cowichan folklore
When I visit a place like Kwa'mutsun Xatsa' (Quamichan Lake) I can see the story of Q'ise'q unfold before me. In my mind I can see the fights between Xeel's and Q'ise'q and their magic. But even when I am lost in these stories I can still see Swuq'us watching over everything looming in the background, it's like everywhere I go the stories are interconnected with the landscape. Photo by Jared Qwustenuxun Williams
Cowichan Valley

The story of Q’ise’q and Quamichan Creek

This is a story, a sxweim, a tall tale with magic and power beyond any mortal person.
Jared Qwustenuxun Williams December 20, 2020

Before I start — remember, this is a story, a sxweim, a tall tale with magic and power beyond any mortal person. Many of our stories have a great supernatural air about them, yet they are so rooted in reality that the magic is almost believable.

The story of Q’ise’q is really the story of the Munmaanta’qw. A great race of people who inhabited Green Point and the village of Xinupsum in yesteryear. In some modern translations of this tale the Munmaanta’qw are commonly referred to as the stoneheads. This name came from the fact that their heads were impervious to all types of weapons. Clubs, spears, and arrows could do no harm to the Munmaanta’qw.

Now the great chief of the Munmaanta’qw had captured many slaves. Yet, during a raid by the northern people the chief had captured a woman that he later made his wife. 

Many years later the chief’s wife died while giving birth to a daughter. The chief’s daughter grew to be the most desirable woman in all of Xinupsum. Many suitors brought the chief gifts to try to get his permission to marry his daughter. Yet every time the chief’s answer was the same: “My daughter must choose for herself.” 

So when the chief’s daughter came home with a man from the village of Qw’umiyiqun the chief had to accept her choice. And much to the dismay of the rest of the Xinupsum the two were married. 

 

Many years later the chief died. And without the chief’s protection the rest of the Munmaanta’qw attacked and killed the man from Qw’umiyiqun and forced the chief’s daughter and her infant son Q’ise’q to flee.

It is said that Q’ise’q was raised in a cave beside a waterfall on Quamichan Creek. The stories say that he was bathed in the creek every day from when he was a qeq’. He was given a bow at the age of six and told to hunt birds that he was to return to his mother. In turn his mother sewed him a magic robe of feathers that gave him special powers. 

In one version of this legend Q’ise’q trades his robe to S-hwu-hwa’us for a pure white feather cloak that grants him the ability to fly and be invisible. Some stories even say that S-hwu-hwa’us trained Q’ise’q in the art of making magic potions. 

Nonetheless, the legends all agree that his Munmaanta’qw blood gave him special powers. He could talk to the birds and hear what they said. He could even bleed into the river and his blood would turn into fish.

So when Q’ise’q was old enough, his mother told him the story of what had happened to his father, and he took his revenge upon the Munmaanta’qw. The legends say that he took a club made of Tuxwa’tsulhp that could break stone and his S-hwu-hwa’us robe and flew down into the village of Xinupsum. There, cloaked in invisibility, he killed every last Munmaanta’qw, even the women and children, taking the village of Xinupsum for himself and his family.

The story of Q’ise’q concludes with a great battle between Xeel’s and Q’ise’q on the banks of Kwa’mutsun Xatsa. Q’ise’q and Xeel’s fought using magic and potions until Xeel’s forced Q’ise’q and his family up Quamichan Creek, up to where the creek meets the lake.

folklore cowichan
The waters of this lake were once noted to have spiritual powers and were some of the cleanest waters in Quw’utsun, they feed Quamichan Creek that runs down into Kwa’mutsun Village. In this picture alone I can note several types of traditional medicines used in yesteryear. Photo by Jared Qwustenuxun Williams

There Q’ise’q ran out of potions and ceded victory to Xeel’s, making one last request: “Place my mother and grandmother at the north end of the lake, my wife in the middle, and I will stay at the mouth of Quamichan Creek.” Xeel’s accepted the terms Q’ise’q had given and turned his family to stone and left them at the noted locations.

To this day elders say that’s why there are massive stones at these locations. As for what happened to Xeel’s, we’ll get to that in another story!

If you want to know more about this story you can find written versions of this tale in Beryl Cryer’s book, Two Houses Half Buried in Sand, and in When the Rains Came: And Other Legends of the Salish People, as told to Dolby Turner. Both are great collections of Cowichan, Hul’q’umi’num, and Salish folklore.

The version of the story I’ve told here takes details from accounts recorded in those books as well as versions I’ve heard over the years from those who carry these stories.

As always, keep writing in with new questions because I love to answer them! You can fill out this form to let me know what you’re curious about. 

Huy tseep q’u siem nu siiye’yu, huy tseep q’u.

Thank you my respected friends, thank you.

Jared Qwustenuxun Williams,
grandson of Qwustaanulwut

P.S. This work is possible because those who stepped up to support The Discourse this year. Thank you! Consider supporting this work so it can continue in 2021. 

Hul’qumi’num words

  • Kwa’mutsun – Quamichan
  • Munmaanta’qw – the legendary stone-headed people
  • Q’ise’q – a character in Cowichan folklore, who gave his name to Quamichan Creek
  • qeq’ – baby
  • Qw’umiyiqun – Comieakin, a village near Cowichan Bay
  • S-hwu-hwa’us – Thunderbird
  • sxweim – a powerful and mystical story 
  • tuxwa’tsulhp – yew tree
  • xatsa’ – lake
  • Xeel’s – the Transformer, a character in Cowichan folklore
  • Xinupsum – Khenipsen, a village near Cowichan Bay

Check out First Voices to learn words and sounds in Hul’qumi’num. You might also be interested in my YouTube series on Hul’qumi’num pronunciation.