Why We Dance

by William Wasden Jr.

As you can read in that letter, we celebrate the necessities of life and share them with one another. As part of that, we have many dances. Sometimes an individual dances to tell the history of that person and the family. We do this to show our place in the community as individuals, families and clans. Important ceremonies use particular dance groups that carry out the appropriate rituals.
In our culture, we dance and sing to celebrate life. Each family has its own origin story that tells how it descended from a first ancestor who survived the great flood. These stories tell about connections and encounters with supernatural beings, animals and other families. They show how each family has gained the right to perform specific ceremonies that bring to life the spirituality and the privileges passed on from our ancestors. The histories include the crest figures, such as the raven and the eagle, as well as our songs and stories.

Here is a story about our family’s namesake, “Namxiyalegiyu, who appears in one of our important ceremonies.

‘Namxiyalegiyu (The Halibut-Like Sea Monster) Dance

Before the great flood a ‘Namgis man knew it would happen because the Creator had sent a message in his dreams. He knew he must wait by the ocean for a huge sea monster, ‘Namxiyalegiyu, whose name meant “Something Terrible”. When rain began and never stopped, ‘Namxiyalegiyu arose from the depths. It was so huge that the tides dropped around the world. The man climbed onto the sea monster, but ‘Namxiyalegiyu was so big that he seemed to be a tiny dot on its gigantic back. The Creator gave this man supernatural power with which he could breathe underwater.  ‘Namxiyalegiyu protected the man all the time that he remained under the ocean.

When the waters went down ‘Namxiyalegiyu returned the man to his homeland.  The man looked around and saw that he was all alone, so he took the name ‘Namukustolis (Only One in the World). He came to the beach near the mouth of the ‘Namgis River. Namukustolis was very lonely, so after a time, he snared some birds and transformed them into people. This is how he started the ‘Namgis tribe. He kept the great sea monster, ‘Namxiyalegiyu, as his tribe’s crest because it was his protector and had saved him during the great flood.

The great sea monster has a large fish-like head, large gills for cheeks, a wide mouth and many teeth.  It has the body of a gigantic halibut, and on its back is the dorsal fin of a killer whale, but of immense size. When the sea monster moves, it causes all the world’s oceans to heave.  The waves can capsize and wreck our canoes. When this monster swims through the water, everything in the ocean flees. It also has the supernatural power to transform itself into any form. For example, it can suddenly becomes a great rock, usually in the path of a canoe, and wreck it.

© 2024 This project was made possible with the support of the Department of Canadian Heritage through Canadian Culture Online
Indigenous Dance