Númhyalikyu

Variations: Númhyělekum

Numhyalikyu

Númhyalikyu, “one chief one”, is an enormous, monstrous halibut of Pacific Northwest Kwakwaka’wakw folklore. Its back looks like a beach, complete with ripples left behind by the waves. It has the head of a seal, with a shining spot that gleams like fire.

If a númhyalikyu is killed, its head can be stabbed and its gleaming ornament extracted, revealing it to be a hard and shiny crystalline object. This is known as tlúgwi, and it is highly valuable. It is hard to pinpoint the location of a númhyalikyu, however, as it makes a deep humming sound that reverberates through water and air and rumbles through the trees, seeming to come from everywhere at once.

Númhyalikyu brings bad weather and storms. When it comes to the surface, it creates treacherous shallows that wreck canoes. Its rippled back, often just below the surface of the water, can be easily mistaken for a small island.

Númhyalikyu’s dance is númkahl, “personification of númhyalikyu”. The initiate playing the part of númhyalikyu wears a face mask, and is caught on the beach after metaphorically leaving the sea.

References

Curtis, E. S. (1915) The North American Indian, v. X. The Plimpton Press, Norwood.

Tsemaus

Variations: Tsemaus, Chemouse, Narhnarem-tsemaus, Snag, Supernatural Snag, Tsem’aus, Tcamaos, Tca’maos, Tidewalker, Ts’um’os, Tsamaos, Kanem Ktsem’aus; Weegyet, Wi’git

Tsemaus

The Tsemaus (“Snag”) or Narhnarem-Tsemaus (“Supernatural Snag”) is the personification of river snags., floating logs, and other hazards of the water. It is found in the folklore and art of the Pacific Northwest, notably in Tsimshian and Haida culture around the mouth of the Skeena River.

One of its names, Wi’git or Weegyet, connects it to Raven the trickster, and it is one of his many forms. The creator and trickster Nanki’islas also assumed the form of a tsemaus after he was done.

A tsemaus can vary a lot in appearance, much like the driftwood it imitates, but it almost always has a snag for a dorsal fin – or is itself a snag. It can be as simple as a dead log with a tail that can swim against the current. It can be a huge sea lion with dorsal fins and blowholes, or an enormous grizzly bear with a downturned mouth like a dogfish and two sharp snags protruding from its back, with or without one or more sharp fins of a killer whale. It can be a hybrid of bear and killer whale, or raven and killer whale, with multiple bodies. It can be a large frog covered in seaweed with a snag sticking out of its back, and can even be a canoe or a schooner. Meurger states that it can cleave swimmers with its fin.

The tsemaus uses its fin to destroy boats. It has no problem swimming upstream and plowing through log jams. If angered it breaches and lands on canoes, smashing them to bits, or makes huge waves to capsize boats. It drowns people, who then become killer whales.

It is found as a crest on the totem poles of the coastal clans.

References

Barbeau, M. (1950) Totem poles. Bulletin No. 119, Anthropological Series No. 30, National Museum of Canada, Ottawa.

Barbeau, M. (1953) Haida Myths Illustrated in Argillite Carvings. Bulletin No. 127, Anthropological Series No. 32, National Museum of Canada, Ottawa.

Boas, F. (1951) Primitive Art. Capitol Publishing Company, New York.

Deans, J. (1893) Totem Posts at the World’s Fair. The American Antiquarian and Oriental Journal, Vol. XV, No. 4, pp. 281-286.

Meurger, M. (1988) Lake Monster Traditions: A Cross-Cultural Analysis. Fortean Tomes, London.

Swanton, J. R. (1909) Contributions of the Ethnology of the Haida. Memoirs of the American Museum of Natural History, Vol. VIII.

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.