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Wahluna's Story (A Nimi'ipuu Legend)

Posted by Cathryn Mahoney on

This is the legend of the daughter of Chief Red Wolf of the Wallowa band of Nez Perce, who made their home in the Wallowa valley in Oregon. They lived by fishing in the river and lake and hunting over the Blue Mountains, but regularly got into battle with the Blackfoot tribe who hunted there. There were too many battles resulting in the loss of many warriors, which caused great distress for their elders, women and children left behind in the village. Wahluna was concerned about this and how it impacted all their lives, and she spoke to the elders and leaders about the need to find a peaceful resolution between the two tribes.


Over many battle worn moons with few warriors left returning to their woman-folk, Wahluna knew that something had to be done. Her father, the chief was becoming frail and battle weary. The women-folk and children were mourning their loved ones, and their provisions were getting low.


Wahluna made the decision to travel from her village by the Wallowa River, across the expansive lake by canoe to the other side where the Blackfoot tribe were resting following the latest battle with Wahluna’s tribe. She approached their camp and when she was spotted she was thrown on the ground in front of the chief and he was going to have her killed. She asked that the blood-shed be ceased. Her people were now very few and would not have long left for them all to survive when the snows came. She said her people were grieving and asked that they now be left in peace. As she talked to the great chief he ignored her pleas, but his son, Tlasca stepped up and asked him to listen to her and have mercy on her and her people. He laid his cloak over her body for protection and his father then followed suit, and asked her to rise. The great chief then listened to her requests as his son had shown bravery in protecting her. He also said she showed great courage in approaching him to speak for her people. The great chief said the snows were soon coming and they were preparing to return back to their own lands, and because of her bravery her village was spared from an attack that would have happened the following day.


Tlasca told his father that Wahluna’s father, Chief Red Wolf, was not a dog for they had followed him for many days and even though he was weak he turned to face them. He avoided them for one moon even though he was weakened.


As Wahluna was leaving to return to her canoe, Tlasca approached her. He asked to meet her again soon, but she said the remaining braves would have him killed because of the sadness they had brought to her village; as there was so much mourning she said, no they should not meet. Tlasca said he understood and asked her to listen out on the 12th moon for the great owl hooting, when she would then agree to be his.


On the 12th moon she rowed back across the lake but told Tlasca that the tribe were still mourning. He asked her to meet on the 6th moon when she would hear the grey wolves howling, at which time he would come with his warriors and meet her chief to smoke the peace pipe. Wahluna rowed back across the lake to her people and told the chief to expect the Blackfoot tribe who wished to smoke the pipe of peace.


On the 6th moon they saw their former enemy approach from all directions around the perimeter of the lake and still feared for their lives. However, as promised the chief approached with his son and the elders and asked Chief Red Wolf to smoke the pipe of peace. They spent a few days camped close by before moving back to the opposite side of the lake.


After many meetings with long discussions and agreements between the respective chiefs and elders that war was to be a thing of the past, they then agreed for Wahluna and Tlasca to be bound in matrimony.


The celebrations of their matrimony began as both parties joined around the great fire, with many small fires spread throughout the extended camp. Following their binding ceremony, much laughter and singing could be heard, and much dancing and merriment as far as the eye could see, with lights and flowers strewn between their camps.


Wahluna and Tlasca soon craved time to be alone to begin their lives together. They returned to the canoe at the water’s edge and rowed out into the lake. Their families and friends were unaware of their absence until they were alerted to ripples and then a large whirlpool whipping up far out on the lake. They used fire-lights to see what it could be and saw Whaluna and Tlasca in the canoe being spun around and then upturned by a large serpent. They saw them getting taken down by a frenzy of water, then they disappeared out of sight and all went calm.
As both tribes searched from atop the hillsides with the light of the approaching daylight, they were fearful of entering the water, and could see no sign of the couple. The search continued for days but eventually both tribes had to come to terms with their loss. The chiefs of both tribes called for a period of mourning to allow people to grieve. They spread out their camps to mourn in their own ways for several days. They could not fathom why this would occur and why the creator would allow it. It caused much heart-ache and questioning for a long time to come.


After a few more days both tribes then came to realise that their work had been done and that made the grieving easier. The Blackfoot tribe chose to leave to go back to their hunting grounds, however when they parted to go their separate ways it did not detract from the peaceful relations that they had formed between them. They each honoured the memories of Wahluna and Tlasca, who had brought them together as brothers and sisters. Since that time, Wahluna has been remembered as a ‘Great Peacemaker’ within the Blackfoot and Nez Perce tribes.

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