The Legend of Tih’exwthut
It’s now May and we have come to the end of our annual Sea Lion season. Every year our flippered friends make their homes here while they rest up for their long migration. For our local Sliammon nation, the Sea Lions were an important food source. Because of this, there are many legends involving them.
One of the most important part of native storytelling about the Sea Lions is that they are a tribe in themselves. That these creatures have their own villages under the waves and can take the form of a human when not hunting. Because of this the Sliammon believed that they deserved as much respect as person when they died. One legend speaks of this in detail.
Long ago, a hunter and his tribe go hunting for the Sea Lions. Having caught eye of his prey, the man takes his spear and dives to the depths. His fellow tribesmen wait for him to surface with his quarry. A few minutes pass, yet his tribesman see no bubbles, no bubbles come to the surface. Patiently they wait and wait for him to return but to no avail.
Hours pass, and no sign surfaces of the man. His tribesman yell to him with a billowing cry that could penetrate the waves to the bottom, yet no response is heard. His tribesman, thinking he is dead, start looking for his body. Whole day passes, yet no body surfaces. Concerned for their kinsmen, a boat waits for him at the surface for a whole night and a whole morning.
With no sighting of the man, the tribe goes far and wide to find him. It is then that they go to the cave of Tuqwanen (Present day Theodosia Inlet), where the Sea Lions gather. There they find the man, trapped in a circle of seals. They approach the man, the Sea Lions jump up to attack the boats, stopping the search party from getting close to the man.
Image taken from Google Maps
As the Sea Lions dance around the man, slowly he transforms. Hands and feet become flippers and his face slowly morph into the appearance of the seals. The Sea Lions were transforming the man into one of their own. Try as they might, boats could not reach the man in time. He would become one of the Sea Lions.. Resigned to his fate, the man looked at his tribe one last time and dove into the sea as one of the Sea Lions. His old tribe, in hoping to bring him back, left him gifts smoked salmon. Every day they would drop fish for him, in hopes he would reappear to them. Sadly, the food would disappear with no trace of the man.
From then on, the Sliamon would name all Sea Lions that name of the man, Tih’exwthut. They would recount the legend to their children to warn them every time they went, to be careful less be taken by the seals and made to join their tribe. They also told them to always be respectful of their prey and always thank them for the food they provide as though they were one of their own.
This was written by Seabreeze Adventures crew member Vincent using information from the book:
Salish myths and legends one people's stories Thompson & Egesdal - University of Nebraska Press - 2008