As many of you know for many years we made our home in the Pacific Northwest of North America living in Seattle and also for a time worked as commercial fishermen in Alaska. We have admired the traditions of Pacific Northwest Coast artists and their beautiful pieces for many years. Some of you may remember our relationship with a particular Northwest totem, the Sisiutl (pronounced: Si’sEyuL). This totem has graced our many vessels in a special place for more than 35 years. See our post http://blog.commonflat.com/2012/02/04/an-alaskan-dream/
We recently saw this beautiful painting by legendary NW artist, Bill Holm and his description of a traditional winter ceremony involving (our) powerful and dynamic spirit. Thought we would share it. The image is stunning. The explanation below may be more than you need to know but strikes a cord for us.
Bill Holm’s Painting – Dlugwi
The Kwa’kwala word dlugwi (dloog-wee) means “a supernatural power” that can belong to a person and can be demonstrated by him or her. It is often translated as “a treasure,” as it is valuable and prestigious. A person demonstrating such a treasure is called dlugwala (having supernatural power). The demonstration of a dlugwi is the main feature of a dance of the Tugwid, usually a woman, who gets her power from a mysterious spirit named Winalagalis (Making War Everywhere). For that reason, the Tugwid is sometimes called “the War Dancer.”
The Tugwid is believed to be invulnerable, and may demonstrate her dlugwi by, for example, being decapitated, thrust in a box and burned in the fire, weighted and thrown overboard off a canoe, or having a splitting wedge driven through her head. Her power enables her to revive and continue her dance, always showing evidence of her ordeal. The demonstration of a Tugwid’s dlugwi is always a high point in the great drama of the Winter Ceremony. But many dlugwis are not so violent. The dancer can demonstrate her power by causing birds to fly in the house, tall carved figures to rise out of the ground, salmon to jump out of water poured into a box, and other marvels. One of these is the conjuring of the Sisiutl, a fabled triple-headed serpent. The dancer first enters the firelight in the bighouse signing her power song, walking slowly around the floor. A speaker questions her to no avail. Finally, he and others speak disparagingly of her, shouting that her “power” is a fraud. Three times she runs back and forth, trying to bring out her dlugwi, to no avail. The taunts increase. One more time she runs, but this time the dlugwi suddenly appears, to the amazement of the spectators! The monster rises out of the ground and undulates in the firelight. The Tugwid steps quickly back and forth, her hands raised, holding the power of the Sisiutl. Slowly it sinks again into its lair, and the dancer circles the fire and disappears into the secret room at the rear of the house.