As I Remember It: Teachings (Ɂəms tɑɁɑw) from the Life of a Sliammon Elder

Medicine for Babies

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.

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