Ko-kwal-alwoot–A Samish Legend

Ko-kwal-alwoot–The Maiden of Deception Pass
Translation & English Adaptation by Samish Indian Nation
Displayed at Deception Pass State Park, near Anacortes, Washington, USA

A long time ago, a Samish village by Deception Pass along the waters of the Salish Sea, there lived a young maiden named Ko-kwal-alwoot.

Her father was head man of the village, and she was respected by her Samish people for her generosity, hard work, and kindness.

One day, Ko-kwal-alwoot and other young maidens were at the beach near their village, gathering shellfish and digging clams.

She was wading in the water and as she reached for a shellfish, it slipped from her grasp and moved deeper into the water. She followed the shellfish, but it continued to move deeper into the water still.

As she waded deeper into the water, she felt something brush her leg. She looked down and saw the face of a man under the water looking at her. She left the water frightened but also curious as to who this man might be.

The next day, she returned to gather shellfish by the sea, waded into the water, and once again saw the man looking up at her. The handsome young man rose out of the water and spoke to her.

“Do not be afraid,” he said. “I come from a village beneath the sea where I am the ruler of all the creatures that live under the sea.”

The king of all the sea creatures told Ko-kwal-alwoot, “I have been watching you and love listening to your beautiful voice. I have come to ask you to marry me and live with my family under the sea. I can use my special power so you will be able to live forever below with all my sea relations.”

Ko-kwal-alwoot was in awe of this strong and handsome young man from beneath the sea. They went back to the village to ask permission from her parents to marry. But the people felt a great coldness before he arrived and were frightened upon seeing this man from the deep.

The king of all sea creatures introduced himself, explained his high status, and asked to marry Ko-kwal-alwoot. He promised to keep her safe underwater.

“No!” said her father. “You may not marry our daughter. She will die. No! I cannot allow it!”

The king of all the sea creatures told her parents that he could make her immortal and able to live underwater, but still they refused.

He became angry and said, “If you don’t allow us to marry, I will take away everything! I will take away the fish and the shellfish! I will take away the fresh water you drink!” He left the village and returned to the sea.

True to his word, the people saw the fresh water in the streams vanish and the berries dried up. The village fishermen’s nets came up empty, and the women returned with empty shellfish baskets.

Ko-kwal-alwoot grew scared and sad to see her people suffering, and she begged her parents to reconsider. Her parents were also frightened and finally agreed. “Please call him back to meet with us.”

The young man returned and was given permission to marry Ko-kwal-alwoot. The parents had only one condition: Ko-kwal-alwoot must return once every year to visit her people, to let them know she was happy and well cared for.

He used his power so she could breathe underwater, and then she left her village and followed her husband into the sea. The people saw her go deeper and deeper into the water until all they saw was her long hair floating in the water.

The fishermen began catching fish again and the beaches teemed wtih clams and other shellfish. Berries thrived and the streams flowed with clean, clear water.

Ko-kwal-alwoot returned once a year to visit her family and her people.

The first year, people saw that seaweed and kelp and seagrass were growing in her hair. By the second year, barnacles and limpets and mussels grew on her arms. By the third year, even scales began to form on her skin. The fourth year, barnacles were now growing on her once beautiful face, and she was nearly covered with scales.

Ko-kwal-alwoot spent her time alone, gazing out to sea, and the family grew concerned. That fourth year, her parents spoke to each other and finally said, “Ko-kwal-alwoot, we know you belong with your family under the sea. That place is now your home and we can see you are no longer happy here. We release you from the promise–you no longer need to return to visit us unless you wish.”

She thanked her parents for their love and understanding. She said, “I promise there will always be fish in the sea to catch, plenty of shellfish to gather on the beaches, and lots of fresh water to drink. This I promise you.”

Then Ko-kwal-alwoot returned to her home beneath the water. To this day, the Samish people know she is there, providing abundance for them.