Re-storying the World: Reviving the Language of Life

Madronna Holden
2009 Australian Humanities Review  
One day in 1975, Henry Cultee, Chehalis elder from Grays Harbor, Washington, told me he wanted to show me something. He beckoned me aboard the boat he kept moored by his fishing shack at Samamanauwish on the Humptulips River. Samamanauwish was also Henry Cultee's traditional name, inherited along with his luck in fishing from his grandfather's brother. It meant 'between two channels'. In explaining the name he shared with the land, Cultee said, 'I'm living right here', as he pointed out the
more » ... pointed out the channels of the Humptulips that ran on either side of his cabin. Eighty-five year old Cultee stood erect as he poled the river to guide us over the riffles for which his people named this river Hum-m-m-m-p-tulips, the name humming along with water running so fast it cleaned itself out in three days after a rain. As Grays Harbor opened before us, modern frame houses and mill stacks dissolved from view. We entered a world composed of water and sky. The wind danced paths of light on the water. This was the wind that lives here, the one that Henry Cultee's mother told him to run against with his arms outstretched, measuring its gaping mouth, so it would be ashamed of itself and calm down. As we moved on into ancient memory, that lone sentinel of a rock hanging over the harbour shrugged off the name of James Rock (for the pioneer) and relived its history as Sme'um-the place where Wildcat stole fire, singeing his tail with the mark he still wears as a result. The urbanized jumble along the Aberdeen River evaporated on the milky mist behind us, giving way to its more lively self: the Wishkah River ('stink water') where Thunderbird dropped a rotting whale carcass.
doi:10.22459/ahr.47.2009.12 fatcat:wxeycdyplfeulevyd2sdfvgxdm