Open Collections

BC Historical Books

BC Historical Books

BC Historical Books

Notes on the cosmogony and history of the Squamish Indians of British Columbia Hill-Tout, Charles, 1858-1944 1897

Item Metadata


JSON: bcbooks-1.0340635.json
JSON-LD: bcbooks-1.0340635-ld.json
RDF/XML (Pretty): bcbooks-1.0340635-rdf.xml
RDF/JSON: bcbooks-1.0340635-rdf.json
Turtle: bcbooks-1.0340635-turtle.txt
N-Triples: bcbooks-1.0340635-rdf-ntriples.txt
Original Record: bcbooks-1.0340635-source.json
Full Text

Full Text

Squamish Indians of British Columbia
1897  Tbans. R. S. C.
II.—Notes on the Cosmogony and History of the Squamish Indians of
British Columbia.
By Professor 0. Hill-Tout, Buckland College, Vancouver.
(Communicated by Dr. G. M. Dawson, June 23,1897.)
The following notes on the cosmogony and history of the Squamish
Indians of British Columbia, a sept of the great Salishan stock, were
gathered by myself from an aged Indian of that sept some time last
summer. Through the kindness of the Roman Catholic bishop of the
district, Bishop Durieu, I received a cordial reception at the hands of the
chief men of the tribe, and on learning what I wanted they brought out
of his retirement the old historian of the tribe. He was a decrepit
creature, stone-blind from old age, whose existence till then had been
unknown to the good bishop, who himself has this tribe in charge. I
am disposed, therefore,to think that this account has not been put into
English before. I first sought to learn his age, but this he could only
approximately give by informing me that his mother was a girl on the
•verge of womanhood when Vancouver sailed up Howe Sound at the close
. of last century. He would, therefore, be about 100 years old. His
native name, as near as I could get it, is " Mul'ks." He could not understand any English, and as his archaic Squamish was beyond my poor
knowledge of the language, it was necessary to have resort to the tribal
interpreter. The account will, in consequence, be less full and literal.
Before the old man could begin his recital, some preparations were
deemed necessary by the other elderly men of the tribe. These consisted
in making a bundle of short sticks, each about six inches long. These
played the part of tallies, each stick representing to the reciter a particular
paragraph or chapter in his story. They apologized for making these,
and were at pains to explain to me that these were to them what books
were to the white man. These sticks were now placed at intervals along
a table round which we sat, and after some animated discussion between
the interpreter, who acted as master of the ceremonies, and the other old
men as to the relative order and names of the tallies, we were ready to
begin. The first tally was placed in the old man's hands and he began
his recital in a loud, high-pitched key, as if he were addressing a large
audience in the open air. He went on without pause for about ten
minutes, and then the interpreter took up the story. The story was
either beyond the interpreter's power to render into English, or there
was much in it he did not like to relate to a white man, for I did not
unfortunately get a fifth of what the old man had uttered from him, and
it was only by dint of questioning and cross-questioning that I was 86 ROYAL SOCIETY OF CANADA
enabled to get anything like a connected narrative from him at all.
The old man recited his story chapter by chapter; that is, tally by tally,
and the interpreter followed in like order. The following is the'substance of what I was able to record :
In the beginning there was water everywhere and no land at all.
When this state of things had lasted for a long while, the Great Spirit
determined to make land appear. Soon the tops of the mountains showed
above the water and they grew and grew till their heads reached the
clouds. Then he made the lakes and rivers, and after that the trees and
animals. Soon after this had been done, " Ka-la'na" the first man, was
made. The Great Spirit bestowed upon him the three things an Indian
cannot do without, viz., a wife, a chisel or adze, and a salmon trap.
Ka-la'na was a good man and obeyed the Great Spirit's commands, and
in course of time his wife bore him many sons and daughters, who spread
out over the land and peopled it. "When the land was full of people and
Kalana had grown very old. the Great S} irit took him away one day
and the people saw him no more. ISTow, as Kalana had advanced in
years the people had become very wicked and vexed the Great Spirit.
And after he had left them they became worse. When this state of things
had been going on for a long time, the Great Spirit made the waters rise
up over all the land above the tops of the highest mountains, and all the
people were drowned except one man-named Cheatmuh, the first-born of
Kalana, and his wife. These two escaped in their canoe, which floated
about on the water for a long time, and at last, when they were nearly
dead with hunger, settled on the top of a high mountain which was not
quite covered with water. After this the waters subsided, and Cheatmuh
and his wife descended from the mountain and built themselves a house,
and in course of time repeopled the land again with their offspring. A
long interval now went by and the people were happy and prosperous.
Many salmon came up the Squamish every season, and there was food
for everybody and to spare.
But the Great Spirit became angry with them again a second
time after Cheatmuh's death, and this time he punished them by
sending a great snow-storm upon the land. Day after day, and moon
after moon, the snow fell in tiny flakes, covering everything and
hiding all the land, and the streams, and the rivers, and the trees. The
snow was remarkable for its extreme fineness, and it penetrated everywhere. It came into their houses and put out the fires, and into
their clothes and made them wet and cold. (In this part of his
recital the old man was exceedingly interesting and graphic in his
description, the very tones of his voice lending themselves to his story,
and I had gathered, long before the interpreter took up the story, that
he had told of something that was very small and had penetrated everywhere.)   Soon all the stores of fish and all available firewood was con- "[hill-tout]   SQUAMISH INDIANS OF BRITISH COLUMBIA 87
■sumed, and no more could be got. Starvation and cold assailed them on
•every side, and soon the children and old people began to die in scores
and hundreds. But still the snow came down and the misery of those
that were left increased. Dead bodies lay around everywhere, dead and
■dying lying together. (Here the old man's voice was hushed to a plaintive wail, and the faces of his audience were an eloquent index of the
tragic interest of this story of their ancestors' misfortunes.) Everything
that could possibly afford sustenance was eagerly sought out and eaten.
The hair was scraped from their store of skins, and the latter, soaked in
the snow to make them soft, were then torn into pieces and devoured.
But soon even this source of supply failed them, and their only hope now
lay in the approaching salmon season. But when this long-looked-for
relief came it was found that the salmon were so thin that there was
nothing on them but the skin and bones. It was impossible to cure,
salmon of this description; moreover, they did not come in their usual
numbers, and soon this miserable supply failed them also. By the help
■of this poor diet the more hardy of them managed to keep body and soul
together for some time longer, but all who were sickly and weak gradually died off, so that in a little time there remained but a few only of the
whole tribe alive. All this time the snow had continued to fall, though
it was long past the beginning of summer; and now even the salmon
skins and bones were consumed, and all had died of starvation but two, a
man and his daughter who lived apart by themselves. These two it
seems had managed better than the rest. They were the fortunate
possessors of a dog, which they killed after the salmon had failed them,
and this they ate, bit by bit, as long as it lasted. They also burrowed
•down through the snow to the moss beneath, which they gathered, and,
after wiping the slime of the salmon on it for flavouring, they then made
soup from it. 'I his, together with the dog, had enabled them to outlive
all the rest of the tribe. But still the snow came down, and now they
also had exhausted their resources and nothing remained to them but to
lie down and die as the others had done. As they sat lamenting their .
lot, the man happened to look soundwards, and then he saw a large fish-
hawk swoop down upon the water and rise again with a large salmon in
its claws. Hastily getting out his canoe he launched it, and with his
bow and arrows ready at hand, he paddled out to sea and presently got
within range of the eagle and shot an arrow at it. The arrow went
home and the bird fell with the fish still in its claws. He quickly
secured both and returned to his daughter with them. By means of this
fish and bird they were enabled to sustain themselves for some time
longer, and by the time this food was consumed a great change began to
take place. The snow at last stopped falling and the sun appeared, and
a great and rapid thaw set in. In a short space of time the great white
covering of snow sank down, and,the long-hidden trees, and streams, and 88 ROYAL SOCIETY OF CANADA
rivers, and land were seen once more. The man now took his daughter
to wife, and from those two the land was in course of time once more
repeopled. Times of plenty came back, and the people learned to forget
the terrible punishment the Great Spirit had sent upon their forefathers.
But once again a dreadful misfortune befell them. This time it happened in this wise. One salmon season the fish were found to be covered
with running sores and blotches, which rendered them unfit for food. But
as the people depended very largely upon these salmon for their winter's
food supply, they were obliged to catch and cure them as best they could,
and store them away for food. They put off eating them till no other
food was available, and then began a terrible time of sickness and distress. A dreadful skin disease, loathsome to look upon, broke out upon
all alike. jSTone were spared. Men, women and children sickened, took
the disease and died in agony by hundreds, so that when the spring
arrived and fresh food was procurable, there was scarcely a person left
of all their numbers to get it. Camp after camp, village after village,
was left desolate. The remains of which, said the old man, in answer to
my queries on this head, are found to-day in the old camp sites or
midden-heaps over which the forest has been growing for so many generations. Little by little the remnant left by the disease grew into a
nation once more, and when the first white men sailed up the Squamish
in their big boats, the tribe was strong and numerous again. Following
Vancouver's advent four generations have come and gone, the second of
which was his own. What follows from this point is not of any particular
interest, but before concluding my paper I desire to say that the name of
this first Squamish man, as handed down by tradition,—Ka-lalna—suggests
some thoughts for the ethnologist's consideration. The Haida term for
God closely resembles it, viz., Sha-lana, the initial consonants being interchangeable throughout the tongues of this area. But if we go outside
the district and language of British Columbia, and examine the genealogies of the Hawaiians, we there find this name '' Ka-lana," or "Ka-
lani," occurring again and again. For example, we have a fragment of
a chant entitled " Kaulu-a-Kalana," which in English runs thus :
I am Kaulu.i
The child of Kalana,
Etc., etc., etc.
And Fornander, in his first volume of " The Polynesian Race " (pp.
199-200), writes thus : " It is almost certain that a number of names on
the " Ulu " line were those of chiefs in some of the southern groups whenever set foot on Hawaiian soil, but whose legends were imported by
southern emigrants The Maui legends, the Maui family of
four   brothers,   and their parent, a-Kalana, Karana or Taranga, are [hill-tout]   SQUAMISH INDIANS OF BRITISH COLUMBIA 89
found upon all those groups in slightly different versions It
is just to conclude, therefore, that the Maui family and legends were not
only not indigenous to Hawaiian soil or contemporary with any chiefs of
the " Nanaula " line, but it is very questionable whether their origin does
not date back to the PRE-Pacific period of the Polynesian race."
This view of Fornander's receives a striking accession of evidence
from the use of these seemingly identical terms in British Columbia. I
have shown that the term stands for God among the Haidas. It is also
seen in the compound name of one of their ancient deities, | Het-gwa-"
lana," and from information supplied me by the Rev. H. H. Gowen, who
was a missionary for some years among the Hawaiians, this term is used
by the Polynesians in the same sense. ' Everyone,' he writes me, " of
the Xamehameha line had the name Kalani forming part of his or her
full designation. It appears to have been equivalent to " exalted,"
| heavenly," "divine."' Again, we find a remarkable resemblance to this
term Kalana or Kalani in the name of the great chief who led the Vuch-
chi across the Indus and conquered India about 20 B.C.. whose name, as
given by the Chinese historians, is " Karranos," or " Kalanos."
These facts will receive an accession of interest when I state that my
studies of the languages of the natives of this province have resulted in
yielding evidence of intercourse or relationship of some kind between
the KwakiutMsTootka and Salish stocks and the Malay-Polynesians,
between the Haida-Tlingit and the Japo-Corean, and between the Dene',
or Athapascan, and the Chinese and cognate races. Of the Dene" tongue
it is no exaggeration to say that 50 per cent of its radicals are pure archaic-
Chinese. I append a short comparative vocabulary of these :
English. Chinese. Dene.
Water tsui thu, tsoo
Face men nin
Feet gea khe'
Mouth how fwa
Skin p eve    •
Mountain tsan tsal
Stone tse tse
Grass to tlo
Corpse kle-zie ezie
Sky hen ya
Star slen, sen shen, sen
A fly     .
dea, tea
t'su (cane
Brother (elder)
"      (younger)
chen, tien
yan, jin
dan£, tia
Sister (younger)
I might extend this list almost indefinitely, but I think enough
i radicals have been given to show the marked lexicographical similarities
between these two languages. Nor are these Chinese similarities confined to the vocabulary, they extend to the morphology of the language
as well, and the characteristic methods of denomination in Chinese find
their exact counterpart in the first three of the four classes of nouns into
which, according to Father Morice,—than whom there is no higher
authority—the nouns in the Dene" language may be divided.
It is my intention to offer a fuller paper on these Asian affinities
later. Our lack of analytical knowledge of the language of British
Columbia makes it difficult at times to proceed and be sure of one's
ground. The Dene" radicals here offered are some of those given by
Father Morice, and may, therefore, be considered correct. The Chinese
terms are either from Edkin, or from local Cantonese, the dialect of
which, as Edkin has pointed out, is a purer and more archaic form of
Chinese than the court or literary forms. PI
^7 ^ 


Citation Scheme:


Citations by CSL (citeproc-js)

Usage Statistics



Customize your widget with the following options, then copy and paste the code below into the HTML of your page to embed this item in your website.
                            <div id="ubcOpenCollectionsWidgetDisplay">
                            <script id="ubcOpenCollectionsWidget"
                            async >
IIIF logo Our image viewer uses the IIIF 2.0 standard. To load this item in other compatible viewers, use this url:


Related Items