Kwakiutl - A?mâ'xwax*sag*îla (Potlatch-Giver)
Tradition of the G*â'p!ênoxu.
(Recorded by George Hunt.)
The ancestors of the Divided tribe went to Cave to gather herring-spawn, and the name of their chief was Potlatch-Giver. There is a high hill at Cave, and it falls down steep to the sea. The chief purified himself because he was a shaman, and he would go up the hill and stand on a dangerous small place at the precipice of the hill. He did this dangerous thing all the time.
Then his attendants became angry on account of what he was doing, and his four attendants planned that they would kill the chief. One of them said that they would follow him and push him down from the place where he used to stand. They finished their bad discussion. In the morning, when day came, Potlatch-Giver again went to the dangerous place to which he used to go. The great warrior started and stood on the dangerous place on the narrow little place where he used to stand on the rock. Then the warrior attendant walked along on the rock, and (when he came up) pushed him down. Then (the chief) fell down, and what else should happen? He died.
Then the tribe came and hid him there below. Now the chief was dead. After the chief had been hidden for four days, an Owl came. He spoke, and said, "O friend Potlatch-Giver! arise and try this owl mask of Gwêgwaâ'?ya?wa'." Thus he said. Immediately Potlatch-Giver arose, and he was given the owl mask. Then the Owl said, "Put this on, for people, when they are dead, always come to me."
Then Potlatch-Giver put on the owl mask, and it really fitted him. As soon as he had finished putting it on, the Owl spoke, and said, "Go on, try to fly!" Thus he said. Then Potlatch-Giver tried to fly, but he just turned over. Then the Owl spoke, and said, "O friend Potlatch-Giver! you are a bad hand at flying. Go on, take off the owl mask, because you are a bad hand at it." Thus he said. As soon as Potlatch-Giver had taken off the owl mask, the Owl spoke, and said, "O Potlatch-Giver! you are a bad hand at flying. Now you will always be buried at Cave." Thus he said when he drove away Potlatch-Giver.
Then Potlatch-Giver walked, and went to the place where he had been hidden. As soon as he arrived at the place where he had been hidden, he was dead. For four days he staid at the place where he was hidden. Then he again heard some one speaking. The (voice) said, "O friend Potlatch-Giver! I invite you for Spouting-at-Mouth-of-River." Thus it said. Immediately he arose and followed the man. Then he was taken down to the beach, and he went aboard a war-canoe which was on the beach. As soon as the one who had been invited was aboard the war-canoe, those who had been sent to invite him paddled away. They were going to the other side of the point. There Potlatch-Giver saw many houses. Then he was met by (the people).
Immediately a small hunting-canoe was brought, and was put down at the [mouth of the] beach. Then Potlatch-Giver was asked to go aboard the small canoe. As soon as he was aboard the small canoe, the small canoe became a killer-whale. Then Potlatch-Giver was told to try to spout. In vain he tried to spout. He would just fall down flat or he would move about on his back. In vain he tried four times. Then he gave it up. He was a bad hand at it. Then he was asked to get out of his small canoe. Then one of the men spoke, and said, "O friend Potlatch-Giver! listen! I am Spouting-at-Mouth-of-River, to whom the dead of all the tribes of your common men come. You are a bad hand at it. Now just go back again to your grave at Cave." Thus he said, while he sent four young men to carry Potlatch-Giver back to Cave. Now he was taken back to Cave.
After four days he again heard some one saying, "I invite you, Potlatch-Giver, for Place-of-staying-away." Thus (the voice) said. Immediately he arose and followed those who invited him. Then he saw a canoe on the beach. The man went towards it, and Potlatch-Giver also went along and went aboard that canoe. As soon as Potlatch-Giver was aboard the canoe, the man pushed off, and he paddled and steered towards Steel-Head-Salmon-Body. They arrived there. Then he saw many houses there, and there was much noise. They arrived, and he was met by many men. Then they called Potlatch-Giver, and immediately Potlatch-Giver went to the door of the house. Then one man spoke, and said, "Oh, my dear! take care! don't turn your face towards the naked women when they call you, else you will not return home. Just walk towards the right side of the house, and sit down in the rear of the house, and don't eat what will be given to you by them." Thus he said.
Then they went into the house, and immediately the naked women came to meet him; and in vain he was pulled by the women, who had really white skins. But he had been warned by the one who had pity on him, and he just walked to the rear of the house. Immediately they tried to give him food, but he just said that he was not hungry. Then he was not urged to eat [to be fed]. Already the attempt was given up. He had not been sitting in the house long before a noise began outside of the house, and it was not a very long time that he was sitting in the house before three men came in with water really dripping from their necks. They were met by the naked women, and unfortunately two men at once embraced two women, and they cohabited; but one man just passed them and sat down at the place where Potlatch-Giver was sitting.
Then Potlatch-Giver and the other man talked together. Potlatch-Giver questioned the man, and said, "Oh, my dear! what has brought you here?" Thus he said. Then the man replied, and said, "Oh, my dear! our canoe upset at Ocean-Place." Then he recognized that the man who had just arrived was the prince of Ha'nkwasôgwi?laxu, chief of the Ocean tribe. He said to him, "Don't eat when you are given food at this place where we are, else we shall stay away." Thus he said. Then he saw the two men who were just all the time lying with the women. Then food was offered to the prince of Ha'nkwasôgwi?laxu. His name was Copper-Body. He said that he was not hungry.
Then the one who tried to offer him food said, "Go home to your house, and walk on the street of Wave-striking-Forehead." Thus he said. Then he spoke again, and said, "O Potlatch-Giver! I am Ghost. I am Place-of-staying-away. Now you will obtain as your magic treasure the Ghost dance; and this spirit paddle will go, and the skull rattle, and the potlatch staff, and also the (axe) Going- from-One-Side-of-the-Door-to-the-Other, to break canoes whenever you give a feast, chief. Now go home!" Thus said Place-of-staying-away.
Then Potlatch-Giver and Copper-Body went out of the house. Place-of-staying-away said also that they should just walk on the trail back of the houses. Then they started, and they found the trail. They walked on. They met with Ghosts who were going to dig clams at Waves-striking-Forehead. They passed them going to the village of the North people at Spliced-Point. They walked from the beginning to the end of the day, and then they arrived at Spliced-Point.
Then the North people just left, as soon as they knew that it was Potlatch-Giver, who had been dead for a long time. Then he stole a small canoe, and he came traveling in the canoe. He went along with Copper-Body. They were going to Cave. They arrived there. Then he remembered that it was the time when the herrings finished spawning. They paddled, and were going to Trees-on-Ground, for that was the village of the ancestors of the Divided tribe. It was night when they arrived there. Then they went up from the beach and entered the house of Potlatch-Giver. Then he saw the attendant who had killed him, lying down with the wife of Potlatch-Giver. When the attendant of Potlatch-Giver saw him, he was really frightened. He had taken the place of Potlatch-Giver, and he was chief of the Divided tribe. As soon as he saw Potlatch-Giver, he fainted.
His wife called the ancestors of the Divided tribe to come into the house, and she had not called twice before all the ancestors of the Divided tribe came in. Then a wise man said, "O Divided tribe! let us be ready to beat time for our chief here, for he is not an ordinary man, for he has been dead." Thus he said. Immediately they beat time for him, and immediately Potlatch-Giver sang his sacred song. Then Copper-Body also did so. And as soon as they had sung their sacred songs, a carving came and stood up on the floor of the house in front of the fire in the middle of the Time-beating-House. It was Going-from-One-Side-of-the-Door-to-the-Other; and also the spirit paddle was in the rear of the house; and also the potlatch-staff and the skull rattle appeared in the middle of the house. Potlatch-Giver took it at once; and as soon as he had taken the rattle, Going-from-One-Side-of-the-Door-to-the-Other jumped out of the house. Then those who were beating time heard the noise of breaking canoes; and it was not long before he came dragging the bows of four canoes, which he put on the fire in the middle of the Time-beating-House. Then he stood again in front of the fire.
Thus the ancestors of the Divided tribe discovered that Potlatch-Giver had obtained these supernatural gifts. He was the first of the shamans of the Divided tribe. He was paid by the ancestors of the Divided tribe for (curing) sick people. He was paid sea-otters and slaves, and also the princesses of the chiefs of the Divided tribe. Now Potlatch-Giver was really the foremost chief of the Divided tribe on account of this, and he was all the time giving potlatches to his tribe; and Going-from-One-Side-of-the-Door-to-the-Other also was always breaking canoes, because when he went the first time to break the four canoes, and when those who had beaten time went out, the canoes were whole again.
And so one chief of the ancestors of the Divided tribe came to be jealous of the excessive greatness of the chief. One whose name was Leaving invited his tribe, and he asked his tribe to spoil (the power that was destroying and repairing) the canoes. Then an old man spoke, and said, "O chief! let Potlatch-Woman sit in a canoe this night, for she is menstruating." Thus he said. When night came, Potlatch-Woman went to the place where the canoes were, and she sat down in the first one she came to; and she had not been sitting in the canoe long when she went out of it into another one, and she went again into another one, and she sat down in all the canoes. Then she went home again. Then Potlatch-Giver again called his tribe. As soon as they were all in, the attendant namely, Going-from-One-Side-of-the-Door-to-the-Other jumped out of the house and broke the canoes, and he came in again dragging the bows of the canoes. After the feast was ended, all the men went out. Then they looked at the four canoes, and they were not whole again. It was spoiled on account of the menstrual blood of Potlatch-Woman. Therefore the Indians know that whatever is burned goes to the Ghosts, for the canoes would all come back from the Ghosts when they tried to burn them. Then Going-from-One-Side-of-the-Door-to-the-Other disappeared, and also the rattle, and the potlatch-staff, and the canoes. That is the end.
Kwakiutl Tales, by Franz Boas; (Columbia University Contributions to Anthropology, Volume II) New York: Columbia University Press;  and is now in the public domain.