The Quileute: A People of Legends
The Quileute, sometimes known as the Quillayute, are a Native American tribe located in Washington State in the USA. There are only about 750 tribal members left in existence and they live on a reservation known as La Push. The tribe also has its own language, which is currently in danger of going extinct.
Perhaps the best known modern mention of the Quileute tribe comes from Stephanie Meyer’s use of the tribe in her popular book series ‘Twilight’, where they are able to shape-shift into wolves. While the actual Quileute tribe may not have the same shape-shifting powers, the role that wolves play in the Quileute history is just as important in real life as in Stephanie Meyer’s world.
Quileute legends contain many popular characters that have been carried over into other cultures, such as the Raven, who is characterized as a trickster. One of the most important characters is Q’wati, who is both the creator and protector of the Quileute people.
According to the legend, it is Q’wati who creates the first Quileute. The story goes that, in early times, Q’wati traveled the world teaching people how they should act and giving instructions for their futures. One day on his journeys Q’wati came across a beaver, who was busy sharpening a stone knife. When he asked the beaver what he was doing, the beaver said he was planning to kill Q’wati, so Q’wati took the knife and stabbed the beaver in the tail. Q’wati then told him that he would live in the water and slap it with his tail.
When Q’wati reached Q’wayi’t'soxk’a River he didn’t see any people around, so he rubbed his hand together, rubbing dead skin into the water, and made people appear. He called these people the Queets. And when Q’wati reached the Quileute land, he, again, saw no people. The only thing he saw was two wolves, so Q’wati transformed those two wolves into people and dubbed them the Quileute people and said, “For this reason you Quileute shall be brave, for you came from wolves”.
Another very popular tale of the Quileute legends is the legend of the Thunderbird. A long time ago, the Quileute were having a difficult time. There were a lot of storms with snow, ice, hail, sleet, and rain that devastated the land and killed people, animals, and plants. The storms made it so the Quileute were unable to fish because of the rough water and they had already eaten what little flora was left after the storms had destroyed most of it. The Quileute were starting to starve and many of their numbers had already starved to death.
The Great Chief told the tribe that they would make one last appeal to the Great Spirit for help and if they were meant to survive the Great Spirit would save them, otherwise they would die bravely because the Quileute were brave people.
The Great Chief made one last prayer to the Great Spirit and then the tribe were quiet and waited in the darkness. Before long, there came a loud sound and flashes of lightening cut the dark. They heard the loud whirring of wings and a large bird flew towards them from over the sea. This bird was called Thunderbird and in its talons was a large, living whale that it deposited on the land in front of the tribe before returning back to the lightening from which it was born.
The Quileute are a people known largely for their legends and many other cultures draw off these legends or have heard of them since they are quite popular.
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