Ksaweal was a great hunter of porcupines. Early in the fall he would set out. He visited four valleys and he had a hut in each. There he could dry the meat of the porcupines he caught. He found their dens and made a smoky fire. When the porcupines stumbled out, Ksaweal would club them. The porcupine people began to think that soon he would kill the last of the porcupines. However, Ksaweal became very rich.
One year Ksaweal set out earlier than usual. He thought he would have a good catch of porcupines and so he took his wife with him to help with the meat. Hunting was very good in the first three valleys. Ksaweal felt that this year would make him richer than ever.
When he reached his fourth valley, he climbed onto a high rock. For a while he saw nothing moving. It was hot and he was about to go back to his cabin when he saw a very large porcupine. Ksaweal jumped down from the rock. He was just in time to see the porcupine go through a doorway in the rock. Ksaweal stared. The door opened into a big house. A bright fire burned in the middle.
The big porcupine turned round and said, "Please come in."
Ksaweal went in. The chief of the porcupines went to the back of the house and sat in his seat.
"Go and fetch the women,” he said. "Tell them to come. I want to dance for my guest,"
Some of the young men left. After they had returned with the women, the song leader began to sing, "Pronounce my name. Pronounce my name. Strike! Strike!"
The porcupine chief danced around the fire. The flames burned higher. When he had sung a few times, he turned to Ksaweal,
"Say my name, brother," he said, "Tell me what my name is."
Ksaweal did not know what to say. At last he said, "Your name is Little Porcupine."
"Yes, that is my name."
The chief of the porcupines lashed him in the face with his tail. The quills stuck from his cheek.
The chief danced and sang again, "Pronounce my name. Pronounce my name. Strike! Strike!"
He stood in front of Ksaweal. "Well, brother, what is my name?"
"Your name is Ugly Little Porcupine."
"Yes, that is my name, too." said the chief. He struck Ksaweal on the other cheek,
The chief danced a third time. A third time he faced Ksaweal. "Brother," he said softly, "What is my name?"
"Your name is Little Burnt One/' said Ksaweal.
"That is my name, too," said the chief. He struck him so his nose was full of quills,
The chief danced and sang again. Again he asked the same question.
"Your name is Little Lean Fellow," said Ksaweal.
"You are right," said the chief, hitting him again.
This time Ksaweal's eyes were closed by the quills, The singing began again. Ksaweal felt very sick. He could hardly stand. Suddenly he felt something touch his knee.
"It is I," said a voice, "Uwantseets, the mouse woman. Do you know why the chief of the porcupines is doing this to you?"
The chief wants to punish you because you have killed so many of his people. This is the last time the song will be sung. If you cannot tell the chief his true name, every porcupine in the house will strike you. You will die with quills in every part of your body."
The song was beginning to end. Uwantseets whispered, "His name is Sea Otter on the Green Mountain."
The chief faced Ksaweal. The other porcupines came close,
"Now what is my name?" he asked.
"Your name is Sea Otter on the Green Mountain” said Ksaweal.
The porcupines sighed.
"Wash his face,” said the chief.
They washed his face. They took the green contents out of the stomach of the chief's first wife. This was carefully rubbed on Ksaweal's face. As they were touched, some of the quills fell from his face. The contents of the second wife's stomach were rubbed in. More quills fell out. After the third rubbing, very few quills were left. The fourth time took out the last of the quills.
The chief chewed some green leaves. He spat them out onto his hands. He rubbed them on Ksaweal's face and the skin became like that of a baby.
When Ksaweal had eaten, the chief said, "We are now friends, you and I.
I led you to my house because I wanted to kill you. However, you knew my real name. Now you can go. My people are very sad because you have killed so many of them. I am going to ask you only to kill a porcupine when you need its food. Do not smoke them out of their dens. Smoke the meat over a fire and be sure that it is all eaten before the cold weather comes. That will mean that my people will not be sick during the winter. Also you must throw all the bones into the fire and do not let young people eat porcupine heads. Then they will not forget this lesson,"
Ksaweal went straight to his hut. There he found his wife crying by the fire.
"Where have you been?" she asked, "You have been away so long that I thought I had lost you."
"I have learned many things in the house of the porcupines," he said. He told her all that had happened.
". . . And finally I learned that the contents of a porcupine's stomach will take out quills.”
When the porcupines which Ksaweal had killed had been taken down to the village, he shared them with all the people. He also shared the lesson he had learned in the house of the chief of the porcupines.Watch a short Video of a Haisla Porcupine by opening the attached windows media file below or watch on Vimeo by clicking here.