Baxbakwalanuxsiwae

Variations: Baxbaxwalanuksiwe, Baxbakualanuxsi’wae, Baqbakualanusi’uae, Baqbakualanosi’uae, Baqbakualanuqsi’uae, Baqbakua’latle, Cannibal-at-the-North-End-of-the-World, He-Who-First-Ate-Man-at-the-Mouth-of-the-River, He-Who-First-Ate-Humans-on-the-Water, Ever-More-Perfect-Manifestation-of-the-Essence-of-Humanity, Man-Eater

Baxbaxwalanuksiwe

Baxbakwalanuxsiwae is the greatest and most terrifying of beings in Kwakwaka’wakw folklore. His name is alternately translated as “Cannibal-at-the-North-End-of-the-World” and “He-Who-First-Ate-Man-at-the-Mouth-of-the-River”; “Ever-More-Perfect-Manifestation-of-the-Essence-of-Humanity” is a more sanitized and euphemistic version. “Man-Eater” succinctly describes him. He is the central figure of the enigmatic Hamatsa, or “Cannibal” ceremony.

The appearance of Baxbakwalanuxsiwae is horrifying. He is anthropomorphic or bearlike in appearance. His entire body is covered in gaping, snapping, bloody mouths, and his call is “hap, hap, hap” (“eat, eat, eat”). His house is covered in red cedar bark, with blood-red smoke pouring out of the chimney.

He is attended by a number of equally vile creatures. His wife Qominaga, wearing red and white cedar bark, and his slave Kinqalalala, bring him his human meals. Qoaxqoaxualanuxsiwae, the “Raven-at-the-North-End-of-the-World”, pecks out his victims’ eyes. Hoxhogwaxtewae, “Hoxhok-of-the-Sky”, a giant crane, cracks skulls with its very long beak and devours the brains. Gelogudzayae (“Crooked-Beak-of-the-Sky”) and Nenstalit (“Grizzly-Bear-of-the-Door”) stand guard. These monstrous bird-ogres are all an extension of Baxbakwalanuxsiwae himself; they are his eyes and ears, and nothing can hide from them.

A wise shaman once encountered Baxbakwalanuxsiwae while hunting in the mountains. He was captured by Qominaga, who shouted to Baxbakwalanuxsiwae “come and devour him!” The man managed to squirm out of Qominaga’s grip, losing all his hair in the process, and was chased by Baxbakwalanuxsiwae through forests and caves. Eventually he tricked Baxbakwalanuxsiwae, luring him into a pit trap. The ogre and his wife fell into the pit and were incinerated; the shaman blew into the ashes, and they became the bloodthirsty mosquitoes of the Earth.

The Hamatsa ceremony itself tells the tale of Baxbakwalanuxsiwae possessing the young initiate, making him go into a frenzy where he gnashes, bites, and shouts “hap, hap, hap”. He is then symbolically exorcised, tamed, and inducted into the society. Baxbakwalanuxsiwae and his attendants are represented with spectacular, ornately carved masks worn by the Hamatsa dancers.

References

Boas, F. (1897) The Social Organization and the Secret Societies of the Kwakiutl Indians. Government Printing Office, Washington.

Bouchard, R. and Kennedy, D.; Bertz, D. trans. (2002) Indian Myths and Legends from the North Pacific Coast of America. Talonbooks.

Hays, H. R. (1975) Children of the Raven: The Seven Indian Nations of the Northwest Coast. McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York.

McDowell, J. (1997) Hamatsa: The Enigma of Cannibalism on the Pacific Northwest Coast. Ronsdale Press.

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