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Introduction to Traditions of the Thompson River Indians of British Columbia Boas, Franz, 1858-1942 1898

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Array   ZjD^c 411
The Thompson River Indians, whose mythology has been recorded in the following pages by Mr. James Teit, form a branch of
the Salishan tribes which inhabit large portions of the States of
Washington, Idaho, Montana, and of the Province of British Columbia. The languages constituting the Salish stock may be grouped
in two main divisions,—the coast Salish and the Salish of the interior. While the former is divided into a great number of languages spoken by the tribes extending from Tillamook in Oregon
to Bella Coola in British Columbia, the languages of the interior
show greater uniformity. The Salish proper is spoken in the
interior of Washington, Idaho, and Montana, and extends into
southern British Columbia, where it is spoken by the Okanagon.
The Shuswap, that is spoken in southeastern British Columbia, is
closely affiliated to it. Between the Shuswap and the coast, two
other languages are spoken, —the Lillooet in the north ; the Thompson River language, or NLak *a/pamux,1 in the south. The last-
named tribe lives on Fraser and Thompson rivers, a little above and
below their confluence. .SSN3
The tribe is divided into five divisions, — the Nkamtci'nEmux
on the upper part of Thompson River, the Cawa'xamux in Nicola
Valley, the NLak'apamuxVe or real NLak'a'pamux, around the confluence of Thompson and Fraser rivers, the Si_axa'yux on upper
Fraser River, and the Uta/mqt farthest down Fraser River. The
Nkamtcr'nEmux are neighbors of the Shuswap. The Cawa'xamux
come into contact with the Okanagon, while formerly they were
neighbors of a small Athapascan tribe which live on the upper part
of Nicola River. The SLaxa'yux live next to the upper Lillooet,
while the Uta'mqt come into contact with the coast Salish on the
lower course of Fraser River.
The greater part of the following traditions were collected among
the Nkamtcr'nEmux and Cawa'xamux.
The Ni-ak'a'pamux are primarily hunters and fishermen. They
subsist largely on venison and salmon, although berries and roots
which are collected by the women constitute an important portion Introduction.
of their diet. Of recent years their customs have somewhat changed,
owing to the influence of the white settlers. They have learned
to build log cabins, and begin to till the soil. They also work to a
considerable extent for wages on ranches and in pack-trains. Formerly they spent the winter in the valleys of Thompson and Fraser
rivers, where they lived in small villages, most of which consisted
of a few houses only. In the spring they resorted to the mountains,
where the women gathered roots, and where the men went hunting.
In the summer, when the salmon ascend the rivers, considerable
portions of the tribe erected their summer huts near the river
courses, and engaged in curing fish for winter's use. Later on, they
visited their. hunting-grounds in pursuit of deer. In the spring,
great numbers of Indians belonging to all divisions of the tribe
assembled in some of the higher valleys of the country, particularly
in a valley situated a short distance northeast of Lytton, which is
called BEta'ni. The hillsides of this valley abound in plants the
roots of which are eaten by the Indians. While they were assembled here, the men passed much of their time gambling, while the
women were engaged in digging and curing roots.
The winter houses of the Indians were underground lodges covered over with a roof made of beams, mats, and dirt. A hole from
eighteen to thirty feet in diameter, and about three or four feet
deep, was dug, and four beams were placed on the rim of the hole,
slanting upward towards the middle. They were supported by
posts. These beams were covered with cross poles and mats and
dirt. They did not come into contact in the middle, where a hole
was left about three or four feet in diameter. Access to the lodge
was had through this hole, in which a ladder was standing which
led to the floor of the dwelling. The fireplace was at the foot of
the ladder, which was protected from the heat of the fire by a slab
of stone.    The beds were arranged near the walls.
In summer the people lived in tents made of bark or of rush mats.
These tents were either circular or square. In the latter case the
smoke escape was along the ridge of the tent. Most of their household utensils were made of woven basketry or of birch bark.-
They dressed mainly in deerskins. The clothing consisted of
shirt, leggings, and robes. Their shirts were generally made of buckskin. Those worn by the men reached half way down to the thigh.
The long leggings were attached to a belt. Moccasins made of
buckskin were worn over socks made of sage-brush. The shirts
of the women were longer, and were more elaborately ornamented,
than those of the men. They also wore long leggings. Both men
and women used to wear skin robes over their shirts. Deerskin,
dogskin, and buffalo-skin were used for this purpose; but they also Introduction. 3
wore robes woven of rabbit-skins cut into strips. The Uta'mqt used
blankets woven of mountain-goat wool. These were undoubtedly
acquired from the coast Indians. The men used to wear a strap of
skin tied on their heads to hold their hair back; but caps made of
buckskin were also used.
The social organization of the N_-ak*a'pamux is very loose. There
are no definite village communities, but families settled at one or
the other winter camp. Some of these consisted only of one house,
which was occupied by several families; but the locations of the
families were not permanent. It seems that there were no recognized chiefs, except in so far as wealth entailed greater influence
among the tribe. There is no trace of clans and of totems, nor
did any families claim the privilege of hunting and fishing in particular districts of their country. The only recognized divisions of
the tribe are those enumerated above. There were no restrictions
in regard to marriage inside and outside of tribal divisions; only
marriages between near relatives were forbidden. On the whole,
the woman followed her husband to his village, and she only returned
to her parents to pay them a visit. Marriages were arranged on
the principle of purchase, the man giving a certain amount of property to the bride's parents, which, however, was returned in full,
or nearly in full, on later occasions.
During the early part of the century, before there was any contact with whites, the potlatch system, which plays so important a
part in the social economy of the coast tribes, held sway among the
Ni-ak'-a'pamux as well. It did, however, never attain an importance as great as it had on the coast. It is interesting to note that
in the myths recorded in the following volume, hardly any mention
of it occurs, while it is of the greatest importance in the mythology
of the coast tribes. I infer that the system has been recently introduced among the Ni_ak*a'pamux, and did not obtain in early times.
It seems that the religious rituals of the NLak*a;pamux never
attained any great development, and in this respect they differ fundamentally from the coast tribes, whose rituals are exceedingly
elaborate. There are no secret societies, no extended ceremonials, in
which dramatized myths play an important part. The tribe assembled at regular intervals to celebrate a ceremonial dance, in which it
seems sacrifices were made to the sun. It may be that these ceremonials were more important and more elaborate than our present
information would seem to indicate. If such was the case, these
ceremonies must have resembled those of the Kootenay. The fundamental concepts of both seem to have been the same. They consisted in the worship of the sun, and appear to have been connected
with the idea that the dead would return from the land of the
__*/ 4 Introduction.
The brief sketch of the customs of the tribe here given will be
sufficient for an understanding of the tales recorded in the following pages; but it seems desirable to preface the collection by a short
discussion of a few of the more important features that characterize
the tales of the tribe. About one half of the volume is taken up
by myths referring to transformers. While in most American mythologies there is only one transformer who is, at the same time,
the culture hero, we find here several personages to whose actions
the present shape of our world is due. These are: the Coyote, the
three brothers Qoa'qLqaL, Kokwela, and the Old Man. The first and
the second of these are decidedly the most influential and important
personages in the whole mythology of the tribe.
The Coyote as well as the three brothers are in a way the culture
heroes of the tribe, and the general characteristics of the legends
referring to these beings are very similar to legends of this class
as found among other American tribes. The story of the so-called
" Culture Hero," who gave the world its present shape, who killed
monsters that infested the land, and gave man the arts that make
life worth living, is one of the most widely distributed Indian myths.
In what we might call the prehistoric era there was no clear distinction between man and animals. At last the culture hero appeared,
and transformed some of the beings of those times into animals,
others into men. He taught the latter how to kill animals, how to
make fire, and how to clothe themselves. He is the great benevolent
being, the helper of mankind. But the same great culture hero
appears in other groups of tales as a sly trickster, who vaingloriously
thinks himself superior to all other beings, whom he tries to deceive
in all sorts of ways, and who is often punished for his presumption
by the superior powers of his proposed victims. No method of warfare is too mean for him, if it promises to lead to victory; no trick is
too low to be resorted to, if it helps him to reach his end. Neither
is the end sought for one that we might consider worthy of this
great being. It is selfish to the extreme, the possession of riches
or that of beautiful women being his chief aim. It is very difficult
to harmonize these two aspects of the myths of the culture hero.
Some investigators, prominently Dr. D. G. Brinton, and also Dr.
Walter Hoffman,2 have held that the explanation is to be sought for
in a gradual deterioration of a purer and more primitive form of the
myth, and that the more vulgar tales are later additions to the old
cyclus of myths. If this were so, the problem would still remain,
why there is such a general tendency of making the ancient culture
hero the principal figure in these tales. But it seems to my mind
that the frequent occurrence of this phenomenon requires a different explanation.     It does not seem likely that all mythologies Introduction. 5
collected while still in more or less vigorous life should have undergone the same kind of deterioration. I am rather inclined to think
that w,e have to deal here with a most important characteristic of
all primitive religion.
The main features of the transformer legend appear very clearly
in the Raven tales of the Tlingit and Tsimshian.3 The tale begins
with the miraculous birth of the Raven. The faithless wife of a chief
was killed and buried by her husband. After her death she gave
birth to a child which was eventually found and raised by a chief.
The boy made a blanket of birdskins, by means of which he flew up
to the sky, where he married the Sun's daughter. They had a son
who owing to an accident fell down from heaven and was found
drifting in the sea. He was brought to an old chief, who loved him
very much and worried because the child would not eat. By the
advice of two old men who appeared in a miraculous manner, he
was given a certain kind of food. As soon as he tasted it he became so voracious that he ate all the accumulated winter provisions
of the tribe. Then the people deserted him. Now he assumed
the shape of the raven and began to traverse the world in search
of food. He came to the mouth of a large river, where he met
some fishermen whom he asked to give him fish. They scorned
him and refused his request. The fishermen were fishing in the
dark, for at that time the sun did not shine on our world. He
threatened them, saying that he would make the sun unless they
would give him some fish, but they merely said: " We know you,
Raven, you liar! | He flew away enraged, and went straight to the
house of the chief who owned the daylight. Here he transformed
himself into the spike of a hemlock-tree, in which form he was
swallowed by the chief's daughter. In course of time she gave birth
to a child who was no other than the Raven. The old chief dearly
loved his grandson, and was unable to refuse any of his requests.
One day the boy asked to be allowed to play with the box containing the daylight. As soon as he had obtained it, he resumed the
shape of the raven and flew away. He returned to the place where
he had left the fishermen, liberated the sun, and then saw that the
fishermen were the ghosts. They fled frightened, leaving their fish
for the Raven. He ate as much as he desired, and became very
thirsty. But at that time there was no fresh water in the world.
Therefore he set out to obtain the water, and deceived the old chief
who held it in his possession. On being pursued he spilled the
water, and for this reason we find water all over the world. At
another time, when he was hungry, he set out to obtain the herring, which he obtained by fraud. He also cheated the cormorant,
tearing out his tongue and thus depriving him of the faculty of 6 Introduction.
speech. For that reason the cormorant says wulewulewule up to
this day.
It is not necessary to go into any further details. It will be seen
that the main characteristic of these tales is the fact that, the Raven
gave the world its present shape while trying to satisfy his own
wants, and that he employed fair means and foul to reach his own
selfish ends. While his actions benefit mankind, he is not prompted
by altruistic motives, but only by the desire to satisfy his own
needs. I find that in most tales of the transformer, or of the culture hero, the prime motive is, as in this particular case, a purely
egotistical one, and that the changes which actually benefit mankind are only incidentally beneficial. They are primarily designed
by the transformer to reach his own selfish ends.
It will be well to illustrate the peculiar mental attitude of the
transformer by giving a few other examples. Among the Chinook *
we find the Coyote as the principal transformer or culture hero.
He was the first to catch salmon with nets. He was hungry and
tried to learn the art of catching salmon. He made a little man of
dirt, whom he asked about the method of obtaining salmon. This
artificial adviser told him how to make a net, and informed him
regarding all the numerous regulations referring to the capture of
salmon. He obeyed only partially, and consequently was not as
successful as he had hoped to be. He became angry, and said:
" Future generations of man shall always regard many regulations,
and shall make their nets with great labor, because even I had to
work, even I had to observe numerous regulations." He used to
drive his baskets filled with dry salmon to his winter quarters, but
one day they all ran away and jumped into the river. Since he had
failed in this attempt at making life easy, he cursed all future generations, condemning them to carry all loads on their backs and
taking away their powers of making the loads go by themselves.
The Tillamook,5 a Salish trjbe, tell the following story of the
transformer: In the beginning there were two animals in each
mussel, and one day the transformer overate himself. This annoyed
him, and he threw away one of these animals, so that each mussel
should not have too much meat. It will be seen from this that all
the changes that these transformers made were in a way changes
for the worse, and that they made them in anger at some disappointment that they had had, or at some discomfort that they had suffered, not with a view of benefiting mankind. While the Raven was
regardless of man, the Coyote* of the Chinook made most of the
changes to spite him.
Among the Athapascan tribes of northwestern America we find
also most inventions made and transformations accomplished by Introduction. 7
a being who tries to reach his own selfish ends. Thus Petitot6
tells of Kunyan, who made the first arrows for defending himself.
Later on he killed the people, and when the deluge was threatening
he built a raft to save himself. It seems that on it he collected the
animals for his future use. He then brought up the mud from the
bottom of the sea, from which a new earth was created. Later on
he found that there was no water in the world and he obtained it for
his own use.
The Klamath myths of the " Old Man," recorded by Gatschet,
seem to partake of the same character. The " Old Man" is the
creator, but in ridding the country of malevolent beings he only
tries to overcome his own enemies. He kills North Wind and South
Wind in revenge for their having killed his brother.
I might add many more examples of this character, almost all
from the tribes of the northwestern parts of America, but it may be
well to add an example taken from another region. The god Kutka
of the Kamchadal, according to the description given by Steller,
corresponded exactly to the Raven creator of the Alaskan Indians.
It seems, therefore, that in this region at least, the being who
gave the world its present shape and man his arts was not prompted
by altruistic motives. He did so in the course of his personal
adventures, often with the direct aim of harming his enemies. He
is not what we ordinarily understand by the term " culture hero,"
a benevolent being of great power whose object it is to advance the
interests of mankind, but he is simply one of many more or less
powerful beings who gave the world its present shape. With this
conception of the so-called culture hero the difficulty disappears of
uniting in one person the benevolent being and the trickster. He
helps man only incidentally by advancing his own interests. This
he tries to do by fair means or foul, just as the Indian will treat
his enemy. When he overcomes his enemies, the result of his
labors must accrue to the benefit of his fellow beings or of later
generations, while wherever he fails, he necessarily often appears as
a foolish trickster. We have a condition corresponding almost
exactly to the attitude of mediaeval Christendom to the devil. The
latter was considered as a powerful being, always intent to advance
his own interests. Often he succeeds, but often his triumph is defeated by the cleverness of his adversaries. The difference between
these two series of myths lies mainly in the fact that the devil in all
his adventures had only one object in view, namely, the acquisition
of souls, while the Indian transformer struggled with a great variety
of enemies who infested the country.
This aspect of the transformer myths makes it also intelligible
why failures as well as successes should be ascribed to the hero. r
8 Introduction.
There was no psychological reason which made it more difficult to
ascribe failures to him than successes; and since he was one of the
most important figures of Indian mythology, it is quite reasonable
to suppose that gradually more and more tales clustered around
It may be asked why, if the hero of these tales is not intentionally
a benefactor of mankind, do his acts always result in advantages to
man. I believe the explanation of this phenomenon must be looked
for largely in the circumstance that the human mind has a tendency
to consider existing conditions as the results of changes. The world
has not always been what it is now. It has developed, either for
better or for worse. On the whole, the progress of invention among
a more primitive people is not so rapid that man is induced to
speculate on the possible future achievements of his race. There
is rather a tendency to consider the present accomplishments as the
stationary result of a previous development. Therefore it is hardly
likely that Indian traditions should speak of lost arts; they will
rather refer to the introduction of new arts, and consequently the
introducer must appear as the culture hero. The only exceptions
that seem at all possible are such when the native imagines that
previous races were able to accomplish certain feats by means of
magical powers, which in course of time were lost. These ideas are
embodied in many animal stories, and appear very clearly in the
Coyote tales of the Chinook to which I referred before.
It is the same when we consider the relation of man to animals
and plants. Everywhere he has succeeded fairly well in conquering
ferocious animals and making others useful to himself. There is
hardly any being that he is not able to overcome in some manner or
the other. But still the difficulties are often so great, that we can
easily understand how his fancy will create stories of animals that
man was not able to subjugate, or conditions under which he was
not able to conquer the animals that furnish food and clothing. His
fancy cannot as easily invent conditions under which it would be
possible to conquer the animal world more easily by natural means,
than is done now, because he cannot foresee possible improvements
in weapons of attack and defense. Therefore it seems intelligible
why so many stories describing the primitive status of our world
refer to the extinction of monsters by heroes.
It seems to my mind that the tales described heretofore do not
contain the peculiar psychological discrepancy which is so puzzling,
if we bear only in mind that the so-called culture hero is not considered by the Indian as an altruistic being but as an egotist pure
and simple.
But there are many cases in which the natives have advanced to a Introduction. 9
higher point of view, and ascribe to the hero at least partially the
desire to benefit his friends. With the development of this point of
view the incongruity of the various parts of the transformer myth
becomes more and more striking. When the Algonquin, for instance, tell of their Manibozhoo, that he instituted all the secret
societies for the benefit of mankind, that he is a great and benevolent being, and at the same time relate the most absurd stories of
their hero, the psychological discrepancy of the two groups of
myths becomes very evident.
It is very important to note that we find a gradual transition from
the purely egotistical transformer legends, if I may use this term, to
the clearly altruistic series. The transformer legend of the Kwa-
kiutl of Vancouver Island7 is very instructive in this respect. The
transformer meets a number of enemies who are planning his death.
They do not recognize him and tell him of their plans. Then he
transforms them into animals, and ordains that they shall be the
food of man. He is thirsty, and in order to obtain water, he slays a
monster that has killed a whole tribe. In all these cases he acts
from egotistical motives. Later on he gives the laws governing the
religious ceremonials of the tribe. This he does in the following
manner: he meets the ancestors of the various clans, and they test
their powers. Sometimes he is vanquished, and then his adversary
obtains certain privileges as the fruit of his victory. In other cases
he proves to be the stronger. Then he takes pity on his rival, and
gives him certain ceremonials as a present. In all these adventures
he appears as a powerful chief who is travelling all over the world,
not with a view of making man happier, but doing so incidentally in
the course of his adventures. Still the Kwakiutl look at him distinctly as the culture hero, and in this I see a fundamental difference from the manner in which the Tsimshian look at the Raven.
They recognize the Raven as the creator, but his actions were so
little dictated by considerations of the needs of man that they owe
him no thanks for what he has done. The Kamchadal express
this attitude very exactly when they say that the God Kutka was
very foolish, that he might have arranged things very much better
when he was creating the world. The transformer of the Kwakiutl,
on the other hand, gave his gifts to the ancestors of the .various
clans, and these gifts were naturally intended for the benefit of their
families, although they were not prompted by clearly altruistic
motives. Therefore the Kwakiutl revere their transformer. The
mental attitude has entirely changed.
Another instructive example is that of the transformer of the
Blackfeet.8 It is stated that he taught many arts to man because
he pitied him.    But other important changes of nature and similar io Introduction.
events came about without any such intention on his part. Death
was the result of a bet between him and a woman. Animals obtained their fat in a feast given to them by the transformer.
In short, we find that among various tribes the altruistic side is
developed very unequally.
It seems quite intelligible that with the progress of society there
should develop a tendency of substituting for the coarse motives
of the primitive transformer higher ones. With the consciousness
that the changes effected by the transformer were useful to man
may have developed the idea that they were made with the view of
benefiting mankind. The traditions of the Kwakiutl may be taken
to indicate a transitional point in the ethical aspect -of these myths,
the changes being made not for the good of mankind, but for the
benefit of a particular friend of the transformer. The less the
altruistic idea is developed, the less will be the consciousness of a
discrepancy between the tales representing the transformer as a
benefactor and as a trickster. The higher it is developed, the
greater will be the friction between the two groups of tales. Hence
we find that wherever this idea is brought out most clearly, the tales
of the trickster are ascribed to a different being. The personage
of the transformer is split in two or more parts; the one representing the true culture hero, the other retaining the features of the
trickster. This has been done in the mythology of the Micmac and
Penobscot,9 where Glooskap retains almost exclusively the features
becoming to the benefactor of mankind. Still I think that in a few
of his adventures the more primitive conception of the transformer
may be recognized. The higher the civilization of the tribe, the
more sharply, it seems, is the line drawn between the culture hero
and the trickster.
I am well aware that the theory here proposed does not clear up all
the difficult questions connected with this subject, but I think that it
at least does away with the troublesome psychological discrepancy
between the two aspects of the transformer. I venture to suggest
that perhaps this theory would appear much better established if all
the Indian mythologies were recorded just as told by the Indian
uninfluenced by contact with civilization. As a matter of fact, many
were recorded by missionaries, who would naturally introduce in all
tales of a culture hero the altruistic element much more strongly
than it is mentioned by the Indian. Their whole training would
tend to introduce this bias. The same is true to a certain extent of
all white collectors, unless the traditions are recorded verbatim. I
have examined the available literature quite closely, and find that
very few collectors actually give the motive which led the transformer to carry out certain actions, although the latter is often Introduction. 11
implied by the incidents of the story. I think that in all probability
if Indian mythologies were available in their pure original form, the
egotistic character of the transformer would appear very much more
strongly than is the case at present.
Such criticism must, however, be applied most sparingly, because
the plausibility of our theory may induce us to reject evidence on
account of its incongruity with the theory. It seems, however,
justifiable to suggest to collectors of myths the desirability of paying particular attention to the motives ascribed to the culture hero
and to investigate if his character is that of a pure egotist in other
regions and among other tribes than those mentioned before. If
this should prove to be the case, I should be inclined to consider
the theory that has been suggested here as well established.
The traditions of the Thompson River Indians, as recorded by
Mr. Teit, show a peculiar development of the transformer myths.
There are at least four distinct personages who may be considered
as culture heroes or transformers. The most important one among
them is the Coyote, around whom a great many traditions cluster.
In his case the peculiar mixture of characteristics described on the
preceding pages is very marked. He is a being of great power; he
performed many feats in consequence of which the world assumed
its present shape. A great many local features of the country inhabited by the Thompson River Indians originated through his
agency. In many of his actions he appears as the trickster, and all
his methods are based on sly cunning. The series of Coyote legends
of this tribe resembles very much the Coyote tales with which we
are familiar from a number of points on the western plateaus of our
continent, and I do not doubt that they belong to this series. In all
these tales he appears as a transformer and a culture hero, but he is
not moved by the desire of benefiting mankind; he accomplishes
all transformations of the world in the pursuit of his own ends.
The second series of transformer myths refer to the three brothers
Qoa'qLqaL. I do not think that we can interpret the differentiation
of transformers in the legends of the Thompson River Indians as
due to the developing desire of differentiating the altruistic and
egotistic side of this being, because the tales of the Qoa'qLqaL do
not by any means bring out an altruistic point of view more clearly
than those of the Coyote. It seems much more likely that the
latter group of legends are simply new traditions introduced from
the lower course of Fraser River. A comparison between these
tales and the Xals legends of the tribes who live at the delta of
Fraser River and on southeastern Vancouver Island show that
these two series are practically identical, except that the Xals series
is very much more elaborate.10 Introduction.
It is not so easy to explain the origin of the legend of the transformer Kokwe'la. This being is the son of the hog-fennel (Petice-
danum), a plant which plays a most important part in the ceremonials of the tribes of lower Fraser River, but which, so far as I am
aware, is not personified to any extent among them. I have not
found any analogon of this legend among the neighboring tribes.
The fourth transformer is called " The Old Man," but it does not
seem that there are many elaborate myths referring to him. The
whole concept of the Old Man is so much like that of the Kootenay
and Blackfeet, that I am rather inclined to consider these groups of
tales as having a common origin. In order to establish this point,
it will be necessary to investigate the transformer tales of the Shuswap and Okanagon, which are, however, only imperfectly known.
If the Qoa'qLqaL legends and those of the Old Man are really of
foreign origin, the numerous instances of contests between these
beings may be explained very naturally as a result of comparisons of
their powers. Numerous examples of this kind are known from the
mediaeval epics, in which the heroes of most heterogeneous groups
of legends are made to struggle against each other. This is the
leading idea of the tradition of the " Rosengarten," in which all the
heroes of the old German tales appear, and compete against each
This theory is, however, acceptable only if we can prove that the
tales of the Thompson River Indians really contain foreign elements.
It may be well to discuss at least one of their legends rather fully
with a view of establishing this important point. I select the Coyote
tradition for this purpose.
We will begin our analysis with the story of NLi'ksEntEm (p. 21).
It is not certain that the beginning of the story, in which it is told
how the Coyote made boys out of clay, gum, and stone, has any
analogy among the neighboring tribes. It is true that among the
coast tribes a myth occurs in which the gum is presented as a man
who is made to melt in the sun; but it occurs in entirely different
connections, and it is doubtful if this incident in the Coyote tradition is directly related to the corresponding tale of the coast. The
latter refers to the attempt of the Raven to obtain gum. He induces the gum-man to go fishing with him. He exposes him to the
hot sun until he is melted.
The next incident of our tale, however, can be traced among many
of the neighboring tribes. Coyote makes a tree, which he induces
his son to climb. Then he makes the tree grow until it reaches the
sky. The inducement held out to the boy is a nest of eagles on the
top of the tree. The Poncan tell the same incident. They relate,
how Ishtinike makes a tree, and induces his friend to climb it in Introduction. 13
order to recover his arrows. Petitot tells the identical story from the
Hare Indians and from the Chippewayan.12 Dr. Livingston Farrand
has found the story of an ascent of the sky by means of a growing
tree among the Chilcotin, who live northwest of the Thompson River
Indians. The boy reaches the sky and travels over an extensive
prairie. After a while he reaches houses in which baskets and
other household utensils are living, and when he tries to carry away
one of them, he is beaten by the others, and finds that they are
the inhabitants of the house. This last incident has no very
close analogon among the other tribes, although it reminds us forcibly of the visit to the house of the shadows, told by the Chinook,
Tsimshian, and Tlingit.13 In these tales the traveller reaches a
house inhabited by shadows, by whom he is beaten whenever he
tries to take away some of their provisions and of their household
The Coyote travels on, and meets two blind women, whom he
makes quarrel by taking away their food. They smell him, and are
transformed into birds. This tale is found very extensively along
the Pacific coast. The tribes of lower Fraser River tell of a boy
who reached the sky, and met two blind sisters. He takes away
their food and makes them quarrel. Then they advise him in regard to the dangers that he is going to encounter on his way to the
house of the sun.14 The same incident occurs in the traditions of
the Coast Salish, referring to a man who tried to recover his wife,
who was carried away by a finback whale. • He descended to the
bottom of the sea, and met a number of blind old women, one of
whom was distributing food among the others. He took it away
and opened their eyes, and in return was given advice by the
women.15 The Comox tell of a young man who visited the sky,
where he met the Snail-women, whose food he took away. He restored their eyesight, and they advised them in regard to the dangers
he would meet.16 The Kwakiutl have the tradition of a man who
wanted to marry the daughter of a chief. On his journey he met a
number of old women, and the same incident occurred as told
before.17 In Nahwitti the same story is told of a great transformer,
Q'a'nig'ilak11, who met four blind girls, whom he made quarrel in
the same manner. He transformed them into ducks.18 Finally, I
have recorded the same incident among the Bella Coola, who tell of
a boy who reached the sky, and restored the eyesight of a number
of blind women. He transformed them into ducks. All these incidents are identical with those recorded among the Thompson River
Indians. Far to the east, in the collection of tales of the Ponca
made by Dorsey, a similar incident occurs, which, however, bears
only slight resemblance with  the one discussed here, and which 14 Introduction.
may be of quite independent origin. It is told how an invisible
visitor burns the cheek of the Thunderers, and thus makes them
The following incident, in which it is told how the boy visited the
spiders and how they let him down from the sky, does not exhibit
any striking similarities with the tales of the neighboring tribes,
although the occurrence of a descent from heaven by help of a spider
is an exceedingly frequent feature of the North American mythologies. The descent from the sky is remarkably similar to a descent
told by the tribes of lower Fraser River, in which two spiders let
the visitor down in a basket which is tied to a long rope. When he
reaches the tops of the trees, he shakes the rope, whereupon the
spiders continue to let him down until he reaches the ground.20 The
story of the Chippewayan21 may also be mentioned here: a person
is let down from the sky by means of a rope.
The following incidents of the tale do not give any occasion for
remarks, although they remind us in a general way of the tales of
the neighboring tribes. When we confine ourselves to more complicated events, we are again struck by the incidents told on p. 26.
The Raven is given deer-fat by a person whom he had helped
before; he took the fat home and gave it secretly to his children.
The attention of the people was called to this fact by the noise
the children were making when being fed by the Raven. A person
made one of the children disgorge the fat, and thus discovered
that the Raven was well provided for, while the other people
were starving. This incident occurs in the traditions of the Coast
Salish, where a boy sends fish to his grandmother, who hides them
until dark. The fish are discovered, however, when she begins to
eat them. The same tale is told by the Kwakiutl, where the boy
sends his grandmother whale blubber, which is discovered when
she is eating it. The incident is also told at Nahwitti. Farther
north the traditions agree with that of the Thompson River Indians,
in that a child is made to disgorge the food. We find this tale
among the Bella Coola and among the Tsimshian.22 Dr. L. Farrand
has recorded the same tale among the Chilcotin.
The following parts of the tradition have very close analoga on
the coast; more particularity with the mink tales of the tribes on
lower Fraser River and with the As'ai'yahaL tradition of the Tillamook.23
Among the other Coyote tales the fourth and the last are rather
remarkable on account of their distribution. Coyote meets a cannibal. He proposes that they shall close their eyes and vomit into
two dishes, in order to see what kind of food they eat. Coyote exchanges the dishes before the cannibal opens his eyes, thus making Introduction. 15
him believe that he himself is a cannibal. The Shuswap ascribe
this incident to the Coyote and the Cannibal Owl, while far to the
south the Navaho tell the same of Coyote and the Brown Giant.24
The last story tells of the unsuccessful attempts of Coyote to
imitate his hosts who produced food by magical means. We may
compare with this tale that of the Chinook, who tell how Blue Jay
tried to imitate his hosts; 26 that of the Comox, Nootka, and Kwakiutl of Vancouver Island, and of the Bella Coola and Tsimshian of
northern British Columbia,26 who tell the same story of the Raven.
Dr. Farrand found the tale among the Chilcotin. Dorsey has
recorded it among the Ponca, who tell of Ishtinike's vain attempts to
imitate his hosts,27 and Rand tells it from the Micmac, among whom
the Rabbit is the hero of the tale.28 Finally we find it told of the
Coyote among the Navaho, although among this tribe the incidents
are materially changed.29
The distribution of the various parts of the Coyote legend as described here is conclusive proof of its complex origin. It is quite
inconceivable that all these complex parts of the tradition should
have originated independently among the tribes among whom we
find them now. This view is strengthened by the fact that the
incidents are most nearly alike among neighboring tribes. In the
notes to the various tales recorded in this volume, numerous additional instances of close resemblances between the tales of the
Thompson River Indians and their neighbors are given, which corroborate the evidence brought forward in the preceding remarks.
It appears, therefore, that there is ample proof of transmission of
tales to the Thompson River Indians from foreign sources and vice
versa. It was suggested before (p. 12), that if such proof can be
given, we may assume that the transformer myths originated from
different sources, and have not had time to amalgamate. The similarity of the series of Coyote tales with the Coyote tales of the
south and east, and with the animal tales of the coast, and of the
Qoa/qLqaL legend with the Xals legend, point to the sources from
which the various series of transformer tales sprang.
I doubt if it will ever be possible to determine the origin of all
the parts of the tales of this tribe that have been woven into their
structure. It may be that we shall better understand the history of
their development when we shall have fuller collections than are
now available from the tribes of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.
Their relation to the legendary lore of the coast tribes of British
Columbia, however, seems well established. It appears that a considerable number of tales were borrowed bodily from the coast tribes,
and were incorporated ready-made in the tales of the Thompson
River tribe.    It is, therefore, certain that these importations when 16 Introduction.
interwoven with mythical tales never have had any symbolic significance among the people whose property they are now. They are not
nature myths, in the generally adopted sense of the term. While
dealing with phenomena of nature and with the peculiarities of
animals, they are not the result of tribal thought; they are at best
adaptations of foreign thought, but much more frequently importations that have undergone little if any change. The present character of Indian mythologies can be understood only by historical
studies regarding their origin. How much is due to independent
thought or to gradual adaptation, under the influences of environment and of new social conditions, remains to be determined by
detailed comparative studies.
We may trace the influence of environment in the modifications
that the tales undergo, owing to differences in the mode of life
of various tribes. Thus the tales of the fishermen of the seacoast
who spend most of their time in their canoes, and whose villages are located near the shore, differ in many respects from the
tales of the Thompson River Indians, who hunt part of the year in
the mountains. The animals who are the heroes of the tales, also
change from one locality to the other. In northern British Columbia the Raven takes the place of the Coyote; on Vancouver Island
the Mink takes his place, while still farther south, among the Chinook, the Blue Jay assumes many of his functions.
But much more striking than the influence of geographical environment is that of the social status of the tribe. The clan organization
of the coast tribes pervades their whole mythology and all their
traditions, while the loose social organizations of the tribes of the
interior gives their tales a peculiar character. This difference is
brought out very strongly in the myths of the transformer as found
among a number of coast tribes and those of the interior. Every
clan has-a legend expounding the events that took place at the time
of meeting between the transformer and the ancestor of the clan,
while there is no such personal relation between the Indians and
the transformer in the interior. The rivalry between clans is one
of the mainsprings of action in these tales. It is evident that in
many cases tales which originally had no totemic bearing were
appropriated by a clan and changed so as to become clan traditions.
I have described a number of such changes in a fuller discussion of
the social system of the Kwakiutl.30 Other tales developed numerous variants among various clans, the more elaborate social organization acting as a stimulus for the development of traditions. The
same is true in the case of ritualistic myths. The complicated rituals
of the coast tribes are all part and parcel of traditions, and some of
the latter are made to explain the ritual.    Conclusions founded on Introduction. 17
observation of the tribes of British Columbia and on that of the
Pueblo tribes of the southwest31 agree, in that they tend to show
that the ritual and, we may say in a more general way, the social
system, have been foisted upon the myths, thus producing variations,
which tend to establish harmony between mythology and social
The Salish tribes, to which the Thompson River Indians belong,
owing to their wide distribution and diversity of culture, offer a very
interesting example of the influence of social organization upon
mythology. The great body of the people have the same loose
organization that we find among the Thompson River tribe; but
among the tribes living on the coast more complex conditions
prevail. They have been under the influence of the tribes of the
coast of British Columbia for so long a time, that their customs and
beliefs have undergone material changes. The loose village community has been replaced by one claiming common descent from
one mythical ancestor.
This transition may be observed among the tribes of the Delta
of Fraser River, who are closely allied to the Thompson River
Indians. Each village has a mythical ancestor, and some of these
are described as animals. It may be well to make clearer the peculiar
character of these tales by means of a few abstracts of myths.
The ancestor of the Ma/sxui, a tribe whose village is near the mouth
of Fraser River, was SqEle'yiL (derived from sqEla'o, beaver). When
the transformer visited his village they had a contest, in the course
to which they tried to transform each other. Finally the transformer
proved to be the stronger of the two. He transformed SqEle'yiL into
a beaver. It seems that in a few cases these traditions contain
memories of historical events. Such seems to be the case in the
tradition of the origin of the StEe'lis, who live on Harrison River.
The name of their ancestor is Ts'a/tSEmiltx. One of his descendants is said to have invited a chief named QulqE'mEx'i'l, whose
ancestors were the marten and the mountain goat, to descend from
the mountains and to live with him. Since that time the descendants of these two chiefs are said to have formed one tribe.32 I think
the occurrence of these traditions must be explained in the following
way : The coast tribes north of Fraser River are divided in totemic
clans, each of which has a clan tradition. All the privileges of the
clans are explained by the clan traditions, which, for this reason, are
considered a most valuable property. That this is so is indicated by
the jealousy with which the property right to certain traditions is
guarded by the families of the coast tribes. When the Salish tribes
began to be thrown into contact with the coast tribes, the lack of
family traditions must have been felt as a great disadvantage. Their 18 Introduction.
lack made the tribe, in a way, inferior to their neighbors on the
coast, and for this reason the tendency and the desire of evolving
myths of this character becomes intelligible. But the tribe was
organized on a different basis from that of the coast people. While
the latter were divided into clans, the idea that was present to the
minds of the Salish people was that of the village community; and
it is clear, therefore, that the traditions which developed would be of
such a character that each village would have one mythical ancestor.
The same change has taken place among the Bella Coola, whose
mythology is much more thoroughly modified by the coast tribes
than that of the Salish tribes of Fraser River.
These considerations have an important bearing upon the interpretation of the myths of primitive people, such as are recorded in
the following pages. I have tried to show that the material of
which they are built up is of heterogeneous origin, and that much
of it is adopted ready-made. The peculiar manner in which foreign
and indigenous material is interwoven and worked into a somewhat
homogeneous fabric depends to a great extent upon the social conditions and habits of the people. Oft-repeated actions which are
the expression of social laws, and which constitute the habits and
customs of the people, may be expected to be more stable than traditions that are not repeated in a prescribed form or ritual, and have
thus become intimately associated with habitual actions. This is
probably the reason why we find that ritual moulds the explanatory
myth, and why, in a more general way, the myth is made to conform
with the social status 6f the people. Discrepancies between the
two, in a general way at least, belong to the class of phenomena
that are called " survivals." The discrepancy may consist in the
preservation of earlier customs in traditions, or in fragments of early
traditions under modified social conditions. The survivals themselves are proof of the gradual process of assimilation between social
conditions and traditions which has wrought fundamental changes
in the lore of mankind.
Both factors, dissemination and modification on account of social
causes, must tend to obscure the original significance of the myth.
The contents of mythology prove clearly that attempts at the explanation of nature are the primary source of myths. But we must bear
in mind that, owing to the modifications they have undergone, we
cannot hope to gain an insight into their earliest form by comparisons and interpretations, unless they are based on a thorough
inquiry into the historical changes that have given to myths their
present forms. It would seem that mythological worlds have been
built up, only to be shattered again, and that new worlds were built
from the fragments.  


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