Indigenous Modern: the art of Doug Cranmer (Kesu’) / Truths of The Kwakʼwala-Speaking PeoplesPosted: April 8, 2014
Northwest-Coast Kwakwaka’wakw art is identifiable by its flamboyant and colourful carving and painting. Among the leading artists was Doug Cranmer (1927-2006), whose style was understated and elegant, and whose work found an international following from the 1960s onward. Kesu’ / Doug Cranmer was one of the very first Native artists in British Columbia to own his own gallery. A patient and dedicated teacher, he inspired a generation of younger Native artists in Alert Bay, B.C., and throughout the province.
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Some Truths of The Kwakʼwala (Kwakiutl)-Speaking Peoples:
When the Transformer (Creator), Ḵaniḵiʼlakw, travelled around the world, he eventually returned to the place where Gwaʼnalalis lived. In an earlier encounter, the Transformer had beaten Gwaʼnalalis, who was ready for his return. Ḵaniḵiʼlakw asked, “Would you like to become a cedar tree?” Gwaʼnalalis replied, “No, cedar trees, when struck by lightning, split and fall. Then they rot away for as long as the days dawn in the world.” Ḵaniḵiʼlakw asked again, “Would you like to become a mountain?” “No,” Gwaʼnalalis answered, “For mountains have slides and crumble away for as long as the days dawn in the world.” The Transformer asked a third question: “Would you like to become a large boulder?” Again Gwaʼnalalis answered, “No. Do not let me become a boulder, for I may crack in half and crumble away as long as the days dawn in the world.”
Finally, Ḵaniḵiʼlakw asked, “Would you like to become a river?” “Yes, let me become a river, that I may flow for as long as the days shall dawn in the world,” Gwaʼnalalis replied. Putting his hand on Gwaʼnalalis’ forehead and pushing him down prone, Ḵaniḵiʼlakw said, “There, friend, you will be a river and many kinds of salmon will come to you to provide food for your decendants for as long as the days shall dawn in the world. And so the man Gwaʼnalalis became the river Gwaʼni.
As told by: Pa̱lʼnakwa̱laga̱lis Waʼkas (Dan Cranmer), 1930
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Before the time of the great flood, the Da̱ʼnaxdaʼx̱w of Dzawadi knew that it would happen and began to prepare for it. Some of the people tied four canoes together and put their provisions in these. Dzawadalalis built a home of small poles, which he covered with clay. The others laughed at him, but he knew that he and his four children would survive the flood. When the rains came, the others tied their canoes to an elderberry tree, while Dzawadalalis began moving his belongings into his clay-covered house. One of the men who had ridiculed him said, “Please let me come with you,” but Dzawadalalis refused, saying, “Go to the mountain, for that is what you said you would do. My children and I will be locked inside this house, for we are going underwater.” Shutting the door, he began to sing, “Take care of us. I am going where you told me to go.”
Those people who had made fun of him floated around in the flood, which had reached the tops of the highest mountains in Dzawadi. For some time, Dzawadalalis and his children lived in the underwater house. Then he sent a small bird out. It retured to their house with a small root in his mouth, and so Dzawadalalis knew that the waters were beginning to subside. He waited for some time, then sent another small bird out. Again, it returned with evidence that the waters were still going down. The third time he sent a bird out, it brought leaves back from a tree. Finally, the fourth small bird was sent out and it brought back blades of grass in its mouth. Dzawadalalis knew then that it was safe to leave his underwater house. He instructed his children to open the door and he thanked the Creator for saving them. They survived because they believed they would be saved.
As told by: Watlaxaʼas (Jack Peters), 1980
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The G̱usgimukw first lived at a placed called Guseʼ. The Transformer, Hiłatusa̱la, visited there during his travels around the world. There were only two people in the village, an old woman and a child. When asked why they were alone, the old woman replied, “All of our people have been eaten up by a monster in the river. Whenever someone has gone to get water, the monster has eaten them.” Hiłatusa̱la then asked the child to get him some water, for he was thirsty. The child was afraid to go but Hiłatusa̱la told her she had nothing to fear. As he put his Sisiyutł belt around her, the child, still afraid, took a water bucket and began walking towards the river.
Buried in the sand was the huge tongue of the monster. Without knowing it, the child walked right onto the monster’s tongue and was swallowed. Hiłatusa̱la began to sing, which made the monster appear and vomit an immense pile of bones – as well as the child it had just swallowed. “Now we will get to work, so that your tribe will increase in size again,” Hiłatusa̱la said to the child. They began putting the bones together in the right way to form bodies. When they were finished, Hiłatusa̱la sprinkled his life-giving water on the assembled bones and the people whose bones had been lain upon the beach came to life and stood up. They said to each other, “I must have been sleeping a long time.” Hiłatusa̱la told them, “You weren’t sleeping! You were dead and I brought you back to life. Now I will rid the river of the monster.” He shouted at the monster to show himself again. It did so, and, taking hold of it, he flung it away, saying, “You will not come again; you will be gone!”
As told by: Chief ʼWalas (James Wallas), 1980
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The first man came down at T̕a̱ka, Topaz Harbour on the mainland. His name was Weḵa’yi. Lakata̱sa̱n is the name of the mountain there. After some time, a long time, the great flood was to come. So the people made cedar rope from the top of the mountain down to the salt water at the ocean. With this long rope they made an anchor and tied it to the mountain to secure their canoes during the flood. They fastened two canoes together and lots of people came. The flood lasted for a very long time, and it is said the tides were really strong and the weather was very bad. Because of the rough weather the canoes started to bang together and he feared the canoes would split and they would drown. Therefore Weḵa’yi cut off the people in the other canoe and they drifted away – and now they are the Kitimaat people. Then the great flood went down and he looked around and realized that he was in a different place. He had drifted up into Knight Inlet.
There was a woman named T̕łisda’ḵ and she had wings on her back. Weḵa’yi began to put stakes in the river to build a salmon trap and the woman asked him what he was doing. She told him that this was her river. Weḵa’yi argued and said it was his river and he had been there first. To test Weḵa’yi, the woman asked him, “If it is truly your river, then what type of fish return here?” Weḵa’yi replied and said, “Sockeye salmon, Coho salmon, Pink salmon, Spring salmon, Chum salmon and Steelhead salmon”. The woman told Weḵa’yi that if he really owned the river, then he would have known about the valuable eulachon that comes to this river. The woman and Weḵa’yi continued to argue over the ownership of the river and only in this version does Weḵa’yi win against her. She called them dzaxwa̱n or “candle fish”. She eventually allowed him to build a house there and make t̕łi’na or “eulachon grease” every spring.
After a while, people began to increase in numbers everywhere. Weḵa’yi called the people from all over. He put the grease into kelp bottles. He sold grease for slaves and became a great Chief. He also lived at Xwa̱lkw at Gwa’ni or Nimpkish River where there are logs piled up for the foundation of dwellings there. Weḵa’yi’s wife was a woman from Gilford Island named K̕ix̱waḵ̕a̱’nakw. He married her and got a copper named T̕łaḵwola.
There are many tribes and clans amongst the Ligwiłda’x̱w. But there are mainly two tribes today sharing common ancestry, beginning with Weḵa’yi and his family and their survival of the great Flood.
From the Ligwiłda’x̱w, as told by: Chief Billy Assu
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Kwakwaka’wakw Truths: from U’mista Cultural Society, Alert Bay, British Columbia, Canada
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