Wednesday, January 7, 2009

salmon story

this evening, i read the following passage in the book i am currently reading, the gift. the author relays folklore and a wide variety of parables in order to explicate the process of gift-giving and it's socio-cultural relevance. this mythical story about salmon caught my eye. i personally can't stand the taste of salmon, but i served baked salmon at work tonight, so i guess this story is doubly relevant.
It was the Indian belief that all animals lived as they themselves lived--in tribes--and that the salmon, in particular, dwelt in a huge lodge beneath the sea. According to this mythology, the salmon go about in human form while they are at home in their lodge, but once a year they change their bodies into fish bodies, dress themselves in robes of salmon skin, swim to the mouths of the rivers, and voluntarily sacrifice themselves that their land brothers may have food for the winter.

Interested? Keep reading...

The first salmon to appear in the rivers was always given an elaborate welcome. A priest or his assistant would catch the fish, parade it to an altar, and lay it out before the group (its head pointing inland to encourage the rest of the salmon to continue swimming upstream). The first fish was treated as if it were a high-ranking chief making a visit from a neighboring tribe. The priest sprinkled its body with eagle down or red ochre and made a formal speech of ewlcome, mentioning, as far as politness permitted, how much the tribe hoped the run would continue and be bountiful. The celebants then sang the songs that welcome an honored guest. After the ceremony the priest gave everyone present a piece of the fish to eat. Finally - and this is what makes it clearly a gift cycle - the bones of the first salmon were returned to the sea. The belief was that salmon bones placed back into the water would reassemble once they had washed out to sea; the fish would then revive, return to its home, and revert to its human form. The skeleton of the first salmon had to be returned to the water intact: later fish could be cut apart, but all their bones were still put back into the water. If they were not, the salmon would be offended and might not return the following year with their gift of winter food.


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