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Kwakiutl Spirits

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Mariya Joan

on 31 October 2013

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Transcript of Kwakiutl Spirits

Kwakiutl Spirits
The Kwakiutl people had strong beliefs of spiritual and supernatural beings. They believed spirits were separated into four different spirit realms. There was the realm of the sky spirits, sea spirits, earth spirits, and otherworldly spirits. Some of the most important spiritual beings were Tseiqami, Thunderbird, Qaniqilak, Kumugwe, Sisiutl, Winalagalis, Dzunukwa, Bakwas, U'melth, and Bakbakwalanooksiwae. The Kwakiutl people had legends and myths of the spirits, which were a great part of their daily life.
Tseiqami was a Kwakiutl ancestor. It was said that Tseiqami surfaced from a cedar tree in Bond Sound, British Columbia and soon after became a human. Tseiqami would hunt whales for it's dinner out at sea. Also, Tseiqami sometimes helped other ancestors build their houses by placing giant cedar beams for them.
Thunderbird was the lord of the winter dance season. He was a massive supernatural bird, whose wing beats were believed to cause thunder and the flash of it's eyes caused lightning. Thunderbird was a symbol of intelligence, strength, power, and wrath. Because of his powerful meaning, Thunderbird figures were most commonly carved into Kwakiutl totem poles. The Kwakiutl people warned each other not to get on Thunderbird's bad side, as he had an awful temper. The Thunderbird spirit was usually portrayed as a transformer, changing from a large bird to a human, and was a generally protective spirit to the Kwakiutl.
Qaniqilak was the spirit of the summer season and was also Thunderbird’s adversary. He was a transformer figure and a common spirit to many other coastal tribes. Qaniqilak was known for bringing balance to the world by using his powers to change people, animals, and the landscape.
Kumugwe was the god of the sea and tides, but was known as the Undersea Chief. He was famous for being the creator of coppers and bestowing great treasures upon Kwakiutl families. Kumugwe was associated with tremendous wealth and lived with his wife in an undersea palace made of copper planks, guarded by an assortment of sea creatures. It was said that within the walls of his palace was hidden treasure. If a mortal could reach Kumugwe's palace, they would return home as a wealthy and powerful man, as Kumugwe was known to grant not only wealth but also magical powers.
Kumugwe Mask
Sisiutl was a giant three-headed sea serpent and was considered one of the most powerful and important beings in the Kwakiutl culture. Sisiutl could transform into a variety of things, including an invincible war canoe and a magic belt that protected you from danger. The spirit's skin was impenetrable and it was rumoured that any warrior who could defeat Sisiutl would be blessed with magnificent powers. In great legends, it was believed that anyone who met the eyes of Sisiutl would be turned to stone and the only way to kill Sisiutl was to strike it with weapons covered with the warrior's tongue blood. Also, it was said that if someone walked through Sisiutl's trail of slime, they should expect certain doom. Sisiutl was also the assistant of the war spirit, Winalagalis. Those privileged to wear the Sisiutl crest were of high ranking and were granted the protection, kindness, compassion, and generosity of the spirit. Sisiutl, along with Thunderbird and Dzunukwa, were the three most important crests representing supernatural beings.
Dzunukwa was a type of cannibal giant, who was described as a towering, clumsy, wide-mouthed, hairy woman with deep-set eyes. Although Dzunukwa could come in both male and female forms, she was usually portrayed as a woman. She was better known as Big Foot, by the English people, or Sasquatch, by the Chinook people and would eat small children in the forest. Dzunukwa was said to live with her children in a house guarded by Sisiutl placed deep in the woods. It was believed that she hoarded treasure in the forest and spent most of her time sleeping. Even though the legends say that Dzunukwa was a scary, intimidating spirit, she could also be generous, kind, and would even give great treasure to anyone who could make her children cry. Unlike many Kwakiutl spirits, Dzunukwa is still believed to inhabit the dense mountainous forests of the Northwest Coast, as the other spirits had fled from the modern society.
Dzunukwa mask and carving
Bakwas was the chief of ghosts and woodsmen and was known as the "wild man of the woods". He was described as a small green spirit, who had a skeleton face, black hair, and a long curvy nose. Also in some mythology, Bakwas was Dzunukwa's husband and the father of her children. He would haunt the forests and try to bring humans over to the world of the dead by offering them his ghost food. If a human were to eat this food, it would turn them into a creature similar to Bakwas. Bakwas usually only associated with drowning victims and he lived in an invisible house in the woods.
U'melth, also known as the Raven, had given the Kwakiutl people fire, salmon, the sun, the moon, and the tides. U'melth helped and aided all of the Kwakiutl people, but he was also quite the trickster and would occasionally cause trouble. U'melth could transform into many different creatures and his spirit was fairly common in many other native cultures.
Winalagalis was the god of war and traveled around the world just to induce war. He was described as thin and tall, with black skin and bat-like eyes. Winalagalis was from the underworld and would come to stay with the Kwakiutl people during the winter. Winalagalis was the creator of the Tseka, a winter ceremony, and he would infuse the plentiful red cedar trees along the coast with supernatural power.
Bakbakwalanooksiwae came from one of the four Kwakiutl secret societies, the Hamatsa society, and translated to "cannibal at the north end of the world". The Hamatsa society would perform a four-day long cannibal dance as apart of the winter initiation ceremony for the newest members of the secret society. The Hamatsa dancers represented the cannibal spirit who lived in the sky, Bakbakwalanooksiwae. He was invisible and the Hamatsa dancers were thought to each represent one of his many mouths. Although he was invisible, he was detectible by the whistling sound created by his many mouths. Bakbakwalanooksiwae was known to kill humans by smashing their skulls and devouring their brains.
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