So, there was near where I was visiting, what was called The Spirit Dance. This was held in a long building about as wide as this tent, but there was room down the middle for four fires. During the year, certain bird-like animals... now this is put together from conversations I had with people 50 years ago, and I was only beginning to try to remember them, when I realized it was time to start. So the ideas are going to be somewhat disjointed. But, being as two types of phenomena happen, the origin of the first humans was of a universal nature that I didn't realize until really earlier this year, which had to do with the creation of a series of humans, from things like stone, and clay, I believe the final one was made of wood, and it spoke. Later on these humans realized that certain things that perhaps resemble birds, but with wings maybe of obsidian or some thing, it's hard to tell, because there simply aren't terms in English for the concepts that exist.
The human himself, or herself, was really a series of concentric spheres that time went through in both directions from this central point. In other words, grandchildren had the same names as grandparents, because they were the same distance away. Maybe one was smaller but it was farther away, and the smaller one for that reason, or something like that.
These are things from casual conversations... Someone else, in describing the nature of--they were a famous doctor--of their curing, said that they were surrounded by four helpers: one red, one blue, one yellow and one green. I'm re-translating that "helper" from a man who said either souls or spirits. But it was 50 years ago, and I don't remember it too well. And he was in the center of this. He was also the sort of titular leader--this is--those people--Swinamish... all of these things will come from the Salish groups, in the northern part of Puget Sound, and the adjoining parts of Vancouver Island or Victoria.
At any rate, people would then be... certain wooden objects... as I said, there were four fires down the middle of the building, and holes in the roof. There were certain wooden objects. Sticks, called tusden, chadso, which I believed was shaped like a bird; and skudalich which was a double-headed thing because it took four people to hold it down.
One thing that is, I think, typical, is that tools are made to last a very long time, in non-industrialized places. It seems obvious, but you seldom think those are long times in terms of thousands of years. The jade axes and thing, DON'T get DULL [laughs]. It stays sharp once it's made--it may take 200 years to make it but it's good when it's made.
So, in various ones of these four houses, on the way down to this place, I'd been told I had to give a needle--that some woman would ask for a needle--and as I went down, this was a strange thing--I was at the end of the Vancouver B.C. Somethin' Or Other Streetcar line. There was the lady who asked for the needle and I gave her a bone needle that I'd dug out of a shell heap, and I said "There's a big dance down there?" and she said "Noooooo." However, I went down, and someone who was influential I knew was down there. I doubt if any other living person, except children who were there, would be alive, who saw what proceeded, because it embodied a great number of sort of unique acts. I mentioned things like the choir on the roof; there were also pipes, made somewhat like organ pipes, and almost as large.
The music of that whole area is very beautiful, but "unfortunately" has not been uh "recorded"... There are intense prejudices against...Anybody that's been on reservations and has relatives that are stuffed in a museum along with giraffes and things, feels embarrassment and remorse when the graveyards of their grandfathers and things are dug up, to count the number of crosses in relation to coins or something.
So anyhow I went down there and there was someone and they said, "No, he can't come." That I might be killed or something. I think I've outlined the main thing. The whole... everything... I suppose there were 400 people there. Someone went around the fire swinging a bull roarer. These ritual elements probably occur in sequence independent of the interpretation that's placed on them. And quite probably refer to a cosmographic scheme that er ... can be explained scientifically but runs counter to what might be considered scientific thought.
Let's say that was around 1940. There's a write-up in various magazines and things from that period. The earliest one I know of is 1943, as far as a published photograph. I lost interest until about three months ago, when Naropa called, and who was I to say "Nay"? [The complete transcript is here]
Harry Smith (1923-1991) was a filmmaker, ethnomusicologist, painter and 'underground', cultural icon of the last half of the 20th C. The reproduction at the top is of an untitled watercolor, pen and pencil on board, approximately 28 x 32, circa (1978).