This past year I have had the great honor of working with Longhouse Media to bring one of Samish Nation’s traditional stories to life via film.
THE MAIDEN OF DECEPTION PASS
“A very long time ago, there was a house of Samish people living here just above the beach where there are good springs. The people made their living by fishing from their cedar canoes, by digging up the kwool (camas)bulbs on the hillsides and by gathering shellfish on the rocks and the beach.
One day, Kwekwálelwet and her sister were gathering chitons from the rocks, right here on Rosario Beach, and filling up their woven baskets. Kwekwálelwet was way out on the rocks when the tide began to come in. She was startled, and a chiton slipped from her hands into the water. SHe reached down under the water to get it back. But it kept rolling down deeper and deeper, out of her grasp. Finally, what her hand touched in the dark water was not a chiton but another hand. It held her tight. Kwekwálelwet tried to pull her hand free, but she could not budge. Then she heard a gentle voice in the water: it said, “Don’t be afraid. You are beautiful, and I only wanted to look at you a little longer.”
Kwekwálelwet listened. The voice was very gentle, and although she did not know who it could be, she was no longer afraid. “Who are you?” she asked. “Where are your people?” “I have a big house under the water” the voice explained. “My house is always filled with food and with guests. I have a lot of friends.” Kwekwálelwet held the hand a little longer, and then it let her go. She looked as hard as she could into the water, but she could see nothing.
Some days passed. The next time Kwekwálelwet went to the beach to gather chitons, the same thing happened to her as before. The voice in the water told her stories about the sea world and held her a little longer. Some days later, when Kwekwálelwet went back to the beach, it happened a third time. And then a fourth time.
The fourth time, Kwekwálelwet held on tightly to the hand of the stranger in the water and she said, “Let me look at you!” To her great surprise, a handsome young man stood up in the water and, still holding her hand, walked with her to her family’s house. As a guest the young man was welcome. He shared food with Kwekwálelwet’s family and was given a dog-wool cape to stay warm. He was very handsome and gentle, but Kwekwálelwet’s sister thought he seemed chilly and damp. After the meal he rose and said to Kwekwálelwet’s parents, “O’siám! Thank you for your hospitality. I have watched your daughter for a very long time. She is very beautiful and skillful, and I would like to take her home to live with my family in the sea.”
Kwekwálelwet’s father thought carefully. He did not know this stranger and did not want to offend him. But he was unsure whether it was a good idea to get involved with these sea people. So he said, “We don’t even know your name or your family, besides, my daughter could not possibly live in the sea!”.
The young man listened. He said: “You should know who I am. My name is very very great. My house beneath the sea is always filled with seafood of every kind. I always have guests, and they never go hungry. As my father-in-;aw, your name will also be very great.”
Kwekwálelwet’s father considered this carefully. “What you say may be true,” he said, “but we have never seen your people, and I do not want my daughter to go away from here forever.” They spoke like this for a long time. Finally, the young man saw that Kwekwálelwet’s father was not going to give in, so he rose to leave. “You say that you do not know us, but we have always been kind to your family and people. Now you turn us away. Well, if that is your wish, I will go home alone, and you will find nothing on the beach. Even the springs will go dry.” Saying this, he left.
Just as he said, things got very bad for Kwekwálelwet and her family. The tide no longer went out, and there was nothing to eat. The springs dried up, and women had no milk in their breasts for the babies. No one came to visit them. Everyone in Kwekwálelwet’s family was terrified and ashamed because they were so poor. At long last, Kwekwálelwet’s mother said to her: “You’d better find that young man again.” Kwekwálelwet bathed, then her father wrapped her in her best clothes. She went down the beach. She called the young man’s name. She cried, and then walked into the water.
The young man appeared in the water and came up to her with an armful of gifts from the sea. The walked hand-in-hand to her house. This time Kwekwálelwet’s father said: “I am sorry we have shown you disrespect. Please accept my daughter as part of your family, and be our in-laws. But there’s one thing I must ask from you. We love our daughter and will worry about her. Let her come back each year for a visit, so that we can see that she is happy.” The young man left with Kwekwálelwet. They walked out into the sea and disappeared under the waves. The tide went out, and the springs began to flow. There were more fish and shellfish than ever before. Kwekwálelwet’s family grew very rich. They held great feasts, and canoes came from everywhere to visit them. Kwekwálelwet’s people were famous.
Four times Kwekwálelwet came home again to see her family. Each time she came, there was even more seafood than before. But each time Kwekwálelwet returned, she seemed sadder to away from the sea and her handsome husband. Each time she came home, her family noticed that she was becoming more like a sea creature. Her skin seemed colder, and in places it was covered with scales or barnacles. Her hair looked more and more like seaweed. The fourth time she came to visit, Kwekwálelwet seemed so sad that her family said “If you are so happy in the sea, you don’t have to come too us like this any longer” Kwekwálelwet walked back into the sea, her long hair floating on the water like the seaweed you see today around Rosario Head. When you see that seaweed floating on the tide, you know that Kwekwálelwet is still here, looking after her family.”