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The Sun Tests His Son-in-Law
This version of the legend comes from Stith Thompson's 1929 collection Tales of the North American Indian.
In a place on Bella Coola River, there used to be a salmon-weir. A chief and his wife lived at this place. One day the wife was cutting salmon on the bank of the river. When she opened the last salmon, she found a small boy in it. She took him out and washed him in the river. She placed him near by, entered the house, and said to the people, "Come and see what I have found in my salmon!" She had a child in her house, which was still in the cradle. The little boy whom she had found was half as long as her fore-arm. She carried him into the house, and the people advised her to take good care of him. She nursed him with her own baby. When the people were talking in the house, the baby looked around as though he understood what they were saying. On the following day the people were surprised to see how much he had grown, and in a few days he was as tall as any ordinary child. Her own baby also grew up with marvelous rapidity. She gave each of them one breast. After a few days they were able to walk and to talk. They grew up together, and became fast friends.
One day the two young men were passing by the houses, and looked into the doorways. There was a house in the center of this town; there they saw a beautiful girl sitting in the middle of the house. Her hair was red, and reached down to the floor. She was very white. Her eyes were large, and as clear as rock crystal. The boy fell in love with the girl. They went on, but his thoughts were with her. The Salmon boy said, "I am going to enter this house. You must watch closely what I do, and imitate me. The Door of this house tries to bite every one who enters." The Door opened, and the Salmon jumped into the house. Then the Door snapped, but missed him. When it opened again, the boy jumped into the house. They found a number of people inside, who invited them to sit down. They spread food before them, but the boy did not like their food. It had a very strong smell, and looked rather curious. It consisted of algae that grow on logs that lie in the river.
When the boy did not touch it, one of the men said to him, "Maybe you want to eat those two children. Take them down to the river and throw them into the water, but do not look." The two children arose, and he took them down to the river. Then he threw them into the water without looking at them. At the place where he had thrown them down, he found a male and a female Salmon. He took them up to the house and roasted them. The people told him to preserve the intestines and the bones carefully. After he had eaten, one of the men told him to carry the intestines and the bones to the same place where he had thrown the children into the water. He carried them in his hands, and threw them into the river without looking. When he entered the house, he heard the children following him. The girl was covering one of her eyes with her hands. The boy was limping, because he had lost one of his bones. Then the people looked at the place where the boy had been sitting, and they found the eye, and a bone from the head of the male salmon. They ordered the boy to throw these into the water. He took the children and the eye and the bone, and threw them into the river. Then the children were hale and well.
After a while the youth said to his Salmon brother, "I wish to go to the other house where I saw the beautiful girl." They went there, and he said to his Salmon brother, "Let us enter. I should like to see her face well." They went in. Then the man arose, and spread a caribou blanket for them to sit on, and the people gave them food. Then he whispered to his brother, "Tell the girl I want to marry her." The Salmon boy told the girl, who smiled, and said, "He must not marry me. Whoever marries me must die. I like him, and I do not wish to kill him; but if he wishes to die, let him marry me."
The woman was the Salmon-berry Bird. After one day she gave birth to a boy, and on the following day she gave birth to a girl. She was the daughter of the Spring Salmon.
After a while the girl's father said, "Let us launch our canoe, and let us carry the young man back to his own people." He sent a messenger to call all the people of the village; and they all made themselves ready, and early the next morning they started in their canoes. The young man went in the canoe of the Spring Salmon, which was the fastest. The canoe of the Sock-eye Salmon came next. The people in the canoe of the Calico Salmon were laughing all the time. They went up the river; and a short distance below the village of the young man's father they landed, and made fast their canoes. Then they sent two messengers up the river to see if the people had finished their salmon-weir. Soon they returned with information that the weir had been finished. Then they sent the young man and his wife, and they gave them a great many presents for the young man's father.
The watchman who was stationed at the salmon-weir saw two beautiful salmon entering the trap. They were actually the canoes of the salmon; but they looked to him like two salmon. Then the watchman put the traps down over the weir, and he saw a great many fish entering them. He raised the trap when it was full, and took the fish out. The young man thought, "I wish he would treat me and my wife carefully", and his wish came true. The man broke the heads of the other salmon, but he saved the young man and his wife. Then he carried the fish up to the house, and hung them over a pole.
During the night the young man and his wife resumed their human shape. The youth entered his father's house. His head was covered with eagle-down. He said to his father, "I am the fish whom you caught yesterday. Do you remember the time when you lost me? I have lived in the country of the Salmon. The Salmon accompanied me here. They are staying a little farther down the river. It pleases the Salmon to see the people eating fish." And, turning to his mother, he continued, "You must be careful when cutting Salmon. Never break any of their bones, but preserve them, and throw them into the water." The two children of the young man had also entered into the salmon- trap. He put some leaves on the ground, placed red and white cedar-bark over them, and covered them with eagle-down, and he told his mother to place the Salmon upon these.
As soon as he had given these instructions, the Salmon began to come up the river. They crossed the weir and entered the traps. They went up the river as far as Stuick, and the people dried the Salmon according to his instructions. They threw the bones into the water, and the Salmon returned to life, and went back to their own country, leaving their meat behind. The Cohoes Salmon had the slowest canoe, and therefore he was the last to reach the villages. He gave many presents to the Indians. He gave them many-colored leaves, and thus caused the leaves of the trees to change color in the autumn.
Now all the Salmon had returned. The Salmon-berry Bird and her children had returned with them. Then the young man made up his mind to build a small hut, from which he intended to catch eagles. He used a long pole, to which a noose was attached. The eagles were baited by means of Salmon. He spread a mat in his little house, and when he had caught an eagle he pulled out its down. He accumulated a vast amount of down. Then he went back to his house and asked his younger brother to accompany him. When they came to the hut which he had used for catching eagles, he gave the boy a small staff. Then he said to him, "Do not be sorry when I leave you. I am going to visit the Sun. I am not going to stay away a long time. I staid long in the country of the Salmon, but I shall not stay long in heaven. I am going to lie down on this mat. Cover me with this down, and then begin to beat time with your staff. You will see a large feather flying upward, then stop." The boy obeyed, and everything happened as he had said. The boy saw the feather flying in wide circles. When it reached a great height, it began to soar in large circles, and finally disappeared in the sky. Then the boy cried, and went back to his mother.
The young man who had ascended to heaven found there a large house. It was the House of Myths. There he resumed his human shape, and peeped in at the door. Inside he saw a number of people who were turning their faces toward the wall. They were sitting on a low platform in the rear of the house. In the right-hand corner of the house he saw a large fire, and women sitting around it. He leaned forward and looked into the house. An old woman discovered him, and beckoned him to come to her. He stepped up to her, and she warned him by signs not to go to the rear of the house. She said, "Be careful! The men in the rear of the house intend to harm you." She opened a small box, and gave him the bladder of a mountain-goat, which contained the cold wind. She told him to open the bladder if they should attempt to harm him. She said that if he opened it, no fire could burn him. She told him that the men were going to place him near the fire, in order to burn him; that one of them would wipe his face, then fire would come forth from the floor, scorching everything. The old woman told him everything that the people were going to do. Now the man in the rear of the house turned round. He was the Sun himself. He was going to try the strength of the visitor. When he saw the young man, he said to the old woman, "Did anybody come to visit you? Let the young man come up to me. I wish him to sit down near me." The young man stepped up to the Sun, and as soon as he had sat down, the Sun wiped his face and looked at the young man (he had turned his face while he was wiping it). Then the young man felt very hot. He tied his blanket tightly round his body, and opened the bladder which the woman had given him. Then the cold wind that blows down the mountains in the winter was liberated, and he felt cool and comfortable. The Sun had not been able to do him any harm. The old man did not say anything, but looked at his visitor.
After a while he said, "I wish to show you a little underground house that stands behind this house." They both rose and went outside. The small house had no door. Access was had to it by an opening in the center of the roof, through which a ladder led down to the floor. Not a breath of air entered this house. It was made of stone. When they had entered, the Sun made a small fire in the middle of the house; then he climbed up the ladder and closed the door, leaving his visitor inside. The Sun pulled up the ladder, in order to make escape impossible. Then the house began to grow very hot. When the boy felt that he could not stand the heat any longer, he opened the bladder, and the cold wind came out; snow began to fall on the fire, which was extinguished; icicles began to form on the roof, and it was cool and comfortable inside. After a while the Sun said to his four daughters, "Go to the little underground house that stands behind our house, and sweep it," meaning that they were to remove the remains of the young man whom he believed to be burned. They obeyed at once, each being eager to be the first to enter. When they opened the house, they were much surprised to find icicles hanging down from the roof.
When they were climbing down the ladder, the youth arose and scratched them. The youngest girl was the last to step down. The girls cried when the youth touched them, and ran away. The Sun heard their screams, and asked the reason. He was much surprised and annoyed to hear that the young man was still alive. Then he devised another way of killing his visitor. He told his daughters to call him into his house. They went, and the young man re- entered the House of Myths. In the evening he lay down to sleep. Then the Sun said to his daughters, "Early tomorrow morning climb the mountain behind our house. I shall tell the boy to follow you." The girls started while the visitor was still asleep. The girls climbed up to a small meadow which was near a precipice. They had taken the form of mountain-goats. When the Sun saw his daughters on the meadow, he called to his visitor, saying, "See those mountain-goats!" The young man arose when he saw the mountain-goats. He wished to kill them. The Sun advised him to walk up the right-hand side of the mountain, saying that the left-hand side was dangerous. The young man carried his bow and arrow. The Sun said, "Do not use your own arrows! Mine are much better." Then they exchanged arrows, the Sun giving him four arrows of his own. The points of these arrows were made of coal.
Now the young man began to climb the mountain. When he came up to the goats, he took one of the arrows, aimed it, and shot. It struck the animals, but fell down without killing it. The same happened with the other arrows. When he had spent all his arrows, they rushed up to him from the four sides, intending to kill him. His only way of escape was in the direction of the precipice. They rushed up to him, and pushed him down the steep mountain. He fell headlong, but when he was halfway down he transformed himself into a ball of bird's down. He alighted gently on a place covered with many stones. There he resumed the shape of a man, arose, and ran into the house of the Sun to get his own arrows. He took them, climbed the mountain again, and found the mountain-goats on the same meadow. He shot them and killed them, and threw them down the precipice; then he returned. He found the goats at the foot of the precipice, and cut off their feet. He took them home. He found the Sun sitting in front of the house. He offered him the feet, saying, "Count them, and see how many I have killed." The Sun counted them and now he knew that all his children were dead. Then he cried, "You killed my children!" Then the youth took the bodies of the goats, fitted the feet on, and threw the bodies into a little river that was running past the place where they had fallen down. Thus they were restored to life. He had learned this art in the country of the Salmon. Then he said to the girls, "Now run to see your father! He is wailing for you." They gave him a new name, saying, "He has restored us to life." The boy followed them. Then the Sun said, when he entered, "You shall marry my two eldest daughters."
On the next morning the people arose. Then the Sun said to them, "What shall I do to my son-in-law?" He called him, and said, "Let us raise the trap of my salmon-weir." They went up to the river in the Sun's canoe. The water of the river was boiling. The youth was in the bow of the canoe, while the Sun was steering. He caused the canoe to rock, intending to throw the young man into the water. The water formed a small cascade, running down over the weir. He told the young man to walk over the top of the weir in order to reach the trap. He did so, walking over the top beam of the weir. When he reached the baskets, the beam fell over, and he himself fell into the water . The Sun saw him rise twice in the whirlpool just below the weir. When he did not see him rise again, he turned his canoe, and thought, "Now the boy has certainly gone to Nuskyakek." The Sun returned to his house, and said to his daughters, "I lost my son-in-law in the river. I was not able to find him." Then his daughters were very sad.
When the boy disappeared in the water, he was carried to Nuskyakek; and he resumed the shape of a salmon while in the water, and as soon as he landed he resumed human shape and returned to his wife. The Sun saw him coming, and was much surprised. In the evening they went to sleep. On the following morning the Sun thought, "How can I kill my son-in-law?" After a while he said to him, " Arise! We will go and split wood for fuel." He took his tools. They launched their canoe, and went down the river to the sea. When they reached there, it was perfectly calm. There were many snags embedded in the mud in the mouth of the river, some of which were only half submerged. They selected one of these snags a long distance from the shore, and began to split it. Then the Sun intentionally dropped his hammer into the water, and thought at the same time, "Do not fall straight down, but fall sideways, so that he will have much difficulty in finding you." Then he sat down in his canoe, and said, "Oh! I lost my old hammer. I had it at the time when the Sun was created." He looked down into the water, and did not say a word. After a while he said to the young man, "Do you know how to dive? Can you get my hammer? The water is not very deep here." The young man did not reply. Then the Sun continued, "I will not go back without my hammer." Then the boy said, "I know how to dive. If you so wish, I will try to get it." The Sun promised to give him supernatural power if he was able to bring the hammer back. The youth jumped into the water, and then the Sun ordered the sea to rise, and he called the cold wind to make the water freeze. It grew so cold that a sheet of ice a fathom thick was formed at once on top of the sea. "Now," he thought, "I certainly have killed you!" He left his canoe frozen up in the ice, and went home. He said to his daughters, "I have lost my son-in-law. He drifted away when the cold winds began to blow down the mountains. I have also lost my little hammer." But when he mentioned his hammer, his daughters knew at once what had happened. The young man found the hammer, and after he had obtained it he was going to return to the canoe, but he struck his head against the ice, and was unable to get out. He tried everywhere to find a crack. Finally he found a very narrow one. He transformed himself into a fish, and came out of the crack. He jumped about on the ice in the form of a fish, and finally resumed his own shape.
He went back to the Sun's house, carrying the hammer. The Sun was sitting in front of the fire, his knees drawn up, and his legs apart. His eyes were closed, and he was warming himself. The young man took his hammer and threw it right against his stomach, saying, "Now take better care of your treasures." The young man scolded the Sun, saying, "Now stop trying to kill me. If you try again, I shall kill you. Do you think I am an ordinary man? You cannot conquer me." The Sun did not reply.
In the evening he said to his son-in-law, "I hear a bird singing, which I should like very much to have." The young man asked, "What bird is it?" The Sun replied, "I do not know it. Watch it early tomorrow morning." The young man resolved to catch the bird. Very early in the morning he arose, then he heard the bird singing outside. He knew at once that it was the ptarmigan. He left the house, and thought, "I wish you would come down!" Then the bird came down, and when it was quite near by he shot it. He hit one of its wings, intending to catch it alive. He waited for the Sun to arise. The bird understood what the young man said, who thus spoke: "The chief here wishes to see you. Do not be afraid, I am not going to kill you. The chief has often tried to kill me, but he has been unable to do so. You do not need to be afraid." The young man continued, "When it is dark I shall tell the Sun to ask you to sit near him, and when he is asleep I want you to peck out his eyes." When the Sun arose, the youth went into the house carrying the bird, saying, "I have caught the bird; now I hope you will treat it kindly. It will awaken us when it is time to arise. When you lie down, let it sit down near you, then it will call you in the morning."
In the evening the Sun asked the bird to sit down next to his face. When he was asleep, the bird pecked out his eyes without his knowing it. Early in the morning he heard the bird singing. He was going to open his eyes, but he was not able to do so. Then he called his son, saying, "The bird has blinded me." The young man jumped up and went to his father-in-law, and said, "Why did you wish for the bird? Do you think it is good? It is a bad bird. It has pecked out your eyes." He took the bird and carried it outside, and thanked it for having done as it was bidden. Then the bird flew away.
When it was time for the Sun to start on his daily course, he said, "I am afraid I might fall, because I cannot see my way." For four days he staid in his house. He did not eat, he was very sad. Then his son-in-law made up his mind to cure him. He did not do so before, because he wanted to punish him for his badness. He took some water, and said to his father-in-law, "I will try to restore your eyesight." He threw the water upon his eyes, and at once his eyes were healed and well. He said, "Now you can see what power I have. The water with which I have washed my face has the power to heal diseases. While I was in the country of the Salmon, I bathed in the water in which the old Salmon bathed, in order to regain youth, therefore the water in which I wash makes everything young and well." From this time on, the Sun did not try to do any harm to the young man.
Finally he wished to return to his father's village. He left the house, and jumped down through the hole in heaven. His wife saw him being transformed into a ball of eagle-down, which floated down gently. Then her father told her to climb as quickly as she could down his eyelashes. She did so, and reached the ground at the same time as her husband. He met his younger brother, who did not recognize him. He had been in heaven for one year.
More stories to read:
Native American salmon legends
Stories about fishing
Stories about the sun
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The Nuxalk language
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