This is a short First Nations ghost story taken from Franz Boas’ 1895 text, Indian Myths and Legends from the North Pacific Coast of America, which was translated from German by Dietrich Bertz.
The city of Nanaimo – where I live – received its name from the Anglicized spelling of Snanaimuq (Snuneymuxw or Snuh-NAY-Moo), which is the name of the First Nations people whose traditional territory I live in.
The Origin of Fire
In the beginning, the ghosts (of the dead) owned fire.
The following is a short Nuu-Chah-Nulth legend from the 1895 German book ‘Indian Myths and Legends from the North Pacific Coast of America’ by Franz Boas ~ Dietrich Bertz translation. What fascinated me the most about the Girl and the Ghosts tale was the similarities to many of the Celtic spirit-abduction stories:
Once upon a time there was an ill-tempered girl. When she was given food, she complained that it wasn’t good enough, and no one was able to satisfy her. One evening someone gave food to her parents and her, but she cried and wanted to have something better. When her parents had finished their meal and wanted to go to bed, she was still crying and didn’t want to go to bed. Her mother said, “Come to bed, my child! I cannot give you what you ask for.” Since she sat there obstinately, her parents finally went to bed by themselves and went to sleep.
After a while the woman woke up. She called her daughter, but received no answer, so she got up and looked for the girl, yet was unable to find her. Then she woke up her husband and asked him whether he had seen their daughter. He also did not know what had become of her, and all their searching was in vain.
Suddenly they heard the girl’s voice calling deep under the ground. “Oh, give me good food, only a very small piece!” Thereupon the father called the whole tribe together and they considered what to do to get the girl back.
They decided to dig after her. They dug ten deep holes, but were unable to reach her, so they gave up. When they had assembled for a council again, one of the men said, “The ghosts (of the dead) must have got her. You know, when a village is abandoned, the ghosts always come back and look at the houses. Let’s all move away! Two men shall hide, and when the ghosts come with the girl, they shall take her away with them.”
The people resolved to follow his advice. They loaded their canoes and set out. Two men hid on the roof-beam of a house. When it got dark the ghosts appeared. They lit a fire and sang and danced. The girl sat among them and the ghosts sang magic incantations in order to change her too, into a ghost, but these didn’t bring the desired effect. Before the men could rush at the girl, they were scented by the ghosts, who vanished into the ground with the girl.
So the two men went down to the river and washed themselves for four days. Then they returned to the house and hid again on the roof-beam. When it got dark, the ghosts came again to sing and to dance. This time they didn’t scent the men, who rushed upon the girl and seized her before the ghosts were able to pull her down into the depths with them.
This is the tale of the girl and the ghosts. If you are interested in more Vancouver Island ghost stories, check out my new book The Haunting of Vancouver Island.