MYTHOLOGIES OF THE HAIDA

Haida Mythology

The Porpoise People are recorded in the folklore of the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America. According to Haida culture, the porpoise people lived in villages underwater and controlled a large part of their food supply. According to Myths and Legends of the Pacific Northwest, two Quinault brothers brothers speared a porpoise in ancient times. The porpoise pulled them to a mystical village of red smoke. The villagers introduced the Quinault to the various types of salmon as food sources. According to Franz Boas, a Nootka “dolphin” hunter was transformed into a marine mammal after he agreed to stop hunting them. However, in this version he was transformed into a seal. Boas’s Delfinjäger translates to “Dolphin Hunter,” although it actually refers to a harbour porpoise. There are many historical accounts of human-wild dolphin/porpoise interaction. According to Native-languages.org, “Porpoise are also occasionally used as a clan crest or totem in Northwestern tribes, such as the Tlingit Porpoise Clan, called Chookaneidi or Chukanedi in Tlingit. Porpoises can sometimes be found carved on totem poles in these cultures.”

Porpoise people

Haida Gwaii is home to a rich and vibrant culture whose origins date back thousands of years. Today, the Haida People are known throughout Canada and the world for their artistic achievements, their commitment to social justice and environmental protection, and their deep connection to the natural world. Embedded in Haida culture and drawn from ancient oral narratives are a number of Supernatural Beings, many of them female, who embody these connections to the land, the sea, and the sky. Magical Beings of Haida Gwaii features ten of these ancient figures. The Haida Peoples have lived in Haida Gwaii for a very long time, even before the ice age and floods made the Earth we know today. Haida Peoples have been able to live in Haida Gwaii for so long because of how the Haida view the land and the sea. Haida Elders teach that Haida Gwaii is a magical place with Magical Beings through stories called “Raven Traveling,” or Xuuya Kaagang.ngas in the Skidegate dialect of the Haida language. These stories tell of Raven traveling the Earth and changing it to make it fit for humans. The Haida name for Raven is Nang Kilslas, which means The-One-Whose-Voice-is-Obeyed. This is because Raven is powerful and can make events happen just by speaking about them.

Haida Legends, Myths and Folk Tales

HaidaHaida-speaking North American Indians of Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands), British ColumbiaCanada, and the southern part of Prince of Wales Island, Alaska, U.S. The Alaskan Haida are called Kaigani. Haida culture is related to the cultures of the neighbouring Tlingit and Tsimshian. Traditional Haida social organization was built around two major subdivisions, or moieties; moiety membership was assigned at birth and based on maternal affiliation. Each moiety consisted of many local segments or lineages which owned rights to economically important lands, occupied separate villages, and had their own primary chiefs (a village’s highest ranking member) and lesser house chiefs. Each lineage functioned independently of the others in matters of war, peace, religion, and economics.

The mythology of the Haida, like that of other tribes on the central and northern coast, is based on the epic cycle of stories about the Raven and his various exploits. The Raven is truly a trickster who liberates humankind from a clamshell, then in one story sets the universe in order, only to threaten it with chaos in the next. The Raven is the most greedy, mischievous and lecherous creature imaginable, but almost without meaning to, teaches humans the arts of living a good life. Haida artist Charles Edenshaw alone could recount several hundred different Raven stories from memory. One of the best-known of these stories tells how the Raven disguised himself in order to enter the house of the Sky Chief, from whom he stole the sun, moon and stars to give to humankind. In another popular tale, the Raven was hungry, so decided to swim underwater to eat the bait off the hooks of some halibut fishermen. However, the hook lodged solidly in his beak. The fishermen banded together to haul up what they thought was a huge halibut, but got the Raven’s beak instead.Many stories describe the Raven’s encounters with supernatural beings and how he acquired other useful things for humans from them, such as fresh water, salmon, the fish weir and the house — the latter from the Beaver.

HAIDA MYTHOLOGY

Haida Gwaii is home to a rich and vibrant culture whose origins date back thousands of years. Today, the Haida People are known throughout Canada and the world for their artistic achievements, their commitment to social justice and environmental protection, and their deep connection to the natural world. Embedded in Haida culture and drawn from ancient oral narratives are a number of Supernatural Beings, many of them female, who embody these connections to the land, the sea, and the sky. Magical Beings of Haida Gwaii features ten of these ancient figures and presents them to children as visually engaging, empowering, and meaningful examples of living in balance with nature. The Haida Peoples have lived in Haida Gwaii for a very long time, even before the ice age and floods made the Earth we know today. Haida Peoples have been able to live in Haida Gwaii for so long because of how the Haida view the land and the sea. Haida Elders teach that Haida Gwaii is a magical place with Magical Beings through stories called “Raven Traveling,” or Xuuya Kaagang.ngas in the Skidegate dialect of the Haida language. These stories tell of Raven traveling the Earth and changing it to make it fit for humans. The Haida name for Raven is Nang Kilslas, which means The-One-Whose-Voice-is-Obeyed. This is because Raven is powerful and can make events happen just by speaking about them.

Haida, Haida-speaking North American Indians of Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands), British ColumbiaCanada, and the southern part of Prince of Wales Island, Alaska, U.S. The Alaskan Haida are called Kaigani. Haida culture is related to the cultures of the neighbouring Tlingit and Tsimshian. Traditional Haida social organization was built around two major subdivisions, or moieties; moiety membership was assigned at birth and based on maternal affiliation. Each moiety consisted of many local segments or lineages which owned rights to economically important lands, occupied separate villages, and had their own primary chiefs (a village’s highest ranking member) and lesser house chiefs. Each lineage functioned independently of the others in matters of war, peace, religion, and economics.

Oral histories & archaeological evidence indicate that the Haida have occupied Haida Gwaii for more than 17,000 years. In that time they have established an intimate connection with the islands’ lands & oceans, established highly structured societies, & constructed many villages. The Haida have also occupied present-day southern Alaska for more than the last 200 years, the modern group having emigrated from Haida Gwaii in the 18C. The Haida are known for their craftsmanship, trading skills, & seamanship. They are thought to have been warlike & to practise slavery. Prior to contact with Europeans, other Indigenous communities regarded the Haida as aggressive warriors & made attempts to avoid sea battles with them. Archaeological evidence shows that Northwest coast tribes, to which the Haida belong, engaged in warfare as early as 10 000 BC. Though the Haida were more likely to participate in sea battles, it was not uncommon for them to engage in hand-to-hand combat or long-range attacks.  Analyses of skeletal injuries dating from the Archaic period show that Northwest coast nations, particularly in the North where most Haida communities were situated, engaged in battles of some sort, though the number of battles is unknown.

Mythology and Crests

The mythology of the Haida, like that of other tribes on the central and northern coast, is based on the epic cycle of stories about the Raven and his various exploits. The Raven is truly a trickster who liberates humankind from a clamshell, then in one story sets the universe in order, only to threaten it with chaos in the next. The Raven is the most greedy, mischievous and lecherous creature imaginable, but almost without meaning to, teaches humans the arts of living a good life. One of the best-known of these stories tells how the Raven disguised himself in order to enter the house of the Sky Chief, from whom he stole the sun, moon and stars to give to humankind. In another popular tale, the Raven was hungry, so decided to swim underwater to eat the bait off the hooks of some halibut fishermen. However, the hook lodged solidly in his beak. The fishermen banded together to haul up what they thought was a huge halibut, but got the Raven’s beak instead. Many stories describe the Raven’s encounters with supernatural beings and how he acquired other useful things for humans from them, such as fresh water, salmon, the fish weir and the house — the latter from the Beaver.

The Haida are one of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America. Their national territories lie along the west coast of Canada and include parts of south east Alaska. Haida mythology is an indigenous religion that can be described as a nature religion, drawing on the natural world, seasonal patterns, events and objects for questions that the Haida pantheon provides explanations for. Haida mythology is also considered animistic for the breadth of the Haida pantheon in imbuing daily events with Sǥā’na qeda’s. There are innumerable Haida supernatural beings, or Sǥā’na qeda’s, including prominent animal crests, wind directions, and legendary ancestors. The highest being in all Haida mythology and the one who gave power to the Sǥā’na qeda’s was Sîns sǥā’naǥwa-i, translated as ‘Power-of-the-Shining-Heavens’. Some have the ability to transform between animal and human forms while others do not. In the art creatures can sometimes be found with anthropomorphic features, especially human faces, inside or as part of their bodies denoting this transformative ability.

Raven

Within Haida mythology, Raven is a central character, as he is for many of the Indigenous peoples of the Americassee Raven Tales. While frequently described as a “trickster“, Haidas believe Raven, or Yáahl to be a complex reflection of one’s own self. Raven can be a magician, a transformer, a potent creative force, ravenous debaucher but always a cultural hero. He is responsible for creating Haida Gwaii, releasing the sun from its tiny box and making the stars and the moon. In one story he released the first humans from a cockle shell on the beach; in another story, he brought the first humans up out of the ground because he needed to fill up a party he was throwing. Raven stories on one level teach listeners how to live a good life, but usually by counterexample. Raven has been described as the greediest, most lecherous and mischievous creature known to the Haida, but at the same time Raven often helps humans in our encounters with other supernatural beings. Raven acquired such things as freshwater, salmon and the house for humans. Robert Bringhurst has noted that Raven never actually creates anything; he made the world by stealing, exchanging, redistributing, and generally moving things around.

How human beings can survive in the future; concerned about the world we’re destroying.  But it’s also because the Haida mythology has a fascination that can’t quite be explained. Many of these have cultural significance that has been lost, so there is a mystery at the heart of the story.  One of the stories involves Raven paddling out to steal vaginas for the women of the island, but after several attempts (when the men in the canoe are overcome with ‘sweetness’ and unable to function) a creature called ‘fungus man’ is tied into the stern of the canoe to operate the paddle. So the women got their vaginas.   This beautifully carved plate shows fungus man wide-eyed at the rear of the canoe and raven at the front.

Raven in Haida Culture

The Raven is a trickster – a figure found throughout Indigenous cultures from around the world. While tricksters are constructed very differently from culture to culture, they share similar characteristics; namely, they are most often foolish and childlike troublemakers. Some tricksters can be harmless, others heroes, and still others even cruel or selfish. Another common thread among tricksters is that they are wanderers, both physically and spiritually. “They often travel between the spirit world and the tangible world, as well as the areas in-between.” Some, like the Raven, can shape-shift to become human, spirit, animal, or even inanimate objects. Another common thread among tricksters is that they are wanderers, both physically and spiritually. “They often travel between the spirit world and the tangible world, as well as the areas in-between.” Some, like the Raven, can shape-shift to become human, spirit, animal, or even inanimate objects.

Tao Hill and his Brother

They once lived together up Massett Inlet; but at last the people stopped giving food to Tao, and he travelled down to the coast, where he settled by the side of Hiellen River. “Grease-Hill (Tao), popularly called “Little-Mountain,” and Grease-Hill’s-Brother (Tao do’na-i), were important beings. They once lived together where the latter still stands, up Masset Inlet, and the people used to give them dried fish. Finally they stopped giving to the former, whereupon he left the inlet in anger, and moved down to his present position on the coast between Masset and Rose Spit.” A big spider used to let itself down from the top of Tao Hill upon any one passing beneath, and kill him. Finally two men went after it and killed it. The same persons also killed two large birds that used to destroy people. These birds were named Going-over-the-Body and Looking-for-Children. These birds were also named the Giant-Black-Skinned-Ones that existed prior to the arrival of the bald eagle. The Giant-Black-Skinned-Ones disappeared shortly after the ice-age.

Origin of Haida Land

BEFORE the days of the grandfathers there was nothing but water. All was water, except a single reef. Here lived the supernatural beings. They were much crowded. They all lay heaped together. Then Raven flew all about trying to get a footing, but he could alight nowhere. Then Raven looked at the sky. It was solid. It was very beautiful and Raven was fascinated by it. He said, “I’ll go up there,” so he ran his beak into the sky and climbed up. Now in the Sky Land was a large town. The chief lived there and in the chief’s house was a baby. When night came, Raven took the baby by the heel and shook all his bones out. Then he crept into the skin and pretended to be the baby. But at night he stole out of the baby’s skin and became Raven. He flew into all the houses and made much mischief. Then at last a woman saw him and told all the people. Then the chief called all the people together and they sang a song for Raven. It was a magic song, and in the midst of it, the one holding Raven let him fall, and he dropped down out of the Sky Country until he fell upon the great waters. Now the cradle drifted about on the water for a long time. Raven cried; then he cried himself to sleep, but as Raven slept, something said, “Your powerful grandfather invites you in.”

Known as the Protector of the animal kingdom the Bear is the most powerful coastal animal. In the Haida culture, the Bear is known as “Elder Kinsman” and is treated as a noble guest. Whenever a Bear is killed it is brought inside and eagle down is spread upon it to show respect. The Bear is also known for its human-like qualities. Legend says that a First Nations chief’s daughter fell in love with and married a Bear, who happened to be the nephew of the Great Bear Chief.  She gave birth to twin bear cubs and was known as the Bear Mother. This created a close relationship between Bears and humans. The Native Bear Symbol represents strength, family, vitality courage and health. The bear is thoughtful and independent, with little need for fellowship. The bear is also self-contained and strong-willed in nature. A Bear is of great support and comfort to those who crave human company simply for personal reassurance rather than for the simple pleasure of being with friends. He makes lonely periods of life far easier.

Dogfish Woman is another powerful figure in the pantheon of beings of the sea. The dogfish is a small variety of shark that inhabits the waters of Haida Gwaii. Dogfish Woman is a crest belonging to many of the Haida clans, and is related to a story of a woman ancestor who could transform herself into a dogfish. It is in this form that she enters into a whole other realm of experience, the undersea world.” Other figures such as Eagle, Frog and Wolf also inhabit the boat, each bringing their mythological strengths and weaknesses to the voyage. In the middle is the human Shaman who holds a staff carved with images of Seabear, Raven, and Killer Whale.

In Haida Gwaii, a powerful visual art and oral literature is simultaneously rooted in the powerful forces of the village and in the hunter’s acutely personal relations with the wild. It is also rooted in the presence of the sea. It is not surprising that its most important mythological being, Manna, emerges from the waves. Neither that the primary realm of the gods is submarine. This is a society that is divided in two moieties, the Raven and the Eagle. Moieties are divided by matrilineal families or clans and within a moiety, status depends on character, skill and luck in hunting. Moieties rule marriage, inheritance, the means of commemorating the dead and other essentials of social order. All of these social relations worked reciprocally between the two moieties. 

Haida Warriors invading the kingdom of Cascadia

Russian explorers who first encountered the Haida wrote that their armor was well constructed enough that bullets wouldn’t penetrate it beyond a range of twenty feet or so.

Thunderbird (mythology)

The thunderbird is a legendary creature in certain North American indigenous peoples’ history and culture. It is considered a supernatural being of power and strength.

Pacific NW (Haida) imagery of a double thunderbird

Pacific NW (Haida) imagery of a double thunderbird. It is especially important, and frequently depicted, in the art, songs and oral histories of many Pacific Northwest Coast cultures, but is also found in various forms among some peoples of the American SouthwestEast Coast of the United StatesGreat Lakes, and Great Plains. In modern times it has achieved notoriety as a purported cryptid, similar to creatures such as Bigfoot, and the Loch Ness Monster.

DZELARHONS

FROG GODDESS OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING

She is the Frog Princess, who arrived from we know not whence with six very full canoes containing human beings. These became the founding fathers — and mothers — of the Haida people. Where did they come from and why did they hitch a ride with a frog? Answers are not forthcoming and Dzelarhons has not responded to enquiries. She is also known as the Volcano Woman, which offers little in the way of explanation. Volcano? Frog? Canoes? After these peculiar quirks it is gratifyingly mundane to discover that the Frog Princess is married to a boring old Bear God named Kaiti.

Moon Story

A certain man came to a salmon-creek where four women were drying fish. He turned himself into a baby, was taken in by them, and, while they were away or asleep, stole their salmon. Going on from there, he met a man who caught salmon by erecting a wall of stones around himself and getting the fish to jump at him. He stole some of the salmon from this person, who later revenged himself; and that is why people now revenge themselves. By and by he came to a woman with teeth in her vulva, whom he killed. Then he came to some children, one of whom a man was about to steam and eat. The children were orphans. The hero took the place of the boy who had been selected, and killed their persecutor; and that is why orphans are now always taken care of. Next he found a town where he taught the people to catch salmon between their legs, for which they became very fond of him and let him sleep on their arms. One day, however, the Moon came in and killed him.

QING

Qing had a son who used to sleep with his feet on the bottom of the sea, and his head floating on the surface. One time the Ocean-People teased him, and his father commanded that a likeness of himself be made. He invited the Wood-People and the Ocean-People into his house. Then he frightened out those who had teased his son, and they turned into stone outside. Then the beings tried to make a likeness of him. Porpoise was at last successful; and East, North, West, and South came to ask him for it, but he would only give it to Deer, saying, “When I die, he too will die,” which is always supposed to happen.

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