Narrative of a Voyage to the Northwest Coast of America in the years 1811, 1812, 1813, and 1814 or the First American Settlement on the Pacific eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 192 pages of information about Narrative of a Voyage to the Northwest Coast of America in the years 1811, 1812, 1813, and 1814 or the First American Settlement on the Pacific.

Having travelled with one of the sons of the chief of the Chinooks (Comcomly), an intelligent and communicative young man, I put to him several questions touching their religious belief, and the following is, in substance, what he told me respecting it:  Men, according to their ideas, were created by a divinity whom they name Etalapass; but they were imperfect, having a mouth that was not opened, eyes that were fast closed, hands and feet that were not moveable; in a word, they were rather statues of flesh, than living men.  A second divinity, whom they call Ecannum, less powerful, but more benign than the former, having seen men in their state of imperfection, took a sharp stone and laid open their mouths and eyes; he gave agility, also, to their feet, and motion to their hands.  This compassionate divinity was not content with conferring these first benefits; he taught men to make canoes, paddles, nets, and, in a word, all the tools and instruments they use.  He did still more:  he threw great rocks into the river, to obstruct the ascent of the salmon, in order that they might take as many as they wanted.

The natives of the Columbia further believe, that the men who have been good citizens, good fathers, good husbands, and good fishermen, who have not committed murder, &c., will be perfectly happy after their death, and will go to a country where they will find fish, fruit, &c., in abundance; and that, on the contrary, those who have lived wickedly, will inhabit a country of fasting and want, where they will eat nothing but bitter roots, and have nothing to drink but salt water.

If these notions in regard to the origin and future destiny of man are not exactly conformed to sound reason or to divine revelation, it will be allowed that they do not offer the absurdities with which the mythologies of many ancient nations abound.[Z] The article which makes skill in fishing a virtue worthy of being compensated in the other world, does not disfigure the salutary and consoling dogma of the immortality of the soul, and that of future rewards and punishments, so much as one is at first tempted to think; for if we reflect a little, we shall discover that the skilful fisherman, in laboring for himself, labors also for society; he is a useful citizen, who contributes, as much as lies in his power, to avert from his fellow-men the scourge of famine; he is a religious man, who honors the divinity by making use of his benefits.  Surely a great deal of the theology of a future life prevalent among civilized men, does not excel this in profundity.

[Footnote Z:  It seems clear that this Indian mythology is a form of the primitive tradition obscured by symbol.  The creation of man by the Supreme Divinity, but in an imperfect state ("his eyes not yet opened"), his deliverance from that condition by an inferior but more beneficent deity (the Satan of the Bible), and the progress of the emancipated and enlightened being, in the arts of industry, are clearly set forth.  Thus the devil has his cosmogony as well as the Almighty, and his tradition in opposition to the divine.—­ED.]

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Narrative of a Voyage to the Northwest Coast of America in the years 1811, 1812, 1813, and 1814 or the First American Settlement on the Pacific from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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