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

Having a Healthy Pregnancy

You know, if you want a healthy baby, this is how you’re gonna look after yourself as a pregnant woman. You’re not gonna go out there and be cutting fish or butchering fish or doing things that might cause your baby to be deformed. You don’t go out and gut a salmon and, you know, just looking at unpleasant things. ’Cause your baby might take on that and will look like that. That was their belief. They really believed in that!

“How to look after yourself, and how to look after the baby when it comes, and how to look after the afterbirth and all of those things.”

It’s so hard when you’re trying to translate that into English. They’d say “ɬəχ θ kʼʷənɛt, ɬəχ θ kʼʷənɛt tɑnʼ. ɬəχmot hɛw. tʼɑtʼmɑtəm səm θ čuyʼ.” They’d say, “Your baby is going to copy that.” You’re lookin’ at something ugly or something distasteful or something that’s deformed or whatever it may be. Or things you eat. You were forbidden from eating fish head, which we love as Indian people. We love our fish head. Well, if you are pregnant, you don’t touch fish head – baby might be born looking something like a fish head. All those kinds of foods you were cautioned against eating.

Cutting things. If you wanted a baby boy, you shouldn’t be handling a knife or some sharp objects. You know, you want a boy! That was kind of old wives’ tales, now, when you think about that. But they had their own predictions, their own beliefs and their own teachings about how to look after yourself as a pregnant woman, and the things to be aware of. How to look after yourself, and how to look after the baby when it comes, and how to look after the afterbirth and all of those things.

Yeah, so all of those different teachings that they truly believed in – the work they were doing and how they lived and how they treated and how they, you know, the different remedies that was there. And it worked. It worked for them. You know, how the new baby girl is, the ears are pierced right away as a newborn. You didn’t wait, and little girls gotta have earrings, so right away the ears are pierced by the midwife. Yeah.

There’s so many teachings and so many beliefs – but that’s one thing that I always wonder about now. Or is it from when they first started to listen to the radio? There were very few people that had a radio. My grandfather had a radio that only he listened to, because it was operated by battery – big battery, about that big. [gesturing] About a foot long, foot and a half long, and about six inches high. And he would attach that and listen to it, and he’s deaf as can be. None of us could hear, but he’d be right there with his ear to the radio listening to the news. And he’d – news is over, unplug it, put it away. So he’d tell us about the war, what’s going on – must’ve been the Second World War. “Oh! There’s war happening! Fighting.” Oh, he’d be real sad about it: “Maybe one day it’ll come here,” used to say. He was quite concerned about that. He would tell us what was said, what was in the news, right? So I don’t know if that’s where they got their predictions from. That there’ll be famine. There’ll be famine – they were so sure of that. There’ll be nothing to eat. And even new babies will be hungry, ’cause the mother is going to be dying of starvation.

“So old people had a lot of wisdom. They could see into the future and figure things out – so they always had a treasure full of information.”

However did they come to that conclusion at that time? That’s, like, seventy years ago, when I was probably about seven, eight years old. And I would hear them talkin’ about that. That women will be smoking and that women will be wearing slacks. That was a no-no, ’cause all the women back then wore long dresses. So all these things. Women will be – you know, they frowned upon dancing. Women didn’t dance. Yeah, the clicky heels represents, like, the devil’s hoofs. Yeah. Yeah, so all those things they would – maybe it was just a way to scare us as young people! [laughs] I don’t know. “No babe, you can’t go dancin’ around.” Yeah. So old people had a lot of wisdom. They could see into the future and figure things out – so they always had a treasure full of information. A treasure chest full of information that they doled out whenever necessary. Whenever they thought it was needed, they’d tell you what’s right and what’s wrong. That was your guide and they were your guide in life. And we really believed! We listened to those kinds of warnings. But they knew: “At one time there was a flood. And then the next thing is going to be famine. Famine – there’ll be famine, there’ll be fire.” I don’t know where they got that from. Yeah. There was nothing written somewhere that, you know, predicted that. Maybe Nostradamus. Maybe they met Nostradamus! [laughs]

They would say, “ɬəχ tə θ kʼʷənɛt tɑnʼ. ɬəχ. tʼɑtʼmɑtəm səm kʷə θ čuyʼ.” It’s bad. Your child will copy it. “Don’t be looking at that! That’s ugly. You’re baby’s going to copy that. Baby’s going to look like that!” So you didn’t dare look at things that were not pleasant. So you had to think pleasant thoughts. You had to think of good things in order to have a healthy baby. You thought good things. Not to be looking at things that were yucky – otherwise your baby might take that on.

And that’s why too, as a pregnant woman, you didn’t look at a dead body if someone died in your community or your family. Pregnant women were not allowed to go and look at the dead person in the casket, ’cause your baby might take on that look when it’s born. And that’s why if you did go and look at – could be your brother, could be your father, your mother, someone you’re really close to and you want to say your final goodbyes – then you go and you can do that, but someone is always there to look after you. And then wipe the face of the body in the casket. Very lightly with white cloth or something, or maybe cedar. And you take that and you put it away. And when the baby’s first born, you take that out and you wipe the baby’s face with it. Then you will go and burn that with some food offering, so that you’re taking from the baby what might have transpired from the dead body. ’Cause it could take the spirit of the baby too, so it might be unhealthy when it’s born. It might be unhealthy all its life. Because they’ve done that, while they’re still in the womb and the mother has exposed them to the dead person. So you gotta do your cleansing. And the baby, when it’s born, you do your cleansing again. Then you thank the spirit of the dead person. You make a little offering so everything’s now okay.

“You had to think of good things in order to have a healthy baby.”

Those things were really important practices, and people still do it today. I see other people wearing the blanket around their middle – that’s to protect the baby. I’ve seen women here do that. But I’ve never seen it when I was growing up. All I seen was using the cedar, or have pinned to you or tucked in your pocket and that’s to protect the spirit of the baby you’re carrying. That you’re not exposed or that it’s not being drawn into the spirit world. So there’s ways and means to protect a pregnant woman at times like that.

Or even clams, like, you couldn’t eat clams when you’re pregnant because that’s gonna cause your baby to clench its jaws all the time. The clam will – when you touch it if it’s partially open, you touch it and then just clamps down really hard. And when the baby is born that it could happen with the baby, it’s gonna have this clenched jaw. Yeah. So pregnant women were not allowed to eat clams. Or fish heads. [chuckles] Or wild raspberries, you know, tʼʋqʷom? Little red berries. They’re so small and thin. There’s no body to it, but it’s so tasty. If you go looking and you’ll find that and just really small berries. And you will find that on a baby, a red spot, like a red berry. And so you kept away from that. If you’re pregnant you don’t touch that berry, ’cause that’s going to end up on the baby. Yeah. And you see quite a few people that have that berry on their skin. It could be anywhere on their body, but if it ends up on their face it’s quite noticeable. I don’t know what causes that. There must be an explanation why babies get that. Or a black mark on their body. So you had to be really careful and selective of what kind of berries or fruits you ate, or whatever foods you ate.

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