave them some food from the canoes, and they remained there two or three days. They were out hunting for food. After a while she told them it was time for them to go, and, when they were on the point of starting, she said, "Do not take a bit of the food I have given you. Leave it all here. Tell the people of our village that is still living and is doing well. Tell my aunt that she must try to get here as soon as she can."

When these people got back to the village and told what had happened to the orphan, how much food she had and how lucky she had been, all the town people who had been dying of starvation started off immediately for the place where she was living. When they came in sight of her brush house they saw that from the sky right down to it the air was filled with birds. There were so many that one could not see through them. They could also hear men and women singing and the shaman performing, but, when they came close, all of the birds flew away.

As soon as the shaman heard that her people were coming she walked out to meet them and asked, "Which canoe is my aunt in? Let her land here." All of the food in one of her canoes she gave to her aunt. Then she said, "I want two women to come ashore to help me with my singing." The high-caste women in the canoes, who were all painted up, would rise one after the other, but she would not have them, and finally called two who were orphans like herself and had been treated very badly by their own people. All the others then started to come ashore, and she told them where to camp. She had room enough in her own house only for the two girls and her aunt.

These high-caste people had brought their with them when they came to her, and she got them herself in exchange for food. She had three brush houses built to hold them. She also dressed up the two little orphans so that they looked very pretty. After a long time the people left her to return to their own village, and, when another long period had elapsed, her spirit made the town chief sick, and they hired her to come and treat him.

This shaman had belonged to a very high-caste family, but they had died off and left her very poor, and nothing remained of her uncle's house except the posts. Grass grew all about inside of it, and when the shaman was entering the village she saw the posts of her uncle's house and felt very sad. She told them to land near by. Then she looked up, raised an eagle's tail in one hand, blew upon it, and waved it back and forth in front of them. The fourth time a fine house stood there. Then they carried all of her things into this, and she had the things she had procured work for her, while the two orphans she had taken were now considered high caste.

At that time the sick chief's daughter also fell sick. Then the spirits turned all the minds of the chief's people away from her, and they paid other shamans in the village. The sick ones, however, continued to get worse and worse, until they finally remembered that she also was a shaman and sent for her. When the messenger came one of the orphans asked, "How much will they pay the shaman?" "Two" they said. She thought that this was not enough, and the messenger went back. When he came again, she again asked, "How much are they going to pay the shaman?" "Two slaves and some goods." Then she agreed, and, as soon as the messenger had left, said to the two girls, "Come on. Let us go."

As soon as she had arrived at the house she sat down between the two sick people and worked very hard to cure them. Her spirits could see immediately what the matter was. This house was crowded with people except around the fire where the shaman was performing. Then Djîyî'n walked around and said, "The witch that is killing you two has not come." They sent to all the houses in the village and assembled those who were there in the house in place of the previous occupants. examined all of them again, and again said, "The witch is not yet here." Finally the spirits in her began to say, "The road of the witch is very clear now. The road of the witch is straight for this house." Again they said, "The witch is coming." By and by they began to hear a bird whistling in the woods back of the house, and she said, "Yes, hear her. She is coming." And when the sound came near the door she said, "Open the door and let her come in." So they opened the door, and there sat a wild canary. 
Then the shaman told her to sit between the two sick persons, and she did so. She was making a great deal of noise, and the shaman said, "Tie her wings back." Not long afterward the people heard a great noise like thunder which seemed a great distance off. Then the shaman said, "Here are her children. They are offended and are coming in. Stop up all of the holes so that they may not enter." The noise grew louder and louder, however, and presently birds began to fly in right through the boards. At last the house became so full of them as to be well nigh suffocating, and very many of the people were injured. Whoever the birds flew against would have a cut or bruise. All at once the house again became empty, not a bird being left inside except the one that was tied.

By this time it was morning, the people having sat in that house all night, and the bird made still more noise. "She is already telling about it," said the shaman. "She wants to go to the place where she has the food and the pieces of hair with which she is bewitching you." Finally she left the house, but although they had untied her wings she walked along ahead of four men instead of flying. She went up the way she had come down and began scratching at the roots of some bushes some distance up in the woods. There she came upon the top of a skull in which were some hair, food, and pieces of clothing arranged in a certain manner along with different kinds of leaves. She took these down to the beach and threw them out on the sea in different directions. Afterward she went back to the house with the four men still following her.

By and by the bird began making noises again, and the shaman, who alone could understand her, said that she wanted to leave the place. She hated to go back to her own place among the other birds because she knew that they would be ashamed of her, so she asked them to take her. When they took down a canoe to carry her off she flew right into it. Then the shaman said, "When you get her to the place whither she wants to go, go ashore and put her there, and turn right back." Then they started on with her, and after a time she made so much noise that they said, "Let us put her ashore here. This must be the place." They did so; and, as soon as they got close in, the bird flew out upon the beach and started up it very fast. One man followed her to see where she would go and saw her pass under a tree with protruding roots. This was the town she had been talking about.

As soon as the witch put the skull and other things into the water the chief and his daughter recovered. Before the events narrated in this story people did not know anything about witchcraft, and the ancients used to say that it was from this bird that they learned it years ago.

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