Native American Legends
The First Totem Pole
A Kwakiutl Legend
Once there was a chief who had never had a dance. All the other chiefs had big dances, but Wakiash none. Therefore Wakiash was unhappy.
He thought for a long while about the dance. Then he went up into the mountains to fast. Four days he fasted. On the fourth day he fell asleep. Then something fell on his breast. It was a green frog. Frog said, "Wake up."
Then Wakiash waked up. He looked about to see where he was. Frog said, "You are on Raven's back. Raven will fly around the world with you."
So Raven flew. Raven flew all around the world. Raven showed Wakiash everything in the world.
On the fourth day, Raven flew past a house with a totem pole in front of it. Wakiash could hear singing in the house. Wakiash wished he could take the totem pole and the house with him.
Now Frog knew what Wakiash was thinking. Frog told Raven. Raven stopped and Frog told Wakiash to hide behind the door. Frog said, "When they dance, jump out into the room."
The people in the house began to dance. They were animal people. But they could not sing or dance. One said, "Something is the matter. Someone is near us."
Chief said, "Let one who can run faster than the flames go around the house and see."
So Mouse went. Mouse could go anywhere, even into a box. Now Mouse looked like a woman; she had taken off her animal clothes. Mouse ran out, but Wakiash caught her.
Wakiash said, "Wait. I will give you something." So he gave her a piece of mountain goat's fat. Wakiash said to Mouse, "I want the totem pole and the house. I want the dances and the songs." Mouse said, "Wait until I come again."
Mouse went back into the house. She said, "I could find nobody." So the animal people tried again to dance. They tried three times. Each time, Chief sent Mouse out to see if some one was near. Each time, Mouse talked with Wakiash. The third time Mouse said, "When they begin to dance, jump into the room."
So the animal people began to dance. Then Wakiash sprang into the room. The dancers were ashamed. They had taken off their animal clothes and looked like men. So the animal people were silent. Then Mouse said, "What does this man want?"
Now Wakiash wanted the totem pole and the house. He wanted the dances and the songs. Mouse knew what Wakiash was thinking. Mouse told the animal people.
Chief said, "Let the man sit down. We will show him how to dance." So they danced. Then Chief asked Wakiash what kind of a dance he would like to choose. They were using masks for the dance. Wakiash wanted the Echo mask, and the Little Man mask, - the little man who talks, talks, and quarrels with others. Mouse told the people what Wakiash was thinking. Then Chief said, "You can take the totem pole and the house also. You can take the masks and dances, for one dance."
Then Chief folded up the house very small. He put it in a dancer's headdress. Chief said, "When you reach home, throw down this bundle. The house will unfold and you can give a dance."
Then Wakiash went back to Raven. Wakiash climbed on Raven's back and went to sleep.
When he awoke, Raven and Frog were gone. Wakiash was alone. It was night and the tribe was asleep.
Then Wakiash threw down the bundle. Behold! the house and totem pole were there. The whale painted on the house was blowing. The animals on the totem pole were making noises.
At once the tribe woke up. They came to see Wakiash. Wakiash found he had been gone four years instead of four days.
Then Wakiash gave a great dance. He taught the people the songs. Echo came to the dance. He repeated all the sounds they made. When they finished the dance, behold! the house was gone. It went back to the animal people. Thus all the chiefs were ashamed because Wakiash had the best dance.
Then Wakiash made out of wood a house and another totem pole. They called it Kalakuyuwish, "the pole that holds up the sky."
Native American Legends
Back to Top
Other Native American Legends