A small neighborhood in Nintook, Eskeocha, the hometown of the writer.
The History of the Eskeocha Tribe - Second Edition
by Jelli Melerick and Caske Staaven
by Tove Barokog
When Professors Melerick and Staaven of the Cranarie National University approached me to write the opening pages of their newest textbook, I will readily admit I was quite confused. Why would they not ask a professional writer or a historian? What interest should they have in asking a lowly fisherman? Though I had many doubts and questions about the proposal, I am never one to reject a request from a friend. I have known Jelli Melerick for a long time, and will go to significant lengths to help such a wonderful woman with a task.
I believe now I understand, after composing this forward to their work, this extensive history of the tribe to which I belong, why they asked me rather than a researcher of the tribe’s history. They do not want another of their own opinion. They are not interested in having their own perspective yet again in the text. They want a true Eskeocha tribe member, the story of the typical Eskeochan life. In my attempt to honor the wants of my peers, the task they have set before me, I have composed for you, the reader, student, professor, or whomever you may be, of this text, a brief selection of accounts from my life, stories that I feel define my heritage as an Eskeochan.
I was six years old when I attended my first potlatch. It was very overwhelming, and there is little I remember, though what I do remember is quite vivid. A potlatch is a ceremony, a “gift-giving,” if you will, that will often mark a significant occasion such as the ascent to adulthood, the end of mourning, or the naming of a child. I had attended one for my cousin, a skilled woodworker who had spent the better part of the past year carving and painting a large totem pole that now stands, to this day, in the center of my hometown of Nintook. It is a beautiful piece of art, and it constantly reminds me, every time I return home to visit my parents, of the beauty and richness of the background from which I come. This potlatch had lots of smoke; I remember barely being able to see. It also had a healthy amount of singing. I do not remember who sang, but the lines have stuck with me since. They are a part of an old Eskeocha folk tune, which states, “when the fish have gone to bed and the sea dried up, we will go on, we will go on.” I was terrified of the song at the time. I heard tunes of an apocalypse, of all the food in the world disappearing. I loved food! I also remember my uncle telling a story about one of the great gods, descending from on high to visit the humans she had created. It was all quite fun, and I can remember eating a healthy amount of fish dishes, though what has always stuck with me most was, as is traditional for any potlatch, the giving of gifts. My cousin had gifted me with a small model totem. It was the original miniature sample he had made of the one that stands in town. I remember staring at that small chunk of wood for hours; I had my very own totem, something only great members of the Eskeocha tribe receive, unless they make one themselves. I would not let that totem out of my hand for the next twelve hours, holding it as tight as my stubby six year old fingers would let me.
The totem in Nintook town center, created by Lotel Barokog.
At age fourteen I began my first job. After school, I would work part time as a retail clerk in a small store in town that sold shoes. It was not remotely related to the Eskeocha tribe, we mostly carried boots for the winter and sandals for the summer. I would see multiple customers come and go, but no one unusual beyond the older kooks who lived in town. When I had been working there for about four months, however, a man whom I had never seen, who must have been from a different city, entered the store. From looks alone, no one would assume the man to be anything but a typical customer. He was wearing a flannel top, working denim on the bottom, and the same sandals we sold in the store. Though when he came over to the counter and asked if we had any Koqes, I was quite unprepared. I told him no, we only had sandals and winter boots, and the man thanked me and left, dejected. That afternoon, upon getting off from work, I went to the local library and looked up Koqes in a book on the Eskeocha tribe. It turns out they were a type of sandal designed centuries ago by tribe members designed for full use in water and on land. It essentially acted as a walking sandal and a water shoe, saving time in the day and space, cutting down on changing time and shoe storage. Clever, I thought, though not very necessary anymore. I went home without giving it a second thought.
On my nineteenth birthday, I had a potlatch. It was a large, family event, and a few friends were invited. It was to celebrate my transition into adulthood, an event that occurs at nineteen in Eskeochan tradition. I could finally drink (legally), I could vote for our borough captain, not that I had much interest in that, and any property I owned would be recognized officially by the frontier, though at this point I had none. The celebration itself was fun, and my friends and I drank a hefty amount, but what sticks with me is the gift-giving ceremony. I had set aside many items from my childhood to give to others, and I did just that. What I never expected was to be given a gift of my own. My grandfather had given me a set of keys, the keys to his fishing boat. He was retiring, and was offering me the boat as a means to make my own living if I should choose to do so. I had not even owned a house and already I had a boat! It was quite overwhelming, but I knew my grandfather well. I accepted his offer and his fishing job.
When I look back at my life, I understand what it means to be a part of the Eskeocha tribe. It is not about crazy attire or wild, cult like celebrations. It is about community, family, and overcoming. Being a part of the tribe is about celebrating what you have been given and have left to give. I observe this every day when I go to my fishing job; there is the same totem on my boat’s dashboard, a reminder that I do not do this for myself, but for others. I wear traditional Koqes, and I can guarantee you they are a game changer in my career! I wear them as a reminder of who I am descended from. And I have renamed my boat after my grandfather, a reminder that when one overcomes, we all overcome. I fill myself with reminders of who I am as a way to stay true to my past and my ancestors’ past.
I hope that as you read through this textbook, you will learn some of the same lessons I have learned. I hope you will see the importance of community and perseverance, and that you will think harder about your own background in your life. This book is filled from end to end with stories of my people’s experiences, and I can tell you, after reading an early copy, it is certainly an adventure and a tale that leaves the reader feeling good. Please enjoy the work of my dear friend and her colleague, and I ask you, think, whether you are an Eskeochan or not: how can you be a better member of the Eskeocha tribe?