Myths & Legends


Chinookan: The Four Tests

A tale of the Chinook prowess over the Immortals, as told by Lewis Spence in The Myths and Legends of North American Indians.

Blue Jay’s death may be regarded as merely figurative, for he appears in many subsequent Chinook tales. 
— Orly

After a while a messenger from the Divine People approached and asked to be told whether the Indians would accept a challenge to a diving contest, the defeated to lose their lives. This was agreed to, and Blue Jay was selected to dive for the Chinooks. He had taken the precaution of placing some bushes in his canoe, which he threw into the water before diving with his opponent, a woman. When his breath gave out he came to the surface, concealing his head under the floating bushes. Then he sank into the water again, and cried to his opponent: "Where are you?" "Here I am," she replied. Four times did Blue Jay cunningly come up for breath, hidden beneath the bushes, and on diving for the last time he found the woman against whom he was pitted lying at the bottom of the sea, almost unconscious. He took his club, which he had concealed beneath his blanket, and struck her on the nape of the neck. Then he rose and claimed the victory.

The Supernatural People, much chagrined, suggested a climbing contest, to which Blue Jay readily agreed, but he was warned that if he was beaten he would be dashed to pieces. He placed upright a piece of ice which was so high that it reached the clouds. The Supernaturals matched a chipmunk against him. When the competitors had reached a certain height Blue Jay grew tired, so he used his wings and flew upward. The chipmunk kept her eyes closed and did not notice the deception. Blue Jay hit her on the neck with his club, so that she fell, and Blue Jay was adjudged the winner.

A shooting match was next proposed by the exasperated Supernaturals, in which the persons engaged were to shoot at one another. This the Chinooks won by taking a beaver as their champion and tying a millstone in front of him. A sweating match was also won by the Chinooks taking ice with them into the superheated caves where the contest took place.

As a last effort to shame the Chinooks the Divine People suggested that the two chiefs should engage in a whale-catching contest. This was agreed to, and the Supernatural chief's wife, after warning them, placed Blue Jay and Robin under her armpits to keep them quiet. As they descended to the beach, she said to her brother: "Four whales will pass you, but do not harpoon any until the fifth appears."

Robin did as he was bid, but the woman had a hard time in keeping the curious Blue Jay hidden. The four whales passed, but the young chief took no heed. Then the fifth slid by. He thrust his harpoon deep into its blubber, and cast it ashore. The Supernatural chief was unsuccessful in his attempts, and so the Chinooks won again. On the result being known Blue Jay could no longer be restrained, and, falling from under the woman's arm, he was drowned.

On setting out for home the chief was advised to tie Robin's blanket to a magical rope with which his sister provided him. When the Chinooks were in the middle of the ocean the Supernatural People raised a great storm to encompass their destruction. But the charm the chief's sister had given them proved efficacious, and they reached their own land in safety.


Coast Salish: The Legend of Eut-Le-Ten

Chinookan: The Heaven-sought Bride