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Who was given the Fire

A Cowichan Legend

Our fathers tell us that very long ago our people did not know the use of fire. They had no need for fire to warm themselves, because they lived in a warm country. They ate their meats raw or dried by the sun. But after a while their climate grew colder. They had to build houses for shelter, and they wished for something to warm their homes.

One time when a number of them were seated eating an animal they had just found in one of their pits, a pretty bird came and fluttered above their heads. It seemed to be either watching them or looking for a share in the meat. Seeing the bird flying about, some people tried to kill it. Others, more kind, said, "Little bird, what do you want?"

"I know your needs," the bird replied, "and I have come to you, bringing the blessings of fire."

"What is fire?" asked all of them.

"Do you see that little flame on my tail?" asked the bird.

"Yes," all answered.

"Well, that is fire. Today each of you must gather a small bunch of pitch wood. With it you can get fire from the flame on my tail tomorrow morning I will come here early. Every one of you will meet me here, bringing your pitch wood with you,"

Early next morning all arrived at the chosen place, where the bird was awaiting their coming.

"Have you brought your pitch wood?" asked the bird.

'Yes," replied all of the people.

Well, then," said the bird, "I am ready. But before I go, let me tell you the rules. None of you can obtain my fire unless you obey the rules. You must be persevering, and you must do good deeds. You must strive for the fire, in order that you may think more of it. And none need to expect to get it who has not done some good deed.

"Whoever comes up with me," continued the bird, "and puts his pitch wood on my tail, he will have the fire. Are you all ready?"

"Yes," replied everyone.

Away flew the bird, followed by all the people, young and old, men and women and children. Helter-skelter they ran, over rocks and fallen timber, through swamp and stream, over prairies and through forests. Some of them got hurt. Others peeled their shins as they fell off the rocks and stumbled over the logs. Many people splashed through mud and water. Others were badly scratched and had their clothes torn among the bushes. Many turned and went home, saying, "Anything so full of danger is not worth trying for." Other people became so weary they gave up. But the bird kept on.

At last a man came up to it, saying, "Pretty bird, give me your fire. I have kept up with you, and I have never done anything bad."

"That may be true," replied the bird. "But you cannot have my fire because you are too selfish. You care for nobody as long as you yourself are right."

So away flew the bird.

After a while another man came up, saying, "Pretty bird, give me your fire. I have always been good and kind."

"Perhaps you have been," answered the bird. "But you cannot have my fire because you stole your neighbors' wife."

So the bird flew away again. By this time few people followed it, most of them having given up the chase.

At last the bird came to where a woman was taking care of a poor, sick old man. It flew straight to her and said, "Bring your pitch wood here and get the fire."

"Oh, no," said the woman. "I cannot do so because I have done nothing to deserve it. What I am doing is only my duty"

"Take the fire," said the bird. "You are welcome to it. It is yours, for you are always doing good and thinking it only your duty. Take the fire and share it with the other people."

So the woman put her pitch wood on the bird's tail and got the fire. Then she gave some to all the others, and people have never since been without it Fire has cooked their food and warmed their lodges. That is how, in the long, long ago, the Cowichan first got fire.

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