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The Thunder Bird Tootooch Legends

W. L. Webber

Available as PDF, epub, and Kindle ebook.

Tags: Folklore

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The Thunder Bird Tootooch Legends: Folk tales of the Indian tribes of the pacific northwest coast Indians, is a transcription of a pamphlet which was originally sold to the tourist trade in British Columbia. First published in 1936, it describes a vocabulary of symbols which are incorporated into totem poles, including a representative myth for each animal. Chapters include: Eena, The Beaver; Pi-Chikamin, The Gift Copper; Ho-Xhok, (Ho-Hook), The Crane; Shwah Kuk, The Frog; Wolalee, The Salmon; Slag’ame, The Butterfly; Shaman, The Medicine Man; Chak-Chak, The Eagle; Kwel-Kwel, The Owl; Welala, The Mountain Spirit, and many more.

This book has 51 pages in the PDF version, and was originally published in 1936.

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Excerpt from 'The Thunder Bird Tootooch Legends'

When the early explorers, Captain Cook and the Fur Trader, Captain John Mears, sailed the seas of the Pacific Northwest, a great deal of their time was spent on the West Coast of Vancouver Island at Nootka, then known as "Friendly Cove," where the early ships of the Spanish Dons chanced to touch.

The early adventurers observed that the aborigines practiced what they thought to be a hitherto unknown religion, having many weird rituals and ceremonies and requiring a grotesque regalia representing the supernatural animals and birds. This religion has since been identified as Totemism.

Totemism was created in the pre-historic age by the fathers of organized society and improved as the mentality of the human race developed. When ancient hunting had ceased, the tribes formed themselves into fishing communes, out of which rose private property, social classes and slaves, thereby creating the custom of barter. This first transition of mankind occurred thousands of years ago in Europe, Asia and Africa. The records of these first human movements are given in stone on the Upper Nile and in the temples of India. It is hard to imagine in these modern times, when civilization is supposed to be at a high peak, that the Indians of the Northwest and other North American Indians, were so belated. The transitions of the human race are slow, they have many setbacks. Totemistic societies still function in many other parts of the world, as among the native tribes of Australia, Korea, and even in modern Japan.

The functions of the Totemism of the Indians of the Pacific Northwest and, especially, the British Columbia, represent many aspects. The first Totemic Symbol was supposed by the ancestors of these tribes to have floated to their shores from some unknown source. On it were perched three crows to guide it through the troubled waters of remote seas. The Indians also believed that when their forefathers were first placed upon the earth it was essential that they should marry their kith and kin, but they later discovered that if they were to continue this practice their race would decay. This was arrested by forbidding the members of the same family to mate, being blood relations. From this sprung totemism, functioning with its clans and their many septs. Among the Haidas, the seat of the culture, there came into being the Sky People and the Ocean People. From the Sky People came the Raven (Thunder Bird among other tribes), and the Eagle. From these came the septs embracing the Sun, Sky, Stars, the Moon and Birds and the Grandmother, the first Creator. From the Ocean People sprang the creatures that live in the water: Blackfish (Killer Whale), Codfish, Halibut, Salmon, Seal and Sea Otter, as well as many supernatural animals that were supposed to live beneath the sea. These latter are so grotesque that they seem to have stepped out of the preglacial ages of the dinosaurs. Around these symbols were created their culture and legends. They preserved them by carving them on their implements of daily use, also painting them in their interiors of their lodges, as they had not arrived mentally at the point of devising a method of inscribing this history on monuments or on the written page.

Prior to the time when the Indians came in contact with the Europeans, there were no outside Totem Poles or elaborate carvings. These were only achieved by the advent of iron tools, the culture therefore reached its height between 1860 and 1900. Indian villages of British Columbia then became veritable forests of totem poles, there being from ten to fifty erected in each locality. After 1900 the culture slowly declined on account of the Indian Act of the Dominion, which governs Indian affairs, and which forbids Potlatch Gatherings. The Clergy also prevailed upon the Indians saying: "There is only one true God." Hundreds of totems were cut down and burned. Some of the tribesmen deplored the destruction of these relics of art. Many of the grotesque and hideous monsters of their imagination were saved by collectors and found their way to museums throughout the world. At present there is not an Indian settlement of the North Pacific Coast that can show much of its former splendour. Due to the prohibition of Potlatches, which curtails their rites and feasts, the Indian's secret orders are now the almost forgotten glory of a changing race.

Of the aborigines of the Northwest there were only five tribes that carved Totem Poles, these were in Southeast Alaska and British Columbia and comprised the Haidas, Tsimshians, Bella Coola, Kwakitutl and Nootka. There are various kinds of Totem Poles, they can not all be treated fully in this book: Family poles, Tribal Totems, and House Posts. The latter are used to support the heavy beams in community or private houses. They are from ten to twelve feet in height and composed of two or three objects such as Thunder Bird, Bear and a Slave (Two examples are to be seen in Stanley Park, Vancouver) or whatever was the owner's crest. Tribal Totem Poles are the mythological history which would embrace forms of genealogy, charms, evil spirits, legends and witchcraft. This would also apply to family Totems, which would also be inscribed with the individual's greatness gained through potlatches or by heredity and which were generally erected by the nephew of the deceased, the next in line of inheritance.

Production notes: This edition of The Thunder Bird Tootooch Legends was published by Global Grey ebooks on 15th January 2021. The artwork used for the cover is 'Making Sweet Grass Medicine, Blackfoot Ceremony' by Joseph Henry Sharp.

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