The Story of Ten Brothers and the Sea Lion

The following story is a Hul’qumi’num legend recorded by Ella Elizabeth Clark in 1960.

Once upon a time there lived near Cowichan a family of 10 brothers, who were noted for deeds of daring and skill in spearing sea lions. Not far off there lived a rival family, consisting of five brothers. They were terribly jealous of the 10 brothers, as they could never secure any good sea lion hunting as long as the ten brothers lived. The sea lions frequented a rocky island not far from Cowichan, and at early dawn the 10 brothers went there, waiting to kill the sea lions. Now, these five brothers became greatly enraged and took counsel together as to the best means of killing their rivals. One of the brothers suggested a visit to Soo-ol-li-che, a very wise man, gifted with magic powers and the ability to understand animal talk. So they went to Soo-ol-li-che and told him their troubles and how they wished to get rid of the hated 10 brothers.

Well what would they give him as a reward? A canoe? No. Skin-blankets? At last they said they would give him their very pretty young kinswoman. Yes, that would do. So he took them away to a salt lake that lies on top of a mountain on Lopez Island. There he made them cut down a large cedar tree and make a passage from the lake to the sea. Soo-ol-li-che carved the wood into a sea lion, hollowed it out, and made the heart, lungs, liver, etc., of herbs, which he put into it. He then rubbed herbs over the outside. The skin grew immediately. For the whiskers he took long cedar twigs and stuck them round the mouth. A real sea lion has beautiful silver-looking whiskers, which are greatly prized, and which are used to ornament the headdresses of the chiefs. Now the wooden animal looked just like the real thing.

When everything was ready, Soo-ol-li-che gave the sea lion his orders. First he had to dive into the salt lake and find the passage to the sea, as the brothers had failed to find it; then it was to go to the rocky island and play about as the others did, and attract the attention of the 10 brothers. They would try to spear him, and when the spears were fast in, then he was to start north and carry the young men with him. Then the sea lion plunged in the lake and came out in Cowichan harbor. The brothers were, as usual, waiting for sport, and they instantly manned their canoes to go after the lion. “Stop! Stop!” said the elder brother, taking a good look at the animal. “That is no real sea lion. Our enemies must have been at work, and that moans mischief to us.”

The other brothers, however, begged him to try to spear the animal. He was the strongest and most expert of the brothers, and to make sure of the lion, they gave him their spears. The first spear was well planted, and the cedar line given to one of the brothers; then all 10 were thrust in, and the sea lion, which had been pretending to be in a dying state, now rushed off towing the canoes and brothers with him, away out to sea and up north. They made every effort to throw the lines away. They had grown fast to their hands; they cut the lines, which grew back immediately, so they gave up the struggle in despair. After many days the sea lion came to a large mountain that rose straight out of the sea, and the face of it was full of holes. Into the largest the sea lion scrambled and pulled the 10 brothers after him. How terrified they were, and sore and hungry. In this huge cave there were naked men and women, and the chief of them came to the sea lion and asked him how it was he had brought these strangers in. They could not feed them, so they had better be drowned. The people crowded around and examined the brothers’ clothes, and even took them off and tried them on. These were the spirits of the sea lions. After a year of slavery the chief allowed the brothers to go home. They were put in their canoes and told to go as far out to sea as they could before turning a certain point where lived a giant, who would eat them if he saw them. Two young sea lions were ordered to show them the way, and towed the canoes away out to sea.

Now the eldest brother was keen to see the giant, and, not regarding the advice of the sea lions or heeding his brothers entreaties, he paddled as close as he dared to the point. “If the giant comes, I will shoot him with my arrows and kill him.”

Now, this giant, Nemokis, was watching for them, and when they came close enough he waded out to them and seized their canoes and dragged them in to shore. Then he ordered them into his cave. There they were kept as close prisoners. It was a gruesome place, and in the center lay a huge flat stone on which the fire burned, and near it was a basket. “Now,” said Nemokis, “yonder is my wife.” They looked everywhere for a woman, but he was pointing to a round basket half filled with blood.

“Take good care of that basket, or my wife will scream if you try to escape. Keep her not too warm or too cold or she will scream, and I’ll beat you. Now mind, for I am going to hunt.” Such trouble they had with Nemokis’ wife. The least attempt at an escape she began to scream so loudly that the giant heard her, and rushed back.

“What is this?” “Oh, nothing,” said one. I only put her too close to the fire.”

“Oh, well, be careful what you do.”

One of the brothers became a great favorite with the basket wife, who allowed him to carry her about the cave. A year or more passed and they were still slaves. They were dying to escape, but how could they manage it without that wretched thing screaming? The only thing to do was to kill the horrid thing. So they collected huge flat stones and arranged how they should use them. The favorite brother was to put the basket on the flat stone and sing to it, and then the rest would dash their flat stones on it. So he carried the basket, as it had begun to whimper, and he hushed it; then he placed it on the flat stone, still singing. He stepped aside, and a flat stone was dropped right into the center of the basket, and the blood splashed everywhere. So in this way was the giant’s wife killed. The other stones were all thrown on the first one, and then there was such a scrambling for the opening of the cave! There they found only two canoes, but they had to do the best they could. How swiftly they pulled away to get out of reach of the giant! They had just passed into deep water and beyond the final point, when they heard the giant calling to them. He was striding after them. They then redoubled their efforts. One of them, looking back, saw the giant sinking in the water up to his chin, but he turned back. He got where he could throw stones at them, but they shook their paddles at him and shouted derisively at him to come and catch them.

He roared so loudly that he shook the earth, and tore trees up by the roots and flung them at the canoes so as to break them and drown the fugitives. They at last escaped, and after five years of wandering reached home, only to find their village a ruin and their friends gone.”

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