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The Cannibal-Rainbow-Snake-From-the-Far-North

Myth of Bella Bella people (Campbell Island, Alasca), as originally told by O’dzestalis to George Hunt
Retold and translated by Heidi Muijen en Greg Suffanti
Meeting the Snake Mind ― oil painting by Robin Stemerding

The goat hunters and berry pickers who belonged to the Rivers Nolet tribe, and who resided in the village of No’xuns, often ventured into the mountains for days at a time hunting goats and picking berries.

On one occasion when they returned to the village, it appeared that a few of the men had mysteriously disappeared. Again, on the subsequent goat hunt and berry picking trip, a number of the participants did not return. This happened on each excursion, until only the village chief, his four sons and their mother remained.
Fearing the loss of his sons as well, the chief forbade them to go into the mountains to hunt goats and pick berries.

One day, the four sons decided to ignore their father’s decree and they secretly left their village in the middle of the night, each taking only a bow and four arrows. They were determined to show their father that they were now men. When they got high into the mountains the four brothers saw a small stone house. When they got closer, they heard a voice saying,

“come in, please come inside.”

Once inside, the four brothers saw an old woman whose lower body was rooted in the ground. She immediately warned the brothers not to go further into this dangerous area, exhorting them to return to their village:

“Most importantly, you must not go to where the rainbow-colored smoke appears.”

She cautioned them that following the rainbow-colored smoke would lead them to the house of the Cannibal-of-the-Far-North. She also warned them that they shouldn’t follow the black smoke either, because it would lead them to the Gray Bear’s house. The old woman said that they should only follow the white smoke, which would be the sign of the house of the mountain goats and provide them with what they were seeking.

She then gave them three objects which she said could be used in case of emergency: a sharpening stone, a comb of yew and hair oil. The three magical objects would help them, she said, if the Cannibal-of-the-far-North were to chase them: by throwing the three objects behind their backs, they would magically transform into a mountain, an impenetrable forest and a large lake.

The four sons continued on their journey, summoning all of their courage and ignoring the old woman’s warnings, venturing even further into the mountains. Suddenly, they saw rainbow-colored smoke curling up a mountain peak like a giant snake. Becoming overconfident, they followed the source of the snake of smoke to a lower part of the mountain and up to a black stone house. Inside, they found a woman with the nose of an Albatross and the claws of a Gray Bear. Together with her son, they had hung numerous dead bodies over the fire for smoking. The brothers immediately ran out of the house in terror. The woman screamed to her husband, the Cannibal-of-the-far-North, that meat had come to their house by itself!

Meeting the Snake Mind  ― oil painting by Robin Stemerding

As the brothers raced further down the mountain, they could already hear the thundering approach of the Cannibal-of-the-far-North. Now the three magical objects would come in handy they thought, and they threw the objects behind their backs. Indeed, the steep mountain, the impenetrable yew forest, and the great lake held back the Cannibal-of-the-far-North for a little while, but not for long. Seeing what had happened, the oldest brother broke his four arrows and threw them behind his back, where upon landing they turned into fallen trees. This gave the brothers just enough time to reach their home and beg their father for help.

During his sons’ absence, the father, who was also the village Shaman, had been instructed in a dream to light a huge fire in order to make stones red-hot and also to boil a kettle of water. When the sons told him of their adventures, the Shaman understood his dream: he then put the glowing stones and the boiling water on a beam in the house, and arranged them so that they would fall on the one who sat down at the dinner table to eat.

When the Cannibal of the far North arrived and pounded on the front door, the Shaman-father kindly invited him in and suggested they share a meal together. As the cannibal was always hungry, he readily agreed. The trick worked: when the monstrous snake creature sat at the table, it was instantly buried by the glowing stones and the boiling water and lay lifeless on the floor.

In his dream that night, however, the Shaman-father was informed that the Cannibal-of-the-far-North was immortal and that they needed to flee along the river that flowed uphill. The next day, the father-Shaman and his sons took flight. The Cannibal-of-the-far-North could see the reflections of the escapees in the river and set out to grab them.

Rainbow Snake The Cannibal of the North ― oil painting by Robin Stemerding

The father-Shaman again had a vision: he should call on the cold Northern winds for help. Thus, they narrowly escaped the Cannibal’s grip with the help of the fiercely blowing winds. But it wasn’t long before the Cannibal-of-the-far-North again saw their reflections in the river. In a subsequent vision, the father-Shaman understood that he should call for freezing winter temperatures. In doing so, the frozen river stopped the Cannibal and he drowned in the ice flows. But of course, the Cannibal returned once again.

In a final vision, the father-Shaman saw that the only way to permanently get rid of the Cannibal and his family was to burn them with the white ashes of a fire. And so the Shaman and his sons made a great fire and let the white ashes scatter through the wind; the ashes transforming into deadly flying insects, racing to kill the Cannibal and his family. After burning the corpses of the Cannibal, his wife and son, they ceremoniously scattered their ashes on the mountain. They took the goat meat, and the Hamatsa, Cannibal and Raven masks for their own future shamanic rituals, and safely returned home to reunite with their mother and become the shamans of their village.

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