How Shewish Became a Great Whale Hunter

Names Occurring in the Legend of Shewish

The Killer Whale or Ka-Kow-in has a large dorsal fin shown in a conventional manner in the pictograph between the Thunder Bird and the face of the Indian girl, sister to Shewish. The Killer Whale was often used as a family emblem or crest and as a source from which personal names were derived.

Klootsmah or Kloots-a-mah plural Klootsmuk the Indian word for "married woman" but used in the legends for girls as well as women. According to Gilbert Malcolm Sproat who lived in Alberni in the early "sixties" the term used for a young girl or daughter was "Ha-quitl-is" and for an unmarried woman "Ha-quatl."

Toquaht--the home of the Toquaht tribe of Indians, an old settlement on the north shore of Barkley Sound between Ucluelet and Pipestem Inlet.

The Kutsack, or Kats-hek is a loose cloak or mantle woven from the soft inner bark of the yellow cedar tree. Indian mats were made from the inner bark of the red cedar.

Pictographic painting, the coat of arms of Shewish, Seshaht Chief. (Drawn by J. Semeyn from original sketch by the author)

How Shewish Became a Great Whale Hunter

The bark gives way and comes in strips from off the trees.
The centre figure in the pictographic painting is a wolf grotesquely drawn. Within her body four young wolves are seen. Above the wolf is a killer whale surmounted by a second picture of the Thunder Bird, and in the left top corner of the pictograph is seen the face of a young klootsmah or Indian girl. How strangely are her features pictured. With upturned hands she gazes in a blank unvarying stare. She holds the key to this old tale which the great scroll perpetuates. One time this Indian maiden, daughter of a chief of great renown, with her two sisters left their home on Village Island. They went in search of yellow cedar bark which grew in quantity upon the mountain top above the village, of Toquaht. The cedar bark is highly prized, and when the sap ascends in May to feed the new born green, the bark is loose and easily removed, and when the klootsmah cuts the bark through to the sap half round the tree and pulls with all her strength, it comes in strips from off the tree till the first branch is reached, and then it breaks and falls obedient at her dark feet. The klootsmah rolls it up and puts it in the basket on her back, and when she reaches home she splits the bark, and pounds it between stones, with water softening it, and after long and tedious work the fibres being separated, she cleanses them and weaves them into cloaks, and then with true artistic taste, trims them with pretty fur.

The daughters of the Village Island chief took with them food to last for three whole suns. They started early, for many miles of paddling lay between them and the Toquaht shore. At length they reached the beach, and hiding their canoe beneath a giant spruce, they followed where a little trail beckoned them on and up the mountain side. For hours they climbed, wending their way through lonely, silent woods, the twittering wren the only life they saw or heard. At times they lost the trail, as it was overgrown with fern and berry bush. But once the leading klootsmah stopped and signed to her companions to keep still. Halting, they waited while she pointed to the root fangs of a cedar tree, where well within the hollow butt a western timber wolf had made her lair. Gone was the mother, perhaps in quest of deer with which to feed her four young pups who calmly slept within that sheltered cave, awaiting her return.

The Indians are a superstitious race, and one of the old fetishes was this: that if by chance they could secure the young of a wolf from which to take some precious inner part, to rub upon the outer side of their canoes, it gave great luck in whaling, and thus it came to pass that when the klootsmuk found the she wolf's lair, they formed the plan of taking to their brother the four wolf pups, in order that he might become the chief of all whale hunters. Cautiously they placed them in the baskets on their backs and then retraced their steps. In time they reached the beach, and entered their canoe, when just as they pushed off, with giant springs and angry howl leapt the great mother wolf from the woods, but the klootsmuk were safe with their strange prizes, and soon their canoe cut gleefully through the waves, while their songs were wafted landward by the western breeze.

Halibut hook and club for stunning fish.
Upon an isle not far from home they hid the young wolf pups. This done, they squatted on the shore, and thought how best they might inform their brother of their lucky find. They were puzzled as to how this might be managed without awakening jealousies among the other members of the tribe, and they were fearful to face their father's wrath who surely would expect their craft well laden with the cedar bark. They reasoned long and then decided on a stratagem. One of the three would cut her foot with a mussel shell, and mark her tunic with the blood, and tell the story, that when they landed on the Toquaht shore an open mussel shell had cut her foot, therefore they could not go for cedar bark. They carried out this plan, and paddled slowly to Ho-moh-ah. The people saw them come, and wondered much what evil had befallen them, but when they saw the blood upon the kutsack of the youngest girl and saw her bound up foot, they guessed the trouble. Before the sun had set, the brother had been told of the wolf pups, and secretly that night he had taken from them the precious parts, and when he went hunting, he rubbed the medicine on his canoe, and had such wondrous luck he soon became the chief of all whale hunters. Such is the story told by that weird painting, which could be seen some years ago adorning the dark walls of the great potlatch house of Shewish, Seshaht chief on Ho-moh-ah but better known as Village Island, Barkley Sound.

Next: The Finding of the Tsomass

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