History in its many forms is kept alive to teach us lessons.
It is the lesson of a parable that is important to us. The story is not important in itself; it may or may not be literally true. By nature, a parable invites the reader or listener to supply the interpretation. It is left to us to supply the meaning and the lesson.
This native parable which is also shared by most Pacific Northwest tribes makes reference to an oral history revealing common sense, truth, and at its root even scientific wisdom. It surely illustrate the connection humans have with, and the need to teach stewardship of, the oceans.
As you read “look past the written word and you will find yourself in the world of a people whose fate is intimately tied to the ocean people, the sky people, and the forest people.
Salmon Boy – How the People and Salmon are as one.
The native people off the west coast of British Columbia have an interesting parable about a boy who is transformed into a salmon and upon return to human form becomes a wise leader. It teaches respect for the salmon, the need for stewardship of their ocean pasture, and how we should respect and care for all living creatures, especially the ones we use as food.
A long time ago, a young boy was hungry so his mother gave him a piece of fish to eat. The boy looked at the fish, but refused to eat it saying it was no good and threw it in the fire. Soon he went out to play with the other children. They were swimming at a nearby beach when the boy swam too far out and drowned. The salmon people caught his soul and swam with it back to their village under the sea.
Once in their undersea salmon village the salmon people changed into human form and revived the boy to live as one of their own. The boy saw the salmon village was much like his own with houses and children playing. When the salmon boy said he was hungry, he was told to catch one of the people from the land, cook and eat it. There was one condition however; after eating it he must return the bones and whatever else was left to the beach to nourish the land of the humans, but he was lazy and didn’t pay much attention to this task.
After a while he told his new salmon mother that his eye hurt. She asked the salmon boy if he had been sure he had returned all the left over parts of his meal to the beach. The boy looked around and found an eye from his meal that he had missed properly attending to. He threw the eye onto the beach and soon his own eye stopped hurting.
After a long time when the salmon people returned to the rivers to spawn, salmon boy went with them. There he was caught by his own mother who recognized him by a necklace he was wearing. She set this salmon aside and after a day or two the boy’s head emerged from the fish’s mouth. After a few more days the boy came out entirely leaving his salmon skin behind.
Thereafter, the reincarnated boy became a shaman, a wise man, who taught his people to become caring stewards of the salmon and their ocean pasture.
We have remembered his lesson as we return to the Haida Ocean to repay an age old debt and renew our stewardship.