Native American Tales

The Bear and his Indian Wife

The Bear and his Indian WifeThe Bear and his Indian Wife

Haida

A man and woman once loved each other very much, but they were of the same crest and were not allowed to be married, as dictated by their tribe. Their families tried to separate them, but one day, they took off into the woods and became husband and wife. They had their own little hut and lived fine, but it was decided that the husband would go back and tell the family that he had married the woman he was not supposed to.

When he did this people were angry. They did not want him to be husband to his wife. In fact, they were so determined that they kept him prisoner. He begged the people to go and get his wife because she would not return alone, but they would not do it. Finally, he escaped and went to where he had left his wife. There were footprints there, but they stopped before they got to the hut. His wife was not there. His wife was not anywhere. He called her name. He searched for her for days and then for weeks. Finally, the weeks turned into years.

The husband was depressed by all of this and eventually went to see a medicine man who was clairvoyant. The medicine man told the husband what he saw. He saw a bear coming out of the bushes and taking the man’s wife. The bear took her back to his tree to be his wife. This was a custom of the bears. If they wanted a wife, sometimes they would just take a human woman as a wife.

The husband went to the tree to retrieve his wife. By this time she had been living there quite a while and had two sons. The husband and others went to get her. They climbed a ladder up the tree and asked the wife if she would come down the tree. She said she could not before her husband, the bear chief, got home, but they finally convinced her and grabbed her away.

She was taken back home and welcomed gladly by her family and no one minded that she would be married to someone within her own crest. She was concerned for her two children, which the bear would not let go, but she knew how he would. She knew the song he made up for her. He made her the song because she was depressed after no one had come to rescue her. The men who went to get her children should sing the song and the bear would come down.

They did this and the bear was upset to find that it was not his wife at the bottom of the tree. He did not want to let his children go, but rather than have them taken by force, he let them leave with the men to go to their mother. Both of the boys grew up. One of them remained with the men and one went back to the bears. The song the bear made up is remembered still.

Observations

Bears cannot mate with humans, obviously, our chromosomes and stuff just don’t match up. There is still talk of bears being similar to people in lots of respects. As I have mentioned before, in relation to other things, some members of my family, which is part Native American, will not eat bear because it looks like a man hanging in a tree when it is hung up to be cleaned. I believe it’s more a person superstition than anything, but it is true. When bears are sprawled out, they do look like people. It wouldn’t be that difficult to imagine a bear as being a type of person in that respect.

Themes

The way I see it this bear kidnapped this girl and kept her hostage in a tree for years. He was like those guys that pick up little girls when they’re eleven and lock them away for years and years and get them pregnant and they’re eventually rescued somehow. I know that wife-stealing, as in, stealing a woman for your wife, used to be a more common thing with the natives. I think everyone sort of expected it and the women just kind of accepted it when it happened, knowing that in their society it was something that could happen. It doesn’t make it right, that’s just the way society was.

There are two types of relationships that seem to be forbidden in this story. One is the first relationship between the husband and the wife. They have the same crest; they’re related somehow, how closely, I do not know. We’re talking about a somewhat incestuous relationship. The second relationship, between the wife and the bear, is inter-species and she went against her will. Both of these relationships are deemed bad by this story, but when it comes down to it, society preferred to let a human-human relationship happen over a human-bear relationship happen, even though the human-human relationship was incestuous somehow.

The way I see it is that you can substitute whatever relationship type you want into this story and it’s about our hangups on how some people find love. Like, maybe we’d rather see a much older man with a young woman over seeing two women together, or maybe we’d rather see two white women together over seeing a white woman and a black man together, whatever the case may be. People do hold these prejudices against various types of relationships and even though one type of relationship is not ideal, they’ll still hold that as a better, because the other relationship seems weird to them, even if it is more ideal than the first type.

With that being said, I don’t think the wife had a bad relationship with her husband. I think they loved each other. I do think she was incredibly depressed with the bear. In this scenario, the relationship with her husband was the better one, if only, purely for her mental health. I think another thing we can observe from this story is that even if you don’t like a relationship, that doesn’t mean it’s bad for the people who are in it, maybe it’s freaking awesome and you’re not liking it is putting a strain on their relationship, which was otherwise good.

Overall

Just let people marry who they want to marry.

Weigh In

Which relationship was better for the woman in your opinion?

Do you think the woman being taken away from either of her relationships was the right thing to do?

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