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|Posted: Wed Sep 20, 2023 6:07 pm Post subject: Chapter 9 ~ The People Who Live by the Rocks and Seagulls
CHAPTER 9 ~ The People Who Live by the Rocks and Seagulls
"You can leave your packs on top of that box at the foot of your beds," said Qua-yuta. "Wait here and I'll go get some mats for your beds.
The Makah youth headed off towards his mother, who was busy preparing the evening meal near the longhouse's main entrance. Jon Max noticed several interesting items in a small narrow basket that rested on a low box near the foot of his bunk bed.
"Hey, I think this is a hand-carved hairbrush," Jon Max said, picking up the object and examining it with curiosity. The handle of the brush was made of beautifully carved wood with complex designs, and the wood had been polished to a high gloss. Jon Max handed it to his friend.
"Yeah, I think you're right. But I wonder what they used for these bristles?"
The voice of Gidget answered immediately. "Those bristle are from the tail of a wild pig."
"Eeee-yew!" Laura said as she dropped the brush onto the sandy floor, making a horrible face as she stepped back away from it as if the object was radioactive. Jon Max quickly picked up the brush and dusted the sand from it, then placed it carefully back into the basket.
"Hey, don't treat other people's stuff like that."
Laura looked embarrassed for a moment, then she said, "Sorry. Guess I over-reacted."
"That's okay. It was sort of my fault. I picked it up first. We probably shouldn't even be touching their personal property."
This time it was Gazmo who spoke. "The Makah's ideas about personal property are very different from yours. I think I should warn you about leaving your backpacks here."
"What do you mean?" said Laura.
"The first Europeans to meet the Native American’s who live in this region was Captain Cook and the crew of this ship, in the year 1778 – which is eight years from now. The people Captain Cook met are called the Nuu-chuh-nulth Indians. He let a group of them come on board his ship. Unfortunately, the Indians stole many valuable things while they were looking around – including Capt. Cook's own gold watch."
"Hey, that wasn't very nice of those guys. But what does that have to do with our buddies, the Makah?" said Laura.
"The Nuu-chuh-nulth live a little bit north of here, across that bay which you see outside."
"Oh, I get it," said Jon Max. "The Makah are close neighbors of these Nuu-chuh-nulth Indians," Jon Max said, pronouncing the new word carefully. "And that means the two tribes are probably a lot alike. They do many things the same way."
"Right," said Gazmo. "So, if the Nuu-chuh-nulth Indians think it's okay to take other people's stuff — "
" — then the Makah probably think so, too," finished Jon Max.
Laura just couldn't believe what she was hearing. "Hold on a second, Gazmo. Are you sure about all this. Maybe Capt. Cook lied about what happened."
"I'm afraid not," said Gazmo. "But it isn't as bad as it sounds. In the tribal culture of the Makah, everything is shared, especially between members of each family. They feel free to borrow items without telling the owners."
"I guess I can understand that," Laura said, nodding her head slowly. "But taking things from Capt. Cook's ship seems a little different. After all, he certainly wasn't part of their family."
"That's true," said Gazmo. "But when Capt. Cook caught the Makah visitors taking things from the ship, they didn't act the least guilty about it. In fact, they just laughed, as if taking the items was just some kind of game."
"Okay, so we've got a problem," said Jon Max. "We don't want them to borrow our stuff — but we don't want to offend them either. So, what should we do?"
Still speaking quietly so nobody else would hear him, Gazmo said, "Tell Qua-yuta that in your tribe it is taboo to touch anything that belongs to a guest without their permission."
"Taboo? What does that mean?"
"It means extremely unlucky. The Makah are very superstitious. If you tell them that a spirit being will bring bad luck to their whale hunts if they touch anything belonging to you, they won't get within ten feet of your backpacks."
Jon Max and Laura didn't look too convinced that this plan would work, but they trusted the wisdom and knowledge of their two lifeguard units, so they didn't argue with Gazmo.
Qua-yuta returned with an armload of woven mats that were the size of blankets. Even though these mats were made from woven cedar tree bark, they were amazingly soft and flexible.
"We put these on our beds to make them soft for sleeping," Qua-yuta explained. "And we cover up with them at night to keep warm." He went to work making up the two bunk beds for his guests.
Jon Max spoke in a casual voice. "Qua-yuta, we were wondering about something. In our tribe, there's a taboo about touching things that belong to visitors. Do you guys have that taboo?"
Qua-yuta turned around slowly with a puzzled look on his face. "I don't quite know what you mean, Nu-konee. We have many taboos, but I don't think I've heard of that one."
"Well, we found out that if we touched anything belonging to a quest without their permission, it brought very bad luck to the tribe. So now we have a taboo against it." Jon Max wondered if he was explaining this the way Gazmo had meant for him to. But from the look on Qua-yuta's young face, the Makah boy was taking this news very seriously.
"Bad luck?" he said in a worried voice. "Uh-oh! This is a very serious matter. We must not have any bad luck. My father is leading the big whale hunt tomorrow, and we've prayed for good luck for many weeks."
"Yes, we understand that," Jon Max said sympathetically. "Is there anything we can do to prevent it?"
"I must ask my mother what to do," Qua-yuta said. "Please wait here." He hurried off towards the front of the longhouse where his mother was working. Before he had gone far, he turned quickly and said, "Do not let anyone touch your possessions while I'm gone!"
"Right," said Laura, giving him a reassuring smile. "We'll be careful." She turned to Jon Max and gave him a quick smile. "I think this is going to work."
Within minutes Qua-yuta came back with his mother. The concerned look on her face told the two 5th graders that her son had already explained the situation to her.
Nua-anul spoke quickly, but in a low voice, as if she didn't want anybody to overhear what she said. "Qua-yuta has told me about the taboo. I must be sure I understand it. Does this bad luck only happen if someone touches your possessions without your permission?"
"Yes, that's right," said Laura. "If we tell someone it's okay to touch them, then the bad luck will not happen."
Nua-anul thought the situation over for a moment, then she said, "We have worked for months to please Ike'tal, the spirit helper of the sea, so that he will make tomorrow’s whale hunt a good one. We must make sure nobody touches your belongings until the chief can warn everybody of the taboo. He can do that at the evening meal. After that, nobody will bother them."
"What should we do, Mother?" Qua-yuta said.
"We can hide them in the food storage box here next to their bunks. I will tell the other women of the taboo, and we will make sure that they are not disturbed."
Nua-anul lifted the lid from a large wooden box that separated the two time travelers bunks. The box was empty. She turned to Jon Max and said, "Put your bag into the box, Nu-konee. Put yours there too, Sho-karee."
When back packs were safely hidden in the box, Qua-yuta's worried look was slowly replaced by a wide smile. He was confident that his mother's plan would save the tribe from the disaster which this new and terrible taboo might have caused.
Nua-anul turned to her son and gave him strict instructions. "Go to Chief Hontu-qui and tell him of this taboo so that he can warn all the people at the evening meal."
"Yes, Mother." Qua-yuta turned to his two new friends. "Come with me. The chief will want to talk to you about this."
As they were walking towards the entrance to the longhouse, Jon Max and Laura again noticed the smell of cooking food. But neither of the two time travelers saw any food over the fire that burned in the middle of a circle of stones which had been arranged on the sandy floor. And yet there was steam coming from several wooden boxes placed near the fires.
"Qua-yuta, I'm curious about something," said Jon Max. "I know that the women are cooking food in those wooden boxes . . . but I can't figure out how they're doing it. If there's a fire inside those boxes, how come they don't burn up?"
Qua-yuta laughed and then said, "There is no fire in the boxes, Nu-konee. Some of the boxes hold heated water for boiling the food, and other boxes just use steam."
"But how do you heat the water in the box if there's no fire in it?" said Laura.
"Stones are placed in the fire until they are very hot. Then the stones are put into the water inside the box so that they heat it."
"Whoa, that's pretty smart!" Jon Max said, grinning.
"I'm surprised that the boxes don't leak," said Laura.
"No, our boxes are very well made. In fact, some of our baskets are so tightly woven that they can hold water."
"Amazing," Jon Max said quietly. Then he sniffed the air and said, "I don't know what they're cooking, but it smells delicious!"
Qua-yuta spoke to one of the busy women who were tending the food. "Excuse me, Sakeeta. What are we having for the evening meal tonight?"
The elderly woman smiled at the two visitors and spoke with a note of pride in her voice. "Fresh salmon cooked in fish oil, steamed clams, boiled sweet potatoes, and roasted quail, which we will cook over the fire, later. And of course, plenty of berries and nuts."
Laura and Jon Max just stood there with their mouths watering for a moment, then Jon-Max said, "We haven't had anything to eat since early this morning, and we're kind of . . . well, hungry. Would it be okay if we "
"Oh, yes, little one! Forgive me for not thinking to offer you something."
The old woman hurried over to a basket which sat on top of one of the storage boxes that lined the walls of the longhouse. From her belt she took a small leather bag, and she began scooping nuts into the bag from the basket. When she came back, she held the mouth of the bag open so her two guests could see that it was filled with a variety of nuts — all shelled and ready to be eaten!
Laura and Jon Max thanked the woman and followed Qua-yuta outside while they popped handfuls of tasty nuts into their hungry mouths. The three of them began to stroll through the village, enjoying the warm afternoon air, waving at people who called out to them.
"Everybody seems so busy," commented Laura.
"But they also seem to enjoy what they're doing," added Jon Max.
"That's because each person's job is the work they enjoy doing the most," Qua-yuta explained. "If one man is good at making bows, and another man is skilled at inventing new songs for us to sing, then that's what each man does."
"That seems like a pretty smart way to do things," Jon Max said.
Qua-yuta turned to Laura and said, "I’m curious. Is that the way the work is assigned to the people in your village, Sho-karee?"
"Well, yeah. I guess it is," said Laura. "People are free to choose the work they want to do. My mother has switched jobs a couple of times."
Qua-yuta thought about this for a second, then he said, "Do you mean that all of your people are free to choose. Even the women?"
"Of course. Isn’t that the way it is here, too?"
"No, not completely. The women do the cooking, the weaving of mats and other things, and most of the work here in the village. The men do the hunting, fishing, and trapping, along with the building and repairing of longhouses."
"You said your name meant Little Creator. What kind of job will you choose to do?"
Qua-yuta's proud smile returned as he said, "I will inherit my father's job as a whale hunter. Important skills, such as making canoes and hunting whales, must be passed from father to son."
"So, that means you will be the master harpooner someday," said Jon Max.
"Yes," Qua-yuta said proudly. "My father is teaching me the skill. In fact, I will be allowed to cast one of the harpoons in tomorrow's hunt."
A group of small children went running by, chasing two energetic puppies. When the children noticed the bag of nuts in Jon Max's hand, they skidded to a halt and raced back to clamor for a handout. Jon Max gave each of them a generous handful, and the kids went sprinting off after the puppies again.
Jon Max was wearing a thoughtful look as he watched the children disappear from sight. "Throwing a harpoon hard enough to kill a whale would be pretty hard. You're father must be really strong, Qua-yuta."
"Yes, he is. And the harpoons that my father makes are the very finest. People come from other villages to barter for his harpoons, paying much in hyakwa for them."
"Hyakwa?" said Laura. "What's that?"
"Hyakwa are strings of dentalia shells a kind of shell which is hard to get because it can only be found in deep water. Most of them are about as long as my finger, and shaped like an animal's tooth."
"What do you do with them?" Jon Max asked.
"We use strings of these shells to symbolize a debt owed to someone, or for something they will receive later. The more valuable something is, the more hyakwa is traded for it."
"I don't think I understand," Laura said. "Give me an example."
"Okay," said Qua-yuta. "For example, if someone from another tribe gives my father six strings of shells for one of his fine harpoons, he can trade the shells with someone else for useful or valuable things."
Jon Max thought about this for a moment, then he turned to Laura and said, "It's like money. I think he means they use strings of dentalia shells kind of like we use money."
"Oh, I get it!" Laura said, nodding her head in agreement. "Strings of these dentalia shells or hyakwa can be traded for other things."
"That's right," said Qua-yuta. "The wealthiest families have many strings of shells, and they give them away at the potlatches."
Laura was about to ask what a potlatch was, but she was interrupted by a group of people who wanted to meet the village's newest visitors. During their walk through the village, many people had greeted Qua-yuta and his two guests. The story of the heroic rescue which Jon Max and Laura_ performed had obviously spread throughout the whole Makah community. Several of the women ask Qua-yuta if his little brother, Moa-daht, was alright.
Everyone was very curious about Jon Max and Laura, asking questions about what life was like where they came from. But Qua-yuta urged them all to save their questions until the evening meal, when the answers could be heard by everyone. Just as they were leaving one of these groups of curious people, Qua-yuta suddenly stopped and looked troubled by something.
"Uh-oh! I just remembered that I'm supposed to help my father this afternoon with the final preparations for the whale hunt. We must go to him quickly."
The three young people hurried towards the beach. They had almost reached it when a voice called out to Qua-yuta. He turned to see Chief Hontu-qui approaching with two other men.
"That's our chief," Qua-yuta whispered quickly. "The two men with him are the catlatis — the brothers of the chief. They give him advice on important matters concerning the village."
Chief Hontu-qui was about thirty-five years old. He had long, black, braided hair which hung past his shoulders. His forehead was decorated with a tattooed pattern of small light-and-dark squares, like a checkerboard. Unlike most Native Americans, he had a short black beard along the line of his jaw and a trim black mustache. A small ring, carved from whale bone, hung from his nose and lay against his upper lip. He wore a long, robe-like garment which covered one shoulder and wrapped around his body, along with a cape that reached almost to the ground.
The two men with Chief Hontu-qui were similar to him in appearance, but without tatoos on their foreheads or the rings in their noses.
Hontu-qui gave the two time travels a faint-but-friendly smile as he walked up to them. He studied them carefully from head to foot for a long moment, then he finally spoke slowly in a soft, deep voice.
"I have heard that you are from very far away. But you look like us – even the way you dress. Hmmmm . . . " Hontu-qui seemed to be puzzling over this mystery. His two brothers, standing behind him, whispered something to each other.
Laura and Jon Max knew that their appearance was caused by the holographic disguises being projected by Gidget and Gazmo. Neither of the two 5th graders could think of a way to explain the fact that they both looked just like the Makah, even though they knew so little about the Makah way of life.
"From which direction did you come?" Hontu-qui asked.
"They came from the north," Qua-yuta answered for them. "They are from a place so cold that it is never warm. I've seen the clothing they have to wear to live in that place – thick leather garments with wolf fur sewn inside them."
Hontu-qui showed little reaction except to raise one eyebrow in curiosity at this unusual news. "Indeed?" he said, still speaking in a soft, gentle voice. "You must show these wonderful garments too me later."
Laura and Jon-Max weren't sure if the chief was asking them to show him their cold-weather clothes or ordering them to prove what Qua-yuta had said. The chief was still wearing the faint smile, and it was hard to guess what he was thinking.
"You have not yet told me your names," the chief said.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Jon Max said quickly. "I'm Nu-konee, and my friend is Sho-karee."
Hontu-qui was silent for a moment, then he said, "Unusual names."
"Yes, that's exactly what I thought," Qua-yuta said, wearing a nervous smile. It seemed to make him uncomfortable talking to the chief.
"What do the names mean?"
Jon Max and Laura were almost too shy to tell this imposing man the meaning of their names. Qua-yuta spoke for them, but he sounded hesitant.
"Nu-konee means . . . Braver than the Beast. Sho-karee means Hunter of the Snow Cat."
Hontu-qui's smile widen just a little as he gazed at the two young people. The chief's two brothers chuckled softly, but they made no comment.
"Very impressive," Hontu-qui said. He looked at Jon Max. "Exactly what kind of beast are you braver than?"
Jon Max couldn't quite bring himself to explain that the "beast" referred to in his name was an eight-foot-long saber-toothed tiger. Besides, saber-toothed tigers were now extinct! So he just said, "It's called a snow cat. I don't know if you have them this far south of . . . where we came from."
"Perhaps you mean a cougar," said Hontu-qui. "They can be very dangerous. What did you do to earn that fine name?"
"I scared a. . . cougar . . . away when it was about to attack a hunting party."
"I see. It must have been quite a cougar if it was going to attack an entire hunting party." The chief turned to Laura. "And you are called Hunter of the Snow Cat? How many of these snow cats have you hunted and killed?"
Laura knew before Laura said it that her answer was going to sound lame. "Well, I . . . ummm . . . haven't exactly killed any of them. I just . . . helped him scare one away."
"Ah-ha," the chief said gently. "Well, it would seem that in your tribe it is a bit easier to earn an adult name than in ours. However, you are welcome here. Are you enjoying your visit?"
"Yes," Laura_ said, smiling.
"Very much," Jon Max agreed.
"Chief Hontu-qui, there is something important I must tell you," Qua-yuta said when he suddenly remembered about the taboo which Jon Max and Laura had mentioned. He described it to the chief.
Hontu-qui's faint smile slowly faded as Qua-yuta told him that the whale hunt might be jeopardized by bad luck if anyone broke the taboo. But he seemed relieved when he heard how carefully Qua-yuta's mother had hidden the backpacks. However, the chief's two brothers didn't seem as sure that the danger had been averted. They whispered urgent words to the chief, who then turned back to the young people.
"My catlatis feel that it might be best for the two of you to leave before anything bad can happen."
Qua-yuta, Jon Max, and Laura looked at Chief Hontu qui for a moment in shocked disbelief. After a moment, Qua-yuta spoke in a pleading tone.
"But . . . my chief, would this be truly right? How can we treat them that way after they saved my little brother and me from drowning?"
"I have heard the story of their brave deed. But we must do what is best for our village, young Qua-yuta," Hontu-qui said gently. "You know as well anyone that the whale hunt is important for our survival."
"Yes, of course. But there will be no danger if you warn the people tonight about the taboo," Qua-yuta said. "And until then, no one will disturb their possessions. My mother will see to that."
"All of that may be true . . . but can we be sure? Just ask your father what it would mean to him if the whale hunt did not go well."
The mention of his father gave Qua-yuta an clever idea.
"Yes, my chief, I'll do that right away!" he said quickly. "I'll ask my father whether these two should leave us. He will know how best to please Ike'tal – whether it should be with caution for the danger, or with gratitude for the fact that these two young warriors saved the lives of me and my little brother."
Hontu-qui looked surprised for a moment at the way Qua yuta had suddenly brought both his father and the spirit helper of the sea into this argument. But the chief realized that Qua-yuta was right to suggest that the tribe's master harpooner should be consulted in this matter.
Hontu-qui finally sighed and said, "Oh, very well, Qua-yuta. Go introduce your new friends to your father. Ask him what he wants to do about this problem. I will abide by his decision."
"Thank you, my chief!" Qua-yuta exclaimed happily. He motioned for Jon Max and Laura to follow him, and they hurried off down the beach.
Ahead of them, the three young people could see a group of men who were hard at work among the canoes, preparing them for the whale hunt that was scheduled to begin at dawn the next day.
As they grew nearer to the working men, the two 5th graders saw for the first time how large the canoes were. Laura realized that each one was as long as a school bus!
"Wow, Qua-yuta! Those canoes are amazing!" Jon Max said.
"Yes, I think so, too," the Makah youth replied proudly. "They are almost as big as the whales we will hunt!"
Jon Max slowed down until he had stopped on the beach, staring at the canoes while he thought over what Qua-yuta had just said. Looking back over her shoulder, Laura saw her friend standing there, and she turned and walked back.
"Something wrong, Nu-konee?" she said.
"I was just thinking. If we go on the hunt tomorrow, we'll be trying to catch an animal . . . that is bigger than our boat!"
"Oh," said Laura slowly. "Oh, yeah. Right."
"All of a suddenly the possibility of having to leave doesn't seem quite as bad," said Jon Max. Then he chuckled to show that he was just kidding. "Come on. Qua-yuta is wondering why we stopped."
The two time traveling 5th graders hurried to catch up with their Makah friend and find out just what the future held for them.
NEXT: CHAPTER 10 ~ Making Ready for the Hunt
Is there no man on Earth who has the wisdom and innocence of a child?
~ The Space Children (1958)