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The Hero's Journey

Healing Circles writer Roger Fernandes (University of Washington) is from the Lower Elwah S'Klallam reservation located on the Olympic Peninsula. An educator for 30 years, Fernandes has developed the structural model for our curriculum project which is using Hero's Journey stories to teach people health and wellness. He especially acknowledges elders as that primary source of guidance saying, "It's a very important aspect of the journey."

"You need an elder to guide you - to help you to figure things out. In the story, Elder appears to help you. "And so that's the hero's journey of transformation - of transforming from one person who's alone, confused and wandering into a person who has a place in their culture and has an understanding of who they are."

Lesson 4 – Slapoo the Witch Woman

A Klallam Story

The Native people around the Puget Sound tell stories to their children about a terrible monster that lives in the woods. This monster’s name is Tzoo-ne-quah to the north. It is Dahsh-kaya to the south. And to the west the Klallam people call her Slapoo.

Slapoo is a giantess, over 10 feet tall. She is covered with long black fur, but she never takes a bath so her hair is greasy and matted and dirty. She smells really bad and they say you can smell her before you see her. She whistles as she hunts for her food so her mouth is always looks as though she is whistling or singing. She has glowing yellow eyes like an owl so she can see in the dark and she does not have human hands, but has the claws of an owl.

Like the owl she wanders the woods at night looking for her food. Her food is not salmon or deer or berries. Her food is children! And not just any kind of children; she looks for the ones who don’t listen to their parents and the ones who don’t pay attention. She hunts the woods at night for BAD children!

When she catches the ones who go out in the woods at night against their parent’s wishes she grabs them with her sharp claws and puts them in a big basket she carries on her back. She then takes them to her camp high up in the mountains where she keeps a big fire going all the time. She dumps those children onto the ground. She has a big toe nail that she never trims, and it is sharp like a knife. She cuts the child up with that toenail and she puts them into the fire and then she eats them.

This is the story of a little girl who met Slapoo and what happened.

A long time ago there was a village near a river. In this village lived a little girl. This little girl was a very bad little girl. She would talk back to her parents. She was disrespectful to her grandparents, laughing at them because they walked so slowly. She was mean to the little ones, taking their toys from them and laughing at them when they cried. She always complained about the food her mother cooked and she would cheat and lie in all the games the children would play.

One day her mother had had enough. She called, “Young lady! Come over here!”

The little girl walked up to her mother and in a snotty voice asked, “What?”

The mother said, “You have to quit fighting all the time. You have to learn to help people because…”

The girl cried out, “You’re picking on me! Leave me alone!”

Then the grandmother came and said, “Please, you must learn to not complain so much. Your family needs you to…”

But the girl interrupted her. She yelled, “Now you’re picking on me too! You both are always picking on me! I hate it here! I’m running away and I’m never coming back!”

And that little girl ran out the door into the woods even though it was getting dark. The mother and the grandmother ran to the door and called out, “Don’t go out into the woods in the dark! Slapoo is out there looking for children just like you!”

But that little girl didn’t listen. She ran deep into the woods and even though it was getting darker she found a small trail and started walking on it, talking to herself.

They are so mean to me there! They always try to make me do things I don’t want to do! And then they try to scare me with a story about old Slapoo. Well I don’t believe there is…”

Just then she heard the sound of something running through the woods. Something was coming right towards her in the dark forest. The little girl was still and quiet, but whatever it was came nearer.

Then she heard something moving in the bushes right beside her.

From within those dark, dark bushes came a terrible voice. “Little girl! Little girl! Come over here. I have some berries for you.”

The little girl backed away from the voice.

“No, little girl! Don’t you walk away from me! I picked theses berries just for you. Get over here!”

The little girl turned and ran away from the voice. She ran down the trail and deeper into the forest. She could hear something running on the trail behind her. She looked back and in the dark forest all she could see was a big dark shadow with two yellow glowing eyes! She ran even faster, but as she ran faster, whatever was chasing her was running faster too. And it was getting closer!

The little girl ran to where the trail ended. It emptied onto a beach. She ran onto the beach and looked around the sand, the rocks, and the water.

Right at the water’s edge she saw an old man. He was pulling his canoe out of the water and onto the beach. In the canoe were baskets of crabs. He was a crab fisherman coming home from catching crabs that day.

The little girl ran up to him and said, “Please, sir, please! I need your help! Something terrible is chasing me! Something terrible is trying to catch me! Please, sir, help me!”

The old man asked, “Who is chasing you, little girl?”

”Slapoo is chasing me! Please, sir, please help me!” she cried.

“Oh, little girl, I can’t help you!” he said. “Slapoo is a terrible giant monster and I’m just an old man. There is nothing I can do to help you.”

“Oh please, sir. There must be something you can do!” she wailed.

Then the little girl looked around. She looked along the sand, the rocks, and the water. Right off the beach, a little ways out in the water, she saw a little island of rocks.

“I know!” she cried. “Can’t you take me in your canoe to that little island of rocks? I can hide from Slapoo there!”

He was a nice old man and he wanted to help her. “Get in my canoe quick! I will take you to that island!”

She jumped into the canoe and he pushed it into the water and got in and paddled her out to that little island of rocks. When they got there she jumped onto the rocks. There were some bushes there so she hid in those bushes. Then the old man turned his canoe and paddled back to the beach.

He was pulling his canoe out of the water and onto the beach when out of the woods came Slapoo, the giant witch woman.

She walked right up to the old man. She bent down to speak to him and he could smell her terrible foul breath.

“Old man,” she said. “Have you seen a little girl around here?”

”No.” said the old man. “I haven’t seen anyone around here.”

“Liar!” she cried. “I followed her tracks down the trail, right to the beach, right to your canoe! Where is she?”

Slapoo started to dig through the old man’s canoe, but there were only baskets of crabs in the canoe and the old man kept saying, “I don’t know what you’re talking about! I haven’t seen anyone!”

Slapoo stood up and towered over the old man again. This time she put her sharp claws right in front of the old man’s face and threatened, “If you don’t tell me where she is at, you’ll be my dinner, old man!”

He kept saying, “I don’t know what you’re talking about! I haven’t seen any little girl!”

Slapoo looked around the beach, along the sand, the rocks, and the water. She saw that little island of rocks a ways off the beach. And she saw the bushes on that island were shaking. The little girl was hiding, but she was so scared, the bushes were shaking.

“Ho, ho ho!” Slapoo laughed. “There she is. There’s my dinner. Old man, take me to that island in your canoe! I’m hungry!”

The old man thought a moment about her request. Then he said, “Okay, Slapoo. I’ll take you. Get in my canoe.”

The giant witch woman got in the front of the canoe. He pushed it into the water; he got in and started to slowly paddle towards that little island of rocks.

Slapoo was in the front of the canoe, looking ahead and thinking about her dinner. When the old man was sure she wasn’t looking he bent down to the basket of crabs next to him and whispered, “Bite her on the big toe!” He was a crab fisherman and he had powers over crabs. He could make them come to his traps; he could make them do as he commanded.

Slapoo heard him whispering about something and she turned around and said, “Be quiet old man!” Then she turned away.

“I’ll be quiet, Slapoo” the old man said. But he waited another minute, made sure she wasn’t looking and he bent down again and whispered a little louder, “Bite her on the big toe!”

Slapoo heard him whispering something again. This time she turned and flashed her claws and said, “This is my last warning, old man! Be quiet!” She turned away once more.

The old man paddled in silence another minute. When he was sure she wasn’t looking he bent down once more and yelled, “Bite her on the big toe!”

This time the crabs heard and they jumped out of the basket and bit her on the big toe. They bit her on the legs, on the fingers, on her face, and even on her nose. Slapoo jumped up and screamed and jumped into the water where the crabs dragged her to the bottom of the ocean.

Some children believe that this story means that she is gone, that there is nothing to worry about anymore. But the Native stories say she has three sisters just as mean and hungry as her and they wander the woods at night looking for their dinner.

And another thing. If you’ve ever been out on the salt water in a boat or a ferry or canoe, I’m sure you’ve seen bubbles coming from under the water. Do you know who that is? That is Slapoo. She is waiting for a careless child to splash their hand in the water or lean too far over the edge of the boat. Then she will grab them and pull them under the water for her dinner.

That is all.

Lesson: Slapoo the Witch Woman

Goal:

Learn about how to transform big problems in our lives into successful situations.

Activity:

This component will have the students hear and learn various monster stories from different Native cultures and identify strategies revealed in the legend. They will take this insight and apply it to their own life stories and examine the outcomes, both successful and not, and using the metaphorical story language, project how they might approach the calamities of the lives in the future.

Terrible Situations

Often we find ourselves in a terrible situation that we cannot explain and feel powerless to control or change. Sometimes the situation is so complex or mysterious that we can’t truly explain it or recognize possible answers to the dilemma. In our oldest stories this condition was often explained through the metaphor of the monster, something terrible and unexplainable that threatened our lives.

Metaphor is Powerful

The use of metaphor is powerful. Metaphor simply means “something lesser represents something greater”. So a flood might represent one world ending and a new world beginning or even one stage of life ending and a new stage starting. Or a mountain might represent a higher plane of knowledge or being. Thus a monster could help us see the frightening challenges in our lives and how we are not doomed in the face of the monster, but rather how we draw upon certain innate strengths to confront and remove the threat of the monster.

Enjoy reading and listening to the traditional story Slapoo. When you have finished it, review the discussion points at the end of the story.

Story Analysis: Discovering the Story

After listening to the whole story, share and discuss your thoughts on the following:

  1. What is the terrible situation in this story?
  2. Why did the little girl end up in the forest?
  3. Can you think of times in your life you have had to face Slapoo?
  4. What role did the Old Man have in the story?
  5. Does this story give you insight into how you have faced the monsters in your life?