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Legends of the Secwepemc
Famine, the Story of Hunger

Pit House, winter home of Secwepemc people, often the winters were very lean circa 2003

Hunger or Famine was a man with a lean body, hollow cheeks, sunken eye sockets, protruding eyes, projecting jaws and teeth, and long fingernails. He lived at the top of a high mountain which had sloping sides and had no trees or bushes. Hunger could see all the slopes of the mountains from top to bottom, except in one place halfway up, where there was a bench sticking out which he could not see. On this bench, which was open and covered a considerable area, lived the deer.

Not far from the base of the mountain, at one time lived a large number of people, but they had been almost exterminated by Famine. The men went in twos and threes to hunt deer on the bench above, but, as soon as their heads appeared over the edge of the bench, Famine drew their heads to himself, and at once, they died. Their bleached bones covered the side hill along the edge of the bench. At last, no males were left among the people except for an old man, Owl, and his grandson, a very small boy called Tekietcen.

 

When the boy reached the age of puberty, he asked his grandfather why there were no men. The old man told him how they had all met their deaths at the hands of Famine. He told his grandson, “You must now train yourself and sleep on the mountains, so you may become wise and strong in magic power, and be able to avenge the death of your relatives”. So the boy left and took up his place in the mountains

After he had been away a while, Owl cried. “Hu, xa, hu. Hu. Where are you, grandson?” The boy answered, “I am here! I am training hard, and am just beginning to know a little”. Owl was satisfied.

After a considerable time, Owl cried out again, “Where are you, Grandson? Do you know much yet?”

The boy answered, “I am here, grandfather, and have gained some wisdom”. After a long time, Owl cried out to the boy, who answered that he now knew very much. The fourth time Owl cried to the boy, the boy answered that he was now proficient in all magic powers and knew everything.

Then the boy came home and told Owl that he was going to kill Famine. Transforming himself into a hummingbird, he flew towards the place where the deer lived, but Famine was always on the watch, and had very good eyesight. As soon as the boy appeared over the edge of the bench, Famine saw him, tried to draw his breath away, and the boy had to retreat.

The boy then changed himself into a bee and again approached the place. Famine, at once, saw him and he had to retreat. The boy then changed himself into a horsefly, but had to retreat again.

This time he changed himself into a mosquito, but again Famine saw him. This time he changed himself into a deer fly, but again Famine saw him. At last, he changed himself into a sand fly and looked over the edge of the flat at the deer. Famine was watching, but showed no signs of being able to see him. So the boy flew up to the deer and entered their nostrils; one after the other and so killed them all. Famine was watching with strained eyes; wondering why the deer were falling down dead; one after the other.

The boy flew to Famine and bit him all around the head; but Famine; being only able to feel him but not see him, wondered what it was. When the boy annoyed Famine from some time, he entered his nostrils and killed him. Owl was anxious at the long delay of his grandson, called out to him, asking him where he was.

The boy did not answer. Owl thought he was dead and went outside and began to weep. Now, the boy, still in the form of the sand fly, bit Owl’s face. Owl tried to find out what touched his face, but could not see anything. Again Owl wept and cried out. “Oh! Where are you, grandchild?”

The boy transformed himself into his natural form and answered. “ I am here by your side, Grandfather. I have just returned from killing our enemy Famine and all his deer”. Owl said, Well done”.

The boy returned to the mountain, took Famine’s body, and threw it away, saying, “Famine, from now on, you shall not be a mysterious power being, and you shall never be able to kill people as long as they have food to eat. Occasionally you may hurt them when their food is all gone, but as soon as they get more food and eat, you will have to leave”.

Then, going to the hillside where the men’s bones were lying, he jumped over each skeleton, and they all came to life. They went with the boy, cut up the deer, and carried the meat to their homes.

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