The Bear and His Indian Wife
This is the story of the Haidas of Queen Charlotte’s Island, British Columbia, was told in 1873 by a Haida named Yak Quahu, who heard it related around the evening fires by the old people of his tribe. Yak Quahu began: “Not long ago, as our old people will tell us, the bears were a race of beings less perfect than our fathers. They used to talk, walk upright, and use their paws like hands. When they wanted wives, they were accustomed to steal the daughters of our people.”
Quiss-an-kweedass and Kind-a-wuss were a youth and a maiden in my native village, she the daughter of one of our chiefs, he the son of one of the common people. Since both were about the same age and had been playmates from youth, their fondness in later years ripened into a love so strong that they seemed to live for each other. But while they loved each other, they knew that they could neve live as husband and wife, because both were of one crest, the Raven. By the social laws of the Haidas a mother gives her mane and crest to her children, whether Raven, Eagle, Frog, Beaver, or Bear. A man is at liberty to take a wife from any other crest except the one to which he himself belongs.
While the youth and the maiden continued to love each other, time passed unnoticed. Life to them seemed a pleasing dream–from which they were awakened when both sets of parents reminded them that the time had come for each to marry someone else. Seeing that these admonitions passes unheeded, their parents resolved to separate them. he lovers were confined to their homes, but they contrived to slip away and meet outside the village. They escaped to the woods, resolved to live o the meanest fare in the mountain forests rather than return to be separated.
In a lonely glen under a shady spruce by a mountain stream, they built a hut, to which they always returned at night. While wandering in search of food they were careful lest they should meet any of their relations.
Thus they lived until the lengthening nights and stormy days reminded them of winter. Quiss-an-kweedass resolved to revisit his home, and to make the journey alone. Kind-a-wuss preferred to remain in the solitude of the forest rather than to face her angry relations. He promised, however, to return before nightfall of the fourth day.
When he reached home, his parents welcomed him and asked about Kind-a-wuss and her whereabouts since they had departed. He told them all, and when they had heard how they lived, and how she had become his wife, their wrath was great. They told him that he would never go back, and they decided to keep him prisoner until she also returned.
When Quiss-an-kweedass could not get away, he urged his people to let him go and get Kind-a-wuss, for she would never return alone. They were unmoved by his appeal. After considerable time, he managed to escape. he hastened to his mountain home, hoping to meet Kind-a-wuss, yet fearing that something might be wrong.
When he arrived at the place where they had parted, he found by the footprints on the soft earth that she had started to return to their hut. Drawing near it, he listened but heard no sound and saw no trace of her. When he went inside, he was horror-stricken to find that she had not been there since he left. Where was she? Had she lost her way? Hoping to find some clue, he searched the hut, looked up and down the stream, went through the timber up to the mountains, calling her by name as he went along: “Kind-a-wuss?” To these appeals the mountain echoes answered, Kind-a-wuss.
After searching for days, feeling sorrowful and angry, he turned homeward, grieving for the dear one whom he had lost, and angry with his parents, whom he blamed for his misfortune. Once there, he told the villagers of his trouble and claimed their assistance. Many responded, among them the two fathers, one anxious for his daughter’s safety, the other disturbed because he had detained his son.
Early on the morning of the third day after Quiss-an-kweedass arrived, he led a party out for a final search to try and find her, dead or alive. But after ten days, during which they discovered nothing except a place where traces of a struggle were visible, they abandoned the effort.
As weeks gave place to months and months to years, Kind-a-wuss seemed to have been forgotten. She was seldom mentioned, or was referred to only as the girl who was lost and never found. Yet her lover never forgot; he believed her still alive and did all in his power to find her. Having failed so often, he thought he would visit a medicine man, or skaga, who was clairvoyant.
The skaga asked Quiss-an-kweedass if he had anything the maiden had worn. He gave a part of her clothing to the skaga, who took it in his hand and said: “I see a young woman lying on the ground; she seems to be asleep. It is Kind-a-wuss. There is something in the bushes, coming toward her. It is a large bear. He takes hold of her; she tries to get away but cannot. He takes her with him, a long way off. I see a lake. They reach it and stop at a large cedar tree. She lives i the tree with the bear. I see two children, boys, that she has had by the bear. If you go to the lake and find the tree, you will discover them all there.”
Quiss-an-kweedass lost no time in getting together a second party led by the skaga, who soon found the lake and then the tree. There they halted to consider what it was best to do.
It was agreed that Quiss-an-kweedass should call her by name before venturing up a sort of stepladder which leaned against the tree. After he called her several times, she looked out and said, “Where do you come from? And who are you?” “I am Quiss-an-kweedass,” said he. “I have sought long years for you. Now that I have found you, I mean to take you home. Will you go?” “I cannot go with you until my husband, the chief of the bears, returns.” After a little conversation, she consented to come down among them; and when they had her in their power, they hastily carried her off home.
Her parents were glad to have their lost child, and Quiss-an-kweedass was overjoyed to recover his love one. Although she was at home and kindly welcomed, she was worried for her two sons and wished to return for them. This her friends would not allow, though they offered to go and fetch them. She replied that their father would not let them go. “But,” said she, “there is a way you might get them.” She explained that the bear had made up a song for her, and if the would go to the tree and sing it, the bear chief would give them whatever they wished.
After learning the song, a party went to the tree and began to sing. As soon as the bear heard the song he came down, thinking that Kind-a-wuss had returned. When he saw that she was not there, he was upset and refused to let the children go. When the party threatened to take them by force, however, he agreed to send them to their mother.
Kinda-a-wuss told the following story of how she had fallen into the power of the bear. After she had parted from Quiss-an-kweedass and turned back toward the hut, she had not gone far before she felt tired and sick at heart for her lover. Deciding to rest a little, she lay down in a dry shady place and fell asleep.
There the bear found her, took her and carried her to his home near the lake. As the entrance to his house was high above the ground, he had a sort of stepladder whereby he could get easily up and down. He sent some of his tribe to gather moss to make her a bed.
She used to wonder why no one came to look for her; and when the bear saw her downhearted, he would do all in his power to cheer her up. As the years passed and none of her relations nor her lover came near her, she began to feel at home in the bear’s tree house. By the time the search party arrived, she had given up all hope of being found. The bear tried to make her comfortable and please her. He composed a song which to this day is known among the children of the Haidas as the Song of the Bears. I have hear it sung many times. In 1888 an old acquaintance gave me the words.
I have taken a fair maid from her Haida friends as my wife. I hope her relatives won’t come and carry her away from me. I will be kind to her. I will give her berries from the hill and roots from the ground. I will do all I can to please her. For her I made this song, and for her I sing it.
This is the Song of the Bears, and whoever can sing it has their lasting friendship. Many people learned it from Kind-a-wuss, who never went again to live with the bear. Out of consideration for her, as well as the hardships that the lovers suffered, they were allowed to live as man and wife.
As for the two sons, Soo-gaot and Cun-what, they showed different dispositions as they grew up. Soo-gaot stayed with his mother’s people, while the other returned to his father and lived and died among the bears. Soo-gaot, marrying a girl belonging to his parental tribe, reared a family from whom many of his people claim to be descended. The direct descendant of Soo-gaot is a pretty girl, the offspring of a Haida mother and Kanaku father, who inherits all the family belonging, the savings of many generations. The small brook which flowed by the mountain home of Quiss-an-kweedass and Kind-a-wuss grew to be a large stream, up which large quantities of salmon run in season. That stream is in the family to this day, and out of it they catch their food.
–Based on Yak Quahu’s story recorded in 1873 and published by James Deans in the 1880’s