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Important Medicine1 2019-05-21T17:04:52-07:00 Elizabeth Edgerton 0afe7bb54204547fed22bac3c58c6ad5ae8ea8f3 7 19 Elsie Paul shares some ɬaʔamɩn practices for ensuring the wellness of babies and moms. And she reflects on her grandfather’s foresight about the future. plain 2022-02-17T09:10:04-08:00 9780774861250_EP_275 © Elsie Paul 2010-07-13 Sound Elsie Paul, interviewed by Harmony Johnson and Paige Raibmon Courtesy of Elsie Paul Sliammon village (tʼɩšosəm), British Columbia, Canada English 2020-06-03T14:27:44+00:00 Test Culture/Community Kellen Malek 84e2c0e8ef7955346d9a7d72e6274dd2006a37ab
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Having a Healthy Pregnancy
“Those things were really important practices, and people still do it today.”
You know, if you want a healthy baby, this is how you’re gonna look after yourself as a pregnant woman. You’re not gonna go out there and be cutting fish or butchering fish or doing things that might cause your baby to be deformed. You don’t go out and gut a salmon and, you know, just looking at unpleasant things. ’Cause your baby might take on that and will look like that. That was their belief. They really believed in that!
“How to look after yourself, and how to look after the baby when it comes, and how to look after the afterbirth and all of those things.”
It’s so hard when you’re trying to translate that into English. They’d say “ɬəχ θ kʼʷənɛt, ɬəχ θ kʼʷənɛt tɑnʼ. ɬəχmot hɛw. tʼɑtʼmɑtəm səm θ čuyʼ.” They’d say, “Your baby is going to copy that.” You’re lookin’ at something ugly or something distasteful or something that’s deformed or whatever it may be. Or things you eat. You were forbidden from eating fish head, which we love as Indian people. We love our fish head. Well, if you are pregnant, you don’t touch fish head – baby might be born looking something like a fish head. All those kinds of foods you were cautioned against eating.
Cutting things. If you wanted a baby boy, you shouldn’t be handling a knife or some sharp objects. You know, you want a boy! That was kind of old wives’ tales, now, when you think about that. But they had their own predictions, their own beliefs and their own teachings about how to look after yourself as a pregnant woman, and the things to be aware of. How to look after yourself, and how to look after the baby when it comes, and how to look after the afterbirth and all of those things.
Yeah, so all of those different teachings that they truly believed in – the work they were doing and how they lived and how they treated and how they, you know, the different remedies that was there. And it worked. It worked for them. You know, how the new baby girl is, the ears are pierced right away as a newborn. You didn’t wait, and little girls gotta have earrings, so right away the ears are pierced by the midwife. Yeah.
There’s so many teachings and so many beliefs – but that’s one thing that I always wonder about now. Or is it from when they first started to listen to the radio? There were very few people that had a radio. My grandfather had a radio that only he listened to, because it was operated by battery – big battery, about that big. [gesturing] About a foot long, foot and a half long, and about six inches high. And he would attach that and listen to it, and he’s deaf as can be. None of us could hear, but he’d be right there with his ear to the radio listening to the news. And he’d – news is over, unplug it, put it away. So he’d tell us about the war, what’s going on – must’ve been the Second World War. “Oh! There’s war happening! Fighting.” Oh, he’d be real sad about it: “Maybe one day it’ll come here,” used to say. He was quite concerned about that. He would tell us what was said, what was in the news, right? So I don’t know if that’s where they got their predictions from. That there’ll be famine. There’ll be famine – they were so sure of that. There’ll be nothing to eat. And even new babies will be hungry, ’cause the mother is going to be dying of starvation.
“So old people had a lot of wisdom. They could see into the future and figure things out – so they always had a treasure full of information.”
However did they come to that conclusion at that time? That’s, like, seventy years ago, when I was probably about seven, eight years old. And I would hear them talkin’ about that. That women will be smoking and that women will be wearing slacks. That was a no-no, ’cause all the women back then wore long dresses. So all these things. Women will be – you know, they frowned upon dancing. Women didn’t dance. Yeah, the clicky heels represents, like, the devil’s hoofs. Yeah. Yeah, so all those things they would – maybe it was just a way to scare us as young people! [laughs] I don’t know. “No babe, you can’t go dancin’ around.” Yeah. So old people had a lot of wisdom. They could see into the future and figure things out – so they always had a treasure full of information. A treasure chest full of information that they doled out whenever necessary. Whenever they thought it was needed, they’d tell you what’s right and what’s wrong. That was your guide and they were your guide in life. And we really believed! We listened to those kinds of warnings. But they knew: “At one time there was a flood. And then the next thing is going to be famine. Famine – there’ll be famine, there’ll be fire.” I don’t know where they got that from. Yeah. There was nothing written somewhere that, you know, predicted that. Maybe Nostradamus. Maybe they met Nostradamus! [laughs]
They would say, “ɬəχ tə θ kʼʷənɛt tɑnʼ. ɬəχ. tʼɑtʼmɑtəm səm kʷə θ čuyʼ.” It’s bad. Your child will copy it. “Don’t be looking at that! That’s ugly. You’re baby’s going to copy that. Baby’s going to look like that!” So you didn’t dare look at things that were not pleasant. So you had to think pleasant thoughts. You had to think of good things in order to have a healthy baby. You thought good things. Not to be looking at things that were yucky – otherwise your baby might take that on.
And that’s why too, as a pregnant woman, you didn’t look at a dead body if someone died in your community or your family. Pregnant women were not allowed to go and look at the dead person in the casket, ’cause your baby might take on that look when it’s born. And that’s why if you did go and look at – could be your brother, could be your father, your mother, someone you’re really close to and you want to say your final goodbyes – then you go and you can do that, but someone is always there to look after you. And then wipe the face of the body in the casket. Very lightly with white cloth or something, or maybe cedar. And you take that and you put it away. And when the baby’s first born, you take that out and you wipe the baby’s face with it. Then you will go and burn that with some food offering, so that you’re taking from the baby what might have transpired from the dead body. ’Cause it could take the spirit of the baby too, so it might be unhealthy when it’s born. It might be unhealthy all its life. Because they’ve done that, while they’re still in the womb and the mother has exposed them to the dead person. So you gotta do your cleansing. And the baby, when it’s born, you do your cleansing again. Then you thank the spirit of the dead person. You make a little offering so everything’s now okay.
“You had to think of good things in order to have a healthy baby.”
Those things were really important practices, and people still do it today. I see other people wearing the blanket around their middle – that’s to protect the baby. I’ve seen women here do that. But I’ve never seen it when I was growing up. All I seen was using the cedar, or have pinned to you or tucked in your pocket and that’s to protect the spirit of the baby you’re carrying. That you’re not exposed or that it’s not being drawn into the spirit world. So there’s ways and means to protect a pregnant woman at times like that.
Or even clams, like, you couldn’t eat clams when you’re pregnant because that’s gonna cause your baby to clench its jaws all the time. The clam will – when you touch it if it’s partially open, you touch it and then just clamps down really hard. And when the baby is born that it could happen with the baby, it’s gonna have this clenched jaw. Yeah. So pregnant women were not allowed to eat clams. Or fish heads. [chuckles] Or wild raspberries, you know, tʼʋqʷom? Little red berries. They’re so small and thin. There’s no body to it, but it’s so tasty. If you go looking and you’ll find that and just really small berries. And you will find that on a baby, a red spot, like a red berry. And so you kept away from that. If you’re pregnant you don’t touch that berry, ’cause that’s going to end up on the baby. Yeah. And you see quite a few people that have that berry on their skin. It could be anywhere on their body, but if it ends up on their face it’s quite noticeable. I don’t know what causes that. There must be an explanation why babies get that. Or a black mark on their body. So you had to be really careful and selective of what kind of berries or fruits you ate, or whatever foods you ate.
Medicine for Babies
“You čʼɛhčʼɛhɑθɛ č – thank it, thank that snail family. ‘Thank youʼ – ‘čʼɛhčʼɛhɑθɛ č,ʼ we say. You take it way back.”
And caring for the baby, like I was saying. You know, medicines. When a baby had thrush. And how you use the snail to clear the thrush in the baby’s mouth when a baby gets thrush, which used to always happen. The baby’s mouth gets really sore, it’s like big canker sores, and the best remedy they had for that was going way out in the bush and – not just your garden snails close around here, but you go up in the dense woods and look for a snail. A nice clean one that’s away from where people are living.
And you would get that and – of course you would do your little ritual, your little ceremony, and you invite the snail to come with you, ’cause you need its healing medicine. And so you would take it home, and you hold it by the head, like that [gesturing] – hold it by its head. And you put the rest of it in the baby’s mouth and you just kind of go around its mouth, like that. Well, you know, the snail has all that slime on it, and so that gets left in the baby’s mouth. And so you take that snail right away, and you take it back to where you got it from. You don’t just put it outside, you take it back.
You čʼɛhčʼɛhɑθɛ č – thank it, thank that snail family. “Thank you” – “čʼɛhčʼɛhɑθɛ č,” we say. You take it way back. And you get something bright, like a little something bright, twine or something, and you tie it around its neck or just wrap it around its head area. And snails don’t have necks, do they? Just around the head area. And then you put it back.
That’s its reward: qʼɑgɑt čxʷ. You reward it. You put it right back where you got it from. You say, “Thank you.” And you go back home. And that’s a real good medicine for thrush on a baby. I would imagine it would work for anything else, or for adults for that matter. But I just know that was used with babies, to take care of their thrush. Yeah! People will go, “Oh!” when you tell people about it, but it was commonly used. It’s a really important medicine. And again, it’s not about just getting a snail, there always was an offering or appreciation or a little ceremony, a little prayer thank you. You know. And maybe that’s what helped, I don’t know.
Another medicine that was always used was the oil of ratfish. And we used to get a lot around here, I remember the old people used to put their net out certain time of the year. And sometimes you’d get a whole bunch of them on the net. And they’re little – they almost look like herrings. They’re that size. They’re very silver. It’s not edible. People don’t eat it here. But now and then, it used to come in abundance. But I haven’t heard of anyone getting them for several years now. I guess they’re no longer coming. But that was good, good medicine. Sometimes they’d just wash up on the beach. And so you take that and you’d gut them. And you’d take the little liver. Of course when they’re that small, the liver is very tiny. So you take that and you render it. You put in a pan and you render it down over a low heat and over a long period of time. And you get this purest of oil from the liver of that fish. And you will put it in a container and keep it.
It had many purposes. It had a lot of uses for it. It was especially used for babies when they’re colicky, I guess, or fussy. And you rub it on them and warm your hands and put some of that oil and you massage the baby with that. It’s real powerful. And they used that as well on pregnant women, like when pregnant women are getting really heavy and you got backache, you’re tired, your achy muscles. And another woman would come and give you that massage, whether it’s your grandmother, your mother, or whoever – midwife. And massage you and rub you all across your back and your belly with that oil. It’s very relaxing. So that was a very important medicine for pregnant women and for, you know, baby that needed a massage.
Massaging was really, really important to our people. They did a lot of it. When a baby was irritable, you just massage it ever so gently. Its legs, its arms – using that oil – its belly. And you’d be amazed. The baby just goes right to sleep after you’re done. When you’re not feeling well, as an adult, or in children – the old people used to say the centre of your being is right there [gestures] in your – where your ribs come together, right in there – your diaphragm. And when you feel it pumping there, when you’re sick it’s really pumping fast like that – hard. After a massage, you bring everything to there – from your legs, from your hips, your back – everything you pull forward, from your shoulders down. They massage your back first, pushing everything to the front. Then you lay on your back and everything gets pulled to the front. So everything you bring there, and you put your hand there and that heavy throbbing would just settle down, calm down. It’s so calming. It’s so relaxing.
“The old people used to say the centre of your being is right there [gestures] in your – where your ribs come together, right in there – your diaphragm.”
So you do the same thing to a baby when it’s fussing. You start massaging its back and its little body and bring everything to that point. And that’s so calming for the baby when it’s irritable. They used that a lot. I think it’s the human touch, right? The human touch. The warmth, the gentleness. ’Cause you don’t see a lot of that anymore. Just grown-ups. Couple women massaging each other. Now when you need a massage, you go to a massage therapist and pay big bucks just to get that treatment. Whereas it was always there. The women massaged other family members. It was hands-on. It’s wonderful. Yeah.
I’ve gone up to the preschool here and showed the moms and that how to massage a baby when it’s irritable and they really enjoyed that. [chuckles] Ratfish – kʷumɑ. Yeah. It’s called “kʷumɑ.” I don’t know if that’s with a k or a c. kʷumɑ! [laughs] Between the eyes and the forehead was a little thing that stuck out. And it was quite abrasive, the little bump there. It was sticking – more kind of like the little – oh, what do you call those things that go on your skin like that? – like a tag. But it was really abrasive to the touch. And that’s where its power is. That’s why it heals things. That’s why it’s medicine. Because that’s where the power comes from. Yeah. So it was highly respected and highly regarded. It was really important. And the oil was so clear! And it takes a lot of liver – their little liver – to get a little bottle of this. But it was so plentiful. It seemed like they just came on the beach to die. We haven’t seen any of that forever! Yeah, ’cause people used to always put their nets out and it’d be just hanging there, or washed up on the beach. It only came certain time of the year. And people would just go and gather it for that purpose. And just for the oil. Yeah. kʷumɑ.