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From the Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology
Tlingit Myths and Texts
Collected in Sitka and Wrangell in 1904, published 1908

There was a certain woman at Sitka living with her husband and her husband’s mother. One evening she got hemlock branches, made strings out of red-cedar bark, tied them together, and put them around herself. Then she went out to a flat rock, still called Herring rock, where herring are very abundant, just as the tide was coming over it, and, when the fish collected in the branches, she threw them up on the beach. Every day during the herring season she did the same thing, and after she reached the house she put her apron care fully away until next time.

One day her old mother-in-law heard her cooking the herring and said, “What is that you are cooking, my son’s wife?” “Oh!” she answered, “a few clams that I have collected.” “Will you give me some?” said the old woman, for she was hungry, but, when she reached out her hand for it, her daughter-in-law dropped a hot rock into it and burnt her.

When her son came home that evening the old woman told him what had happened. She said, “She was cooking something. I know that it did not smell like clams. When I asked her for some she gave me a hot rock and burnt my hand. I wonder where she got that fish, for I am sure that it was some sort of fish. Immediately after you leave she is off. I don’t know what she does.”

When the man heard that, he and his brother who had been hunting with him started out at once, before his wife saw them. They pretended that they were again going hunting, but they returned immediately to a place where they could watch the village. From there they saw the woman put on her apron of hemlock boughs, go out to the rock, and come home with the herring. As soon as she had gone in they went out themselves and got a canoe load of the fish. Then the woman’s husband went up to the house and said to his wife, “I have a load of herring down there.” So she ran down to the canoe and saw that it was loaded with them. She began shouting up to them, “Bring me down my basket,” for she wanted to carry up the fish in it. The people heard her, but they felt ill-disposed toward her on account of the way she had treated her mother-in-law, so they paid no attention. She kept on shouting louder and louder, and presently her voice became strange. She shouted, “Hade’ wudîkā’t, wudîkā’t, wudîkā’t.” (this way with the basket) She also began hooting like an owl.

Pacific Herring

As she kept on making this noise her voice seemed to go further away from the village. The people noticed it, but paid no attention. After she had asked for the basket right behind the village, she sounded still more like an owl, and finally she ceased to ask for the basket, and merely hooted (hm, hm). She had become the screech owl. She left them altogether.

Nowadays, when a young girl is very selfish, people say to her, “Ah! when you get married, you will put a hot rock into your mother in-law’s hand, and for punishment you will become an owl.”

Western Screech Owl in Sitka – Photo by Kameron Perensovich. December 30, 2011.

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