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Boas, Franz. Race, Language and Culture – T60


Religious Terminology of the
Kwakiutl 1

The general term for the supernatural, the wonderful, is na'walaku. 2
The term is used as a noun to indicate beings endowed with supernatural
power. The salmon (R 609.4 3), the lark (R 1329-35), the
cedar (R 617.13), the trees (R 1327.6) are addressed in prayers as
na'walaku. Supernatural beings that appear in visions are always designated
by this term (R 631.16; 1185.35; 1218.25). Twins who are believed
to have supernatural powers (R 633.39) are called na'walaku
and so are the initiated participants in religious ceremonies (J III

Frequently the term is used as an attribute. We find “supernatural
(wonderful) woman” (na'walaku ts!edā'q J III 66.31); “supernatural
wife” (na'walakuene'm J III 69.9); “country” (na'walaku ăwī'ɛnak!wes
R 1183.92; na'walak!wedzas R 914.10); “lake” (na'walaku
R 1183.94); “mat” (na'walagwedzo łē'ɛweɛ R 1199.14). The
tips of hemlock trees which are believed to have wonderful powers are
called “supernatural tips” (na'walagweɛye R 725.64). Pathologically
shortened twigs bearing closely condensed leaves are called “supernatural
twigs” (nena'walagwexlaweɛ). As quality it appears also in
the term “to make supernatural” (na'walakwamas R 707.42).

The term is also used to express the quality of being supernatural
(na'walak!weneɛ R 741.75), in the same way as begwā'nemeneɛ designates
the abstract term “manhood”.

On other occasions the term is used to express the wonderful, supernatural
power of beings. We find “the supernatural power of the trees
(na'walakwasa Ḷax̣u Ḷâ'se R 1328.20), and “there is no supernatural
power greater than that of the house of Cannibal-at-North-End-of-World”
(k˙!eyâ'se na'walakwagawese ō'gweɛla lax g˙ō'kwas ba'x̣ubakwa'lanux̣usī'waɛya
R 1184.96); or “the supernatural power of being
cut up” (and reviving) (na'walakwases t!ōt!ets!ālaseɛwe R 1135.16).612

According to this use of the term they say “to try to get supernatural
power” (nă'ɛnawalak!wa R 1208.95); “to use supernatural power”
(neɛna'walax̣usila R 635.50). When beings who possess supernatural
powers do not show them and then, suddenly prove their wonderful
qualities, it is said “he becomes supernatural” (na'walagwełela R
1201.42). At another place a novice is called into a house “to be made
supernatural by the supernatural power of the house” (qaɛ wä' g˙ilaxseɛ
na'walakweliłasoɛsa nax˙na'walagwiłaxsa lō'bekwex
R 734.18).

The source of supernatural power is also called na'walagwem. When
the cedar, a na'walaku, is compelled by the magical use of ax chippings
to fall in a certain direction, the woodchopper says, “supernatural one,
now you will follow the source of your supernatural power” (wa, na'walakwai',
laɛe'ms lāł la'sgemiłxes na'walagwemos, R 617.13). A
being is called “owner of the source of supernatural power” (naɛna'walag̣wemnuku
M 703.8).

The na'walaku is all-powerful, “for nothing is unattainable for the
great, true supernatural one” (qaɛxs k˙!eyâ'săex weyō'Ḷanema naɛna'walax̣udzek˙as
R 1327.12).

On account of their sacred character the whistles which are used in
sacred ceremonies are also called na'walaku. A certain ceremony is
called “the grizzly bear with whistles of the door of the house of Cannibal-at-North-End-of-World”
(na'walagwade nenɛstâ'liłas t!eeläs
g˙ō'kwas ba'x̣ubakwā'lanux̣usiwaɛ ye
R 856.52); and it is told “therefore,
it is said, sounded at once the roof of the house, namely the whistles of
the nō'nłem” (hē'x˙ɛidaɛemɛla'wise hē'h˙!eg˙ałe ō'gwäsasa g˙ō'kwe,
yex na'walakwasa nō'nłeme
R 1037.52).

The soil from a land otter slide which is used as a magic means for
influencing weather is called na'walaku. It is said, “do not handle too
roughly this supernatural one (namely the soil), otherwise our weather
will be too rough” (g̣wa'la âłelisaxwa na'walakwex ā'lox â'łelisents
R 628.7).

These examples show that the word na'walaku has a very wide meaning.
It may be used to designate a person, but it also expresses the attribute
or the abstract idea of supernatural power — just like the term
“manitou”, or “saintly, the saint, sanctity, sanctuary”, or German
“heilig, der Heilige, Heiligkeit, Heiligtum”. The quotations given here
prove that the term has neither an exclusively anthropomorphic nor a
general mana meaning. The one or the other prevails according to

Opposite the wonderful, supernatural, is the ordinary, the profane
(ba'x̣wes). It is said that twins and seal hunters are supernatural, other
people ordinary (R 716.72). In the religious ceremonials the uninitiated
are designated as profane (R 1158.27). A novice who is excited
by the supernatural beings becomes quiet and “becomes ordinary”
(bā'x̣wesɛid R 920.21). The ancestors who came down from the sky in
the shape of birds took off their masks and became ordinary (M
675.10). An uninitiated person who is present at a sacred ceremony
profanes it. It is said, “Go and ask our great friend here, why he has
come to this our supernatural place; whether it is good or bad; whether
he has come to make us profane” (wä'g˙iłwelā'lexg˙entsɛnemō'x̣udzek˙lax
g˙ā'xełasox lā'xents na'walak!wäsex Ḷoɛ ē'k˙e Ḷoɛ ɛya'x˙seme Ḷoɛ
g˙āx beba'x̣weyela g˙ā'xents
R 1185.34). To betray the secrets of
supernatural beings or powers is “to make them profane” (bā'x̣wesɛidā'mas
R 716.83). Smoke of excrements and broken taboos have the
same effect (R 747.27).

The term bā'x̣wes, just like na'walaku is used as a substantive and as
an attribute. A feather, in contrast to another one, is called ba'x̣wes
(J III 17.13) “a common feather”, and “common, i.e. profane,
men” (ba'x̣wes begwā'nem J III 44.32) are mentioned.

The term ba'x̣wes also designates the season in which the sacred ceremonials
(ts!a'eqa) are not performed. Everything that refers to the
profane summer season is called ba'x̣wes. There are ba'x̣wes names
(ba'x̣wedzexläɛyu R 925.32); “a potlatch given in the ba'x̣wes season”
ba'x̣westala (R 903.64). At the beginning of the winter ceremonials
the profane quality is wiped out of the eyes (Ḷā'xɛwid qaɛs la'os
ɛɛla ts!ō'x̣ɛstoda qaɛ lā'wäyeɛsos bā'bax̣westâɛyaq!os
(R 914.2;
‘arise and go wash your eyes, so that the profane may go out of your

Another term which expresses the ordinary, the lack of supernatural
power, is ăō'ms. It is used almost always with the negation. k˙!ēɛs ăō'ms
means the possession of supernatural power: people (J III 33-35); a
bird (J III 61.40); a lake (J III 143.4) are so designated. At one place
it occurs together with na'walaku (k˙!ēɛs ăō'ms na'walaku R 1326.61).

Supernatural beings who protect or harm man are often called ha'yałilag̣as
“woman setting right.” The mother of twins protects her newborn
children against these beings by washing them with urine, of which
the spirits are afraid (R 668.47). These spirits are fond of sea eggs. If
they should touch the remains of a meal of sea eggs all those who have
614shared in the meal will be sick (R 614.22). They look at canoes that
are being built and by doing so spoil them unless the canoes are magically
protected (R 616.55). In this case they are identified with the souls of
dead canoe builders (R 616.52). They take away the souls of people
who are dying (R 705.2). They are also called “the women setting
right of the farthest inland” (ha'yałilag̣asasents ā'lag̣aweɛ R 706.33).
Some Indians designate the benevolent spirit of the fire of the house
(k!wax˙lā'la ‘the one sitting on the flames’) by the term ha'yałilag̣as
(R 1332.29). Others say it is a soul (beɛwenē'ɛ R 1332.31). The
spirits that appear to the novice and bestow their gifts upon him are
often designated by the term ha'yałilag̣as (R 1202.75). In general the
dead as malevolent spirits are so designated. In CII 322.5 it is specifically
stated that this term is so used by the Koskimo and Nahwittee while the
Kwakiutl use the term lâ'ɛlenoxu (ha'yałilag̣asax, yek˙asxoɛ g̣weɛyō'kwasaxse
Kwā'g˙ułe lâ'ɛlenoxwa
). In a Nahwittee ceremony (R
919.93) the spirit of the deceased is called ha'yałilag̣as; also in the
Kwakiutl tale R 1119.49. In C III 20.22 it is also said that the lâ'ɛlenoxu
are called ha'yałilag̣as (ha'ăyałilag̣as yexents g̣weɛyō' leslâ'ɛlenoxu). In
J III 423.2 it is said that the ha'yałilag̣as causes sickness. In songs the
thunderbird (M 711.1) and “the Snake-in-Stomach” (M 717.7) are
called ha'yałilag̣as.

Judging from its form the word belongs to the Bella Bella dialect;
ha'yałila means “to set right”, -g̣as woman. However, these spirits as
well as many others are not always conceived as female.

The term lâ'ɛlenox is used both for a complete corpse and for the
spirit of the dead (J III 106.1; R 713.60): “The spirit of the dead is
not the soul, for he is only seen when he warns whom he wishes to see
him, and he has a body like a living person and his bones are those of
men long dead” (lä k˙!ēɛs beɛwenaɛya lâ'ɛlenoxwe, yexs lē'x˙aɛmăe
dō'xɛwaḶełasqes â'ɛmăe q!ē'q!ayak˙ilaxes g̣weɛyō' qaɛ dō'xɛwalelaq
, yeqē'xs senā'laɛmăe begwā'nem Ḷeɛwis xā'qexa la gä'ła łeɛla' begwā'nema R 727.10). The word is derived from the stem lewał-, ‘the dead
one touches a person and causes sickness’ (lewalku ‘touched by a ghost’
R 918.77; lâ'ła ‘a ghost touches’).

The soul “has no bone and no blood, for it is like smoke or like a
shadow.” It has no abode outside of the body to which it belongs (la
k˙!eyâ's g˙ōx̣us ō'gweɛlä lā'xents ō'k!winaɛyex lax ō'kwinaɛyas
, R 728.15). The soul is called beɛwenē'ɛ ‘human long
body’. The Koskimo call it bekwa'ɛe ‘something human’; the ɛnā'k!wax˙daɛxu
615call it often begwā'nemg̣eml ‘human mask’. In Knight
Inlet the term q!weɛlā'yu ‘means of life’ is said to be used; in Nahwittee
ts!ē'k!wa ‘bird’. Trees, bushes, birds, small and large animals have
souls “for all are human” (R 1220.68). The halibut (R 1322.69) and
the salmon (R 612.63) have souls. The soul sits on the crown of the
head (yu'ɛmăas k!wā'łents ō'xläɛyex R 715.48). In sleep it is able to
leave the body. While it is absent its owner is weak. If it stays away
too long, or if it is abducted, its owner falls sick. Then the shaman
searches for it (bā'bakwayol!a ‘he tries to obtain the soul’ R 721.79).
I have not found any indication of the belief that soul and life are
considered as identical. The powers are called life givers (q!welā'łaɛyu
‘means of being alive’ R 1297.3, line 1; q!wē'q!welag˙iɛlaɛyu ‘means
of making alive’ R 1294.4; e'lg˙eldokwila ‘prolonging life’ R 618.19),
but it is nowhere said that the soul is life, except in the abnormal and
rare Knight Inlet term given before.

The soul is identified with the owl and every person has his own owl.
If it is killed his soul is killed.

The gifts which human beings receive from spirits are called treasures
(Ḷō'gweɛ). This term does not refer to supernatural gifts exclusively.
Children are so designated. However, its most common use is for supernatural
gifts. Stones found in the stomachs of halibut bring luck and
“are found as treasures by fishermen” (Ḷā'Ḷogwalasoɛsa ba'kwaɛle'noxwe
R 1324.8). Ceremonies received in visions (J III 56.34); magic
objects by means of which wealth is secured (J III 108.1); the instrument
that kills enemies (C II 182.2); the self-paddling canoe (J III
130.28); the meeting with supernatural beings are Ḷō'gweɛ. The person
who has such a treasure is Ḷō'gwala (J III 78.2; R 1139.93) The
owner of a treasure is called Ḷō'gweɛnuku (C II 378.21) and the attempt
to secure a treasure Ḷā'Ḷogwasd, etymologically an unusual form. To
use one's treasure is called ḶāḶox̣usila (C 26.7).

One type of the gifts received from supernatural beings is the sacred
song (yä'lag̣wem C II 90.7) which is sung (yä'lag̣wela R 708.61) by
the shaman and others who have received supernatural gifts, when they
return from their encounter with the spirits and whenever they show
their gifts.

The applicant who wishes to obtain the friendship of the spirits must
be pure. Bathing in cold water, rubbing the body with twigs of the
hemlock tree until blood shows (C II 372.17; R 1122.26), washing
616with urine (C II 326.19); rubbing the body with wrappings of a corpse
(CXXVI 106.61); rubbing with hellebore (CXXVI 125.64) are means
of purification which is called g˙īg˙ełtala or q!ē'qela (J III 105.28).
An object used for magical purposes, perhaps as an amulet, is called
q!ē'qaleɛ, presumably because it serves as a means of purification.

To observe taboos and to be careful in ordinary pursuits are called
“to treat well” (ăē'k˙ila). Thus it is used in one passage to express “to
handle (berries) carefully” (R 280.1); at another place that the
woman must be careful and stay at home when her husband is out hunting
(R 638.28). It also has the general meaning of “observing taboos”
(R 649.3).

To break a taboo is called ăă'ms ‘to spoil, to cause misfortune’ (R
575-35 5 607.1), from this stem ăɛmē'łela to be unfortunate (R 922.26),
and ăă'msila ‘widow’ (the one who causes misfortune R 604.27).

Widows and sick people are isolated in a taboo shelter, outside the
house (hoɛs R 719.37; 1118.23). When the tabooed one is in the taboo
shelter it is called ɛdzats!e ‘taboo receptacle’.

To practice shamanism is pexa' (e.g. pexa'seɛweda ɛwap ‘the water
was treated by the shaman’ G II 100.16); abstract pexɛē'neɛ quality of
a shaman (hē'ɛem Ḷē'g̣ems lā'xes pexɛē'naɛye ‘that was his name in his
quality as a shaman’ R 718.3). The shaman is called pexăla (R 700.13;
731.67). In the winter ceremonial the initiated are also called pexăla,
their head pexemɛ (R 728.1).

The supernatural powers and, with their help the shaman, cure sick
people (hē'lik˙a R 707.36; 729.32; hē'lix˙ɛid ‘to begin to heal’ R
731.61), or they sanctify objects (lā'ɛlăe hē'lik˙aseɛweda ɛwap ‘then, it
is said, the water was made sacred’ C II 100.16). Therefore the assistant
of the cannibal, the highest order of the members of the winter ceremonial,
is called “mouth healer” (hē'lig˙exsteɛ G II 300.28), and it is
said of a spirit that he is “the owner of the means of healing” (hē'lig˙ayunuku
R 737.92).

Both the spirits and the shamans are paid for their services (a'ya G II
50.20; 350.5; R 635.52). This term is not used for other kinds of payments.

To pray is called ts!e'lwaqa. It means also “to thank, to praise, to
ask favors ” The salmon is thanked (R 610.27), also fish, game and
trees (R 619.25) who are at the same time asked for help. In human
intercourse it means “to praise, to console.”617

Anyone may practice witchcraft (ē'qa) provided he knows the
method. It is not based on supernatural gifts but based on knowledge of
the ways of doing harm by magical means. It is practiced by the eq!ē'noxu.
It can be warded off either by repeating the witchcraft procedure
or by destroying the magical objects.618

1 Festschrift Meinhof, Hamburg, 1927, pp. 386-392.

2 For explanation of alphabet see p. 232 of this volume.

3 For abbreviations of references see p. 232 of this volume.