Agnes Pilgrim

Story 5 – The Little Hunch-back Girl

Working Together to Solve Problems

A strength of traditional Native American tribal culture is in the view that the group (family, community, tribe, etc.) identity is held most important. This group ethos is the exact opposite of the lessons taught by the dominant culture that holds the individual is more important than the group.

A small example of these vastly different worldviews is to look at the clans of the Northwest Coast tribes of Canada and Alaska. When Tlingit or Haida or Tsimpshean dancers are performing in their clan blankets they turn their backs to the audience to display the crests sewn onto their blankets. They are more concerned that you see their clan identity than their individual status.

Or in many tribal cultures when someone is formally introducing themselves they explain their family lineage including their ancestors so the audience understands their group identity and see the speaker as a member of a significant group.

In today’s world the dominant culture sends a variety of messages that show what they deem important in an individual’s identity. Another small, but noteworthy observation is how products are marketed. I-Pod, I-Pad, I-Phone, and My Space all focus on the individual and speak to the individual’s wants without regard for any group identity.

Of course, both views hold merit and are workable in different cultural contexts, but as they are oppositional they can lead to difficulties in cross-cultural communication. If an individual has a group primary identity then the decisions they might make will always consider the good of the group first and their own needs or wants become secondary.

In the previous Snoqualmie story, Pushing Up the Sky, we can see how the group, when working together can accomplish tasks the individual cannot do alone. A teaching in that story might be “If we work together we can do great things; we can even push up the sky.”

If we further examine the story metaphorically we might consider the dark and heavy sky representing a negative condition like oppression {where we must cede our free will to others}or depression {where we might feel helpless and hopeless}. Even for the depression of the individual, other people need to be involved to address the condition.

One example of how the group ethos could help an individual struggling to transform could be when people are in a treatment program to overcome a drug or alcohol addiction. Because these addictions are seen today as the individual’s problem they are often sent away from the community and told that they need to change. The community, which at one time saw the individual’s problems as truly a community problem, now says it’s up to one person to change and not the group.

Read the following story twice before answering the story questions that follow.

The Little Hunch-back Girl

A Skagit Story

A long time ago in a village along the Skagit River lived a little girl. She had a bent back and the people called her Hunch-back Girl. In those days a deformity such as a hunched back were not seen as something bad, but rather a trait that meant the person had a special power because of that condition.

Hunch-back girl was very good at taking care of the little children. She would make sure they were fed and clean and took their naps. She would watch them for their parents. This was her gift.

One day she offered to take the children out berry picking. She prepared them by making sure they each had a berry basket and by packing a bag with dried salmon so they could eat while they were gone. Then she took them into the woods, following the trails deep into the woods where the biggest and sweetest berries grew.

When they got to the berry patch they began to pick berries. They all worked very hard and after a while they complained to her that they were hungry. So she gathered them around her and reached into the bag and brought out dried salmon. She gave them each a piece. To the littlest boy she had only a dried salmon tail, not the best piece of fish.

The boy complained loudly. He yelled “Basket Woman! Come and get these bad children! They have given me a bad piece of fish!”

He was calling to Basket Woman She is a terrible witch woman monster who wanders the forest looking for bad children to eat. She was a giant and was covered with black fur. She had sharp claws and glowing eyes to see in the dark forest. The stories say she carries a great basket on her back and puts children into it and carries them to her camp in the mountains. Once there she cooks them over the coals of a great fire and then eats them. All the tribes tell stories about her and warn there children to be good or she will take them away for her dinner.

This little boy did not believe the stories about Basket Woman. He thought they were for little children.

“Hush!” said hunch-back Girl. “Don’t say that! She will hear you!”

“I don’t care!” he said. “Give me better fish!”

“I don’t have any more. That is what you get”, she said.

“Basket Woman! These bad children will not give me good food! Come and get them!” he called out again.

“Quiet! Please be quiet! Don’t say her name!” all the children said.

But it was too late. From high up in the mountains the children heard a rumbling noise. Something big was coming down the mountain. It was Basket Woman. She was howling like a wild animal and coming straight towards them. She was coming very fast.

The children screamed and, all holding hands, began to run back down the trail to their village. But they could only run as fast as the littlest one and soon the monster was upon them. Basket Woman grabbed all of them and put them in her terrible basket. After she caught all of them she turned and began to trudge back up the mountain carrying her heavy basket full of children. She was ready to eat her dinner.

The children were in the basket crying. They knew they would never see their families again. They knew she was going to eat them.

But Hunch-back Girl was determined to save them. She would not let the monster hurt them. She thought of a plan.

She held the littlest one and told him that she would lift him above the rim of the basket. He must be very quiet. She would lift him up and when Basket Woman passed a low hanging branch he must grab it and hold on. Then he must run back to the village and tell the people what was happening. He must tell the people to come and help them.

So she lifted him up and soon he grabbed a low hanging branch as they passed by it. He did as he was told and was soon running down the trail back to his village.

Soon the monster came to her camp and the great fire. She reached into the basket and pulled each child out one by one. She pulled out Hunch-back Girl.

“Little girl,” said the monster, “thank you for bringing my dinner to me. I am very hungry.”

Hunch-back girl had told the children a plan when they were in the basket. She had to make Basket Woman do something.

“I have heard you are a very good dancer Basket woman. They say you are the best dancer anywhere. Before you cook us and eat us, can you show us how you dance?” asked the girl.

“Me? A good dancer? Who told you this?” asked Basket Woman.

“Everyone says it. Please show us your great dancing.” Said Hunch-back Girl

And so Basket Woman began to dance. She was not a good dancer, in fact she was very clumsy, but still she danced round and around the fire. The children began to sing. She danced faster and faster. Soon she became dizzy and staggered, almost falling into the fire.

When this happened hunch-back Girl called out, “Now! Everyone push her in the fire! All together!”

The children rushed up and pushed the great monster as hard as they could. One of them could not do it, but together they could. She fell into the fire and began to burn.

“Oh, my children!” she cried. “Help me out of the fire!”

Some of the children ran and got long sticks. They did not pull her out of the fire with those sticks. They pushed her further into the flames.

So she burned up in the fire. The fire blazed and roared.

The people from the village finally arrived with spears and clubs to save the children. But it was too late. The children burned up the monster. But there were sparks from the roaring fire flying everywhere. These sparks turned into living things. They turned into mosquitoes. That is why mosquitoes like to eat the blood of little children in the summer time. They come from her.

And that is all.

Story Questions

How is the teaching of the importance of the group suggested or taught in this story?

The children are, as a group, not bad children. What about their behavior brought the monster/problem to them?

Are there any teachings in this story that might be relevant to you in solving a problem?