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The Magic Feather and the Four Culture Heroes

This version of the legend comes from Diamond Jenness' 1934 collection Myths of the Carrier Indians of British Columbia.

Some children were once playing outside a large village, making a loud noise. Their parents told them to make less noise, but every day they continued to raise a tumult. One afternoon they saw something fluttering in the air like a bat, but as it drew nearer they discovered that it was a white feather. When it floated over their heads, a boy ran after it and caught it in his hand. It stuck so that he could not release himself, and drew him up into the air. A comrade caught hold of his foot, but his hand stuck also and he was drawn into the air. A third boy caught the second boy's foot, a fourth the third's, until all the children were taken up into the air; and when their parents rushed to pull them down, they too were carried skyward.

In the same village an old woman and an adolescent girl were living in an underground house from which there was a cord of babiche, strung with bears' claws, beaver teeth and other objects, stretching to the home of the girl's parents. Whenever the girl needed food or water she pulled the cord so that the teeth and claws rattled. On the day that all the people were drawn into the air she pulled the cord repeatedly, but no one came to her. At last she told the old grandmother to go out and see what had happened. The old woman was hardly able to walk, but she succeeded in crawling out and searched the village. Finding everyone gone she gathered some food at her son's house and returned to her granddaughter.

The two stayed in the village for a year until the girl's period of seclusion ended. Then her old grandmother died, and she was left alone. Having no one to talk to, and nowhere to go, she wept most of the time. One day as she was gazing beyond the village, weeping, she blew her nose and rubbed the mucus on her bosom. Lighting on a tiny whetstone, she picked it up and placed that in her bosom. She found a twig of the wild crab-apple and added that; then a tiny feather. Last of all she picked up a piece of bear hide, well tanned, and placed that also in her bosom. Then she returned to her father's home and burned her grandmother's body.

Next morning she rose and ate, and after she had eaten looked for the things she had placed in her bosom the day before. They had disappeared. After a time she found herself pregnant. She gave birth to a son, a year later to another son, then after another year to a third, and last of all to a girl. Utakke, He-who-lives-on-high, had seen her raise her tear-stained face to the sky each day, and he had pitied her; for in the sight of God tears are prayers.

The first thing the girl had found was a Whetstone. She therefore named her first boy Whetstone, Gwitibange. The second boy she called Nuhl, Mucus; the third boy she called Gwitib Sranmiliks, He-who- came-from-the-crab-apple; and the girl she named Gwitib Anon, The- hand-that-became-a-human-being, for she had rubbed her bosom with her hand. Her children brought her much happiness. The boys were skilful hunters, for they received blessings from Utakke; and they always brought home much meat. Only Mucus was not clever; he was constantly making a noise, like a person who blows his nose.

One day the children began to make a great uproar, and although their mother reproved them, telling them what had happened to their grandparents and relatives, they continued to go around the old house singing and laughing. Day after day they did the same thing. Then a beautiful feather covered with red paint floated down from the sky. Mucus' two brothers said, "Wait. Remember what our mother told us. That is not a bird." But Mucus said, "Oh, it is just a feather blown by the wind."

Meanwhile the girl went home and told her mother. Terrified, she forbade the children to touch it, and called them home. But Mucus grabbed at the feather and was carried up into the air. "He," he cried, "tie a rope to a big stone and throw it up to me. I am going to break the feather down;" and when they threw the rope to him he tied it to the feather so that the stone trailed down towards the ground. Nevertheless the feather still hovered in the air, holding up both Mucus and the stone. For nearly half a day he hung there until the brothers became very angry. Whetstone, praying that his body might become very heavy, seized Mucus' foot. Immediately his body became heavy as stone, so that the feather could only raise him a little and the rope creaked with the strain. Then Wild Crab-Apple seized hold of Whetstone's foot with a prayer that his feet should take root in the earth like the wild crab-apple. His feet took root and spread all over the earth, while the rope creaked more than ever. But late in the afternoon the feather dragged the roots out of the earth and raised him also into the air.

The girl, Hand-that-became-a-Human-Being, ran round and round them while her weeping mother forbade her to lay her hands on them. But the girl ran down to the beach, picked up a stone and walked to and fro, first raising her hand to the sun and then rubbing it on the stone. Thus she kept sharpening her hand until nearly sunset. At last it was ready, and seizing the foot of Wild Crab-Apple, she climbed up over her brothers in turn. She climbed until she reached the feather, which she seized with one hand. It began to carry them all away, but she raised her sharpened hand above it and cut the invisible rope that united it to the sky. They fell to the ground in a heap. Then their mother came and placed her hand upon their heads, saying, "Children, come home and close up the smoke-hole in the roof of the house."

The children and their mother all went to bed. In the night they heard a sound as of heavy rain. When they went outside in the morning the ground was strewn with the bodies of all the people who had been carried away years before. Even dog bones were there, for the dogs had been carried up also. As they walked in and out among all these bones they wept, for they could not distinguish those of their relatives from all the other bones. So at night they went home again, having done nothing. But the next day, as they walked among the bones, they found one to which the feather still stuck. Then they knew that Utakke had used the feather as a bait and thrown it down to earth again with the bones of their people.

Hand-that-became-a-Human-Being now laid the feather on a log, and gathering together all the various bodies, matched them as best she knew. With the feather in her hand she walked sunwise around the reconstructed bodies and prayed Utakke to restore them to life. The bones quickened, the people began to rub their eyes as though awakening from sleep, and as the girl kept walking, they rose to their feet. But she had made some mistakes when fitting the bones together; she had placed some legs and eyes on the wrong bodies. So today some people are lame and others cross-eyed.

Now that the village was again full of people the four children decided to leave it. Their mother besought them to remain, but they said, "God gave us to you because you wept so much. We have fulfilled our mission to you, and must go forth to help the rest of the world. Later we shall return."

So they started out on their mission. Hand-that-became-a-Human- Being wore the bear-skin and carried the feather, for in these objects lay her power. People had told them of many monsters that were ravaging the land, and they went to fight them. About four miles east of Moricetown they found Dj ulik, a mole-like animal, large as a bear, that devoured men. Djulik, knowing how powerful they were, invited them to enter her house, which had an entrance at the bottom of the hill and a roof entrance at the top. Whenever people entered this house the door closed of its own accord and Djulik killed them. After the four children had gone inside Mucus said, "O, you are Sea-Djulik (Kwiksim Djulik), are you?" Djulik became very angry at his remark and caused the lower door to close on them and the hole in the roof to darken over. But Hand-that-became-a-Human-Being drew forth her feather and prayed that her body might become equally light. Then she flew out of the roof before it closed over, found the hole of an ordinary small mole and said to it, "Go and tell big Sea-Djulik to open the door. Say to her, 'My grandmother, I have brought something for you.'" The little mole knocked at the door and said, "My grandmother, we have brought much meat for you." But when Sea-Djulik opened the door, Hand-that- became-a-Human-Being ran inside, waving her bear-skin blanket. Sea- Djulik fell dead, covering the ground with her blood. This was the first monster the children killed.

They travelled eastward about four miles till they came upon a great snake at Koskan. The girl said to Mucus, "Don't utter a word as we pass this big snake, for it is very dangerous." They walked under the hill, keeping careful watch; but suddenly Mucus shouted. At once they heard as it were a thunderstorm inside the hill, and two big snakes rolling along the ground like balls came out and pursued them. The children ran; but the girl took her feather and bear-skin blanket and prayed to Utakke. As each snake approached she waved her blanket and the monster was crushed to pieces.

They went on again, having heard of two giant frogs that were more dangerous than either Djulik or the snakes. These frogs lived just above Long Lake near Telkwa, where they had made an enormous dam to flood the trails of the Indians. As often as the Indians moved their trails farther back the frogs raised their dam and flooded them again. If any man drew near enough to see them, one of the frogs raised its arm, when black poison issued from the man's mouth and killed him; but if a large party approached, the frogs cut them all in two with their tongues. As the children approached the dam Mucus began to shout; but the frogs, knowing they were dangerous, would not show themselves. Then the children began to tear down the dam, which is visible even today, more than 15 feet high and stretching for miles. At last they made an opening in it and the muddy water began to rush out. When it had nearly drained away a huge frog emerged and tried to follow the stream. The boys could smell its poison, but could not see it, for they had rubbed their faces to take away their sight. Then the girl waved her blanket at the frog. Its body burst to pieces and was washed away. But when the second frog emerged she said, "Our people will not believe us if we say we killed these animals. We will leave one behind as a witness." Instead of waving her blanket she slowly waved the feather, and the big frog turned to stone. You may see it today, as big as a two-story house. Its legs and arms are visible, but its head is gone, for it broke off and was washed away when she moved the feather once too quickly.

The children continued to travel over the country, killing off all the monsters they encountered. They killed all that the orphan had not slain before the giant lynx destroyed him.1 They intended to return by way of Kitsiyukla to Moricetown, but just above Kitsiyukla they met a monster more powerful than any they had yet encountered, and though they succeeded in killing it, so great was its power that it killed them also.

God had heard man's weeping at all the monsters that ravaged this earth and he sent these four children to destroy them. When they killed this last monster their work was finished.

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