The Weeping Totem of Tanu

The Weeping Totem Pole stands on the Islands of Tanu in the Queen Charlotte group and is about a hundred years old. It shows a figure of a man shedding streams of tears. This is knows as the Weeping Totem Pole of Tanu. The legend of the Weeping Totem of Tanu was told long before the white man came.

When Chief Always-Laughs ruled the people of the Northern Isle of the Queen Charlotte group, Always-Laughs was a wise chief and knew that the Great Spirit dealt with kindly with the people as long as they dealt kindly with all creatures having life. The people could kill for food but not for pleasure. Chief Always-Laughs heard the deer were fat on the Island of Tanu. The people liked fat deer, so the chief led a hunting party including seven sons, two grandsons, and seven canoe-loads of people.
It was evening when they reached camp; men gathered driftwood; others started a fire by rubbing sticks and flint.
In the morning, the hunting party split into small groups and went to hunt the fat deer of Tanu, but they left the two boys in camp.
“Guard the fire, my grandsons”, said the old chief, “as it is easier to keep a fire going than it is to start it.
“We will watch the fire faithfully for our grandfather”, they replied.
When the hunters returned that evening they found the fire out.

“What happened to the fire?” asked the chief. “Why did you let it go out?”

“It was the toads”, said the older boy.

“Yes”, said the younger.

“When we gathered wood we found a large toad. When we threw it on the fire, it swelled very large and burst with a bang”.

“We had lots of fun”, said the older boy, “small toads, big toads, all burst with a big noise”.

“But the last was the largest”, said the younger, “when he burst, he put the fire out”.

“Woe! Woe! My children”, cried the wise chief. “Do you not know that those who harm one of the Great Spirit’s creatures will suffer in a like way?”

“What a thing you have done”, wailed the father of the boys, “we must leave this place. We cannot stay, not even for the fat deer of Tanu”.

“To the canoes, quickly”, shouted the old chief.

As all rushed to the seven canoes, the earth started to tremble and roar. Fire burst from the ground. The trees fell, and the ground where the men stood opened, and the hunting party disappeared. All perished. Only the old chief survived. And when he got home, from that day he was known as the chief who always weeps for his children.

The Totem Pole was carved out and erected in memory of the Chief by the remaining relations and tribe. This pole, carved from a large cedar tree and to be known as the Chief Weeping Totem Pole, shows a toad in the hands of a weeping man. Each stream of tears terminates on the head of a grandson. The base of the Totem Pole represents the face of a large toad.

Thus ends the legend of the Weeping Totem Pole of Tanu.

by Charles Dudoward, Port Simpson BC

Acknowledgement: Haida Myths by Marius Barbeau

Categories: Haida Culture

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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