Ways of Life

The Birth of Tx̱eemsim and the Bringing of Light

Long ago, the world lived in semi-darkness. In the valley of the Nass River, or Lisims, there was very little daylight and life was difficult. This is the story of Tx̱eemsim, the grandson of the Chief of Heavens, and how he brought light to the world.

THE CHIEF’S WIFE
There was an ancient village in Lisims called Gwinsḵ’eex̱kw, “Village in darkness”. One of the four chiefs had a beautiful wife who became unhappy. She began to fast, and despite the best efforts of the shaman medicine men, one day she died. According to her last wishes, the chief placed her body in a large casket built of round logs, in the style of a log house, in the top of a large spruce tree. They lined her casket with mountain goat hides and groundhog pelts, and they placed tanned hides inside for blankets. The chief was very sad and went into mourning.

 

One night, the chief’s nephew and his wife heard a strange noise while they walking around in the bushes near the burial ground. They heard knocking at the burial casket in the Spruce tree, and the person knocking said, “Let me in, deceased one.” They thought they must be hearing the voices of spirits, but then they decided the voices were too human, so they must be real.

They told the chief, and the next night all of the chief’s nephews watched and listened at the burial place. After a while, a person came in the dark with a simple ladder and climbed up to the burial casket. His features were white. He knocked as before and entered the casket saying, “Let me in, ghost.” Some time later, before dawn, he left the casket, climbed down, and left with his ladder. The nephews followed him to his house at the edge of the village. No one knew who this man was.

 

THEY TRICK THE STRANGER
The chief and his nephews made a plan. Some of his nephews visited the stranger at his house during the day, and they invited him to go hunting with them. He agreed to accompany them. However, they did not return before darkness, so the stranger had to camp with them that night. They had tricked the stranger.

Meanwhile, the chief prepared himself to make a surprise visit to his wife. He collected the stranger’s ladder, went to the burial casket, and knocked as the stranger had done, saying, “Let me in ghost.” Then he lifted the lid to the casket and went inside.

What he found was unbelievable: his wife was strong and healthy. They talked for a while, and then the chief asked her to return with him. He promised to make a great feast in her honour, to celebrate her victory over death. But she did not answer. He continued to plead with her, but she still made no reply. Finally the chief grew angry, so he took his stone knife and slashed her chest and abdomen. He left her and returned to his house. Meanwhile, some of his other nephews waited to see the reaction when the stranger returned.

The next night, the stranger returned to the burial box with his ladder. He knocked as before, but when he heard no answer, he lifted the lid and reached inside. He withdrew his hand in horror – it was covered in blood. He fell to the ground and rushed back to his house. According to the custom of widows and widowers of that time, he cut off his hair and burned it.

THE STRANGE BOY
Later in the spring, some boys were target shooting with their bows and arrows near the burial casket. When all had shot their arrows, one boy would go to collect them. On this occasion, the casket lid was thrown open and a young boy leapt out, jumped down, and quickly took all of the arrows and fled. The boys were afraid and ran home and told their parents.

The boys returned with some strong men and shot more arrows. When the strange boy appeared and began to collect the arrows, the men seized him. After two attempts, the men were successful and they took the boy to the chief’s house.

They named the boy Hlguuhlkwhl Luulaḵ’, “son of a deceased person”. The villagers also gave him the nickname Anm̓oog̱am Haat, meaning “One who sucks intestines”.
The chief adopted the boy as his son and slowly he became tamed from his wild nature. He learned to speak and make friends with the other boys, and the chief and the elders told him many stories of the history of the people so he would grow wise. One story fascinated him: the story of the distant country of the Chief of Heavens, which was separated from their world by a gigantic mountain that opened and closed like a gate.

THEY TRAVEL AS BIRDS
This Son of Luulaḵ’ grew to be a young man, and he had a best friend named Amgat. One day Amgat suggested that they try to reach the country of the Chief of Heavens. Both of them had heard that the Chief had two beautiful young daughters, and they wished to meet them.

Amgat suggested they might be able to reach the distant land if they put on bird skins and turned into birds. They caught two beautiful birds, skinned them, and carefully dried the skins to use them as cloaks. The two boys quickly learned to fly using the bird cloaks.

They made plans to travel to the land of the Chief of Heavens. They told their parents that they planned to travel to other places, and they asked for special provisions for their journey. Each took two pouches of naatx̱ (sea lion esophagus), and these were filled with windo’o (eagle down).

 

Together they traveled great distances and visited many strange villages and countries. Eventually they reached Mismaa, the great mountain wall that protected the land of the Chief of Heavens. They made camp and studied how the wall opened and closed. It opened four times each day, and they would have to fly quickly if they were to avoid being crushed when it closed. They also noticed that on the fourth opening, the wall always stayed open slightly longer.

On the fourth day, they made their attempt with the last opening. They flew with all their might, and they barely made it through before the wall slammed shut again.

THEY MEET THE DAUGHTERS
Once through, Son of Luulaḵ’ and Amgat spotted a house in the distance, and they knew it was the house of the Chief. They flew there and hid themselves in the great Chief’s garden overlooking the spring. They watched for someone to come for water, so they could ask them how to enter the Chief’s house. When no one came, they decided they should bathe, and they also took a mouthful of the water to make a wish. They wished that the Chief’s two daughters would come to gather water. They bathed themselves four times to cleanse themselves for the meeting, then they put on their bird costumes once again and hid in the undergrowth.

Inside the house, the two daughters felt a sudden urge to collect water, so they asked their father for permission and went to the spring with pails. Suddenly, they saw the two beautiful birds near the pond. The elder sister suggested they catch the birds and take them back to the house as pets. They did so, and they took their pets into their house and kept them in their sleeping places. As the daughters slept, the two young men took off their bird costumes and became men again.

When the Chief discovered the two men, he was impressed by their intelligence and their having passed through the great wall. He married them to his daughters, and he allowed them to live in the land of the great Chief for a long time. Eventually the daughters became pregnant and each had a son. As they were born, the sons fell to earth from the land of the Chief of Heavens. Anm̓oog̱am Haat’s son landed at the village of his father, and Amgat’s son landed at the mouth of the Skeena River on a kelp bed.

 

W̓IIGAT IS BORN
Anm̓oog̱am Haat’s son was found by a grandmother whose grandson had died recently, and she had been praying for his resurrection. She and the chief raised this new grandson as their own, and he grew strong and big, even though he showed no appetite for food. This was the boy who would become known as W̓iigat, which is short for “wii xwdayim gat”, meaning “a very hungry person”.

One animal that heard about this strange boy was Leex̱-w̓oosa’a, a creature that could eat from both ends of his body. He was very curious to meet the boy, so he transformed into an elder and visited the chief’s house. Upon meeting the boy, he pretended to inspect him and stuck his index finger in his mouth. There was something on his finger, and the boy swallowed it. From that moment onwards, the boy developed an insatiable appetite.

Soon he become hungry and was eating so much food that the chief could not supply enough from his own house. The chief had to ask his people to help feed the boy from the community supply. Soon afterwards, even this was not enough food, and the chief made a decision. They would move the village and leave the boy behind.

The boy had no idea what was happening when the canoes left. He ate the few remnants of food that were in the houses, and then the next morning he went to the shore of Lisims to find food. He saw a beautiful fish, and he invited the fish towards him, saying how beautiful she was and how he wanted to pet her. The fish swam closer to him. Just when he was about to touch her, the fish moved out of reach. They did this a few times until finally the fish moved out of reach, saying, “Who does not know you, W̓ii xwdayim gat!” From that day, the grandson of the Chief of Heavens was known as W̓iigat, “big hungry man”.

W̓iigat became angry at the fish and cursed her, saying, “From now on, you are going to be the ugliest fish there is! Your head is going to be bigger than your body, your mouth is going to be large, and nobody is going to eat you!” And the beautiful fish became a bullhead.

W̓IIGAT RETURNS TO LAX̱HA
After many years of wandering, W̓iigat returned to his original village to find it still empty and decaying. He decided then to return to Lax̱ha and the Chief of Heavens. It is unclear how he returned, but one belief is that he put on his Raven blanket and flew as Raven through the Mismaa mountain gate.

He went directly to his grandfather’s garden and cleansed himself by bathing four times in the spring. He wished that his mother and aunt would come for water. Then he turned himself into a pine needle and floated on the water.

His mother and aunt arrived, and his mother cupped her hands to drink from the spring. When she did, the pine needle slipped into her hands. She tried to blow it away, but she accidentally swallowed it. Wiigat went down into his mother’s belly.

His mother quickly showed signs of pregnancy, and soon she gave birth to a new son. She and the Chief of Heavens gave him much attention, and the boy quickly grew big and strong.

W̓IIGAT AND THE M̓AX̱
The Chief of Heavens gave the boy almost anything he wanted, in the way most grandparents do. One day the boy saw something hanging on the wall of his grandfather’s house that looked like a ball. It was the M̓ax̱, the sphere that contained the daylight. He cried out for it until his grandfather gave it to him to play with. He did this every day, and when he fell asleep they would hang the ball on the wall again.

Eventually he was permitted to take the m̓ax̱ outside to play. Again, each time he fell asleep, they would bring him and the ball back inside the house. But one day he went far from the house to the other end of the village playing with the ball, and he suddenly picked up the m̓ax̱ and ran away.

He returned to earth and roamed the Lisims valley again. He met with some oolichan fishermen who had mocked him once before when he asked for food. He asked them again for a feed of oolichans. Again, they joked and laughed at him, and they gave him no fish. After asking for a fourth time, he threatened to open the m̓ax̱ if they did not feed him. He knew their secret: they were not real people but ghosts.

They mocked him again and laughed, so the reborn W̓iigat, who we now know as Tx̱eemsim, tore open the m̓ax̱. With a sudden burst of brilliance, the entire world shone with light, and the ghost people disappeared. Only their cedar g̱al’inḵ burial boxes remained floating upside down on the water.

There are many more stories about Tx̱eemsim’s adventures during his travels from the headwaters of the Nass River all the way to the salt water at the river’s mouth.