The long uneven line of brown-skinned Natives, dressed in bark vests and thinly twined cedar clothing waited patiently in the late afternoon sun. It was required learning for the young lads of the tribe who stood at their grandfathers' sides waiting for the demonstration to begin. A thousand years ago, these grandfathers were revered as holders of knowledge to be passed down through the centuries.
Long shadows of the men and their grandsons rippled crookedly upon the surface of the Quinnu river. The elders' features appeared scarred beyond recognition- each line in their faces denoting a hard won victory or some terrible defeat in their long harsh lives.
"Why are we here?" whispered Kawa, as he wriggled and tried unsuccessfully to withdraw his hand from his grandfather's large, rough one. He spoke in the native tongue, the only language he knew. It was before the coming of the White Man and all the changes that would follow in his wake. Sometimes a stray hunter or trapper down from Canada crossed their paths, but they were a rarity.
"Watch and you shall see," answered Old Kawa gruffly and tightened his grip on the youngster's wiry arm.
Young Kawa strained his neck as he sensed, rather than heard, a shuffling farther down the line formed atop the high bank overlooking the cold river below. He watched carefully as a figure stepped out of the formation and made his way down the muddy slope toward the sand bar at the edge of the water. He found himself holding his breath in anticipation of what was to come.
Riverwater filled the young man's footprints as soon as he left them. He began shedding his garments, one by one. First he carefully laid his headdress made of giant eagle's feathers upon a sun-bleached drift log. Slowly he undid the fasteners of his bark vest on which brightly colored beads had been sewn. He then stepped out of his finely woven cedar trousers and stood naked before his audience. He raised his arms in salute to his Gods. Kawa recognized him as Cheeka from his village.
Still afraid to breathe, afraid he might interrupt something momentous, Kawa now gripped his grandfather's hand fiercely. He thought his eyes might fall from their sockets as he stood spellbound.
The hushed crowd watched as the lad put one foot into the water. Another. When he was up to his hips in the river, he dove in so quickly it astounded the crowd of younger boys standing above him, but they held back their pleased gasps.
Kawa could not tear his eyes from the figure that swam dizzily in the water, first this way, then that. Up, down, back, forth. Soon the dark figure just below the surface resembled something else - not the boy who went into the river.
Kawa's chin thrust forward as he squinted his eyes, hoping to gain a clearer picture. What has happened? Where did Cheeka go? All he saw now was the swift movement of a sleek ebony seal where the boy swimmer had been! Where is Cheeka? He strained so hard against his grandfather's grip, he nearly slipped over the bank and the old man had to use both hands to restrain him.
He had no recourse, as well as the rest of the youngsters, but to observe the display before them. That satiny black seal performed well. It dove deep, returned to the surface and leapt high into the air where, Kawa swore, it winked at him! It did belly rolls under water, circles within circles, and tricks undreamed of before. Finally, it streaked down river toward its mouth until it could no longer be seen. When the young lads thought the show was over and prepared to leave the shoreline, the trim animal returned, lazily swimming in small circles toward the river's edge. There its head emerged. The fading sun glistened wetly upon its coat as the animal arose from the river, flinging droplets of water every which way.
Kawa used one hand to cover his mouth as the transformation took place. The beautiful black seal slowly evolved into the young man, Cheeka, again. His long legs appeared, then his arms and head. There was no remnant of the seal to be seen. The swimmer returned to his clothing on the parched log, dressed, and disappeared into the fog that was fast filling up the valley.
"Wha...?" Kawa began.
Grandfather silenced him with a gentle squeeze of his upper arms. The elder members of the tribe turned with their young charges in hand and walked away from the river's high banks.
Only Kawa and his grandfather remained. They slid down the muddy, clay-like, hill and Kawa could hardly contain himself as the old man gathered a few twigs and driftwood to build a fire. When it was burning low and steady he began.
"We, each and every one of us, contain an animal spirit. whether we are aware of it or not. Whether we make use of it or not, it is still there. The feat we have to undertake when it becomes known to us, is 'control'." He emphasized the word to make the point clear.
Kawa sat on his haunches as he watched Grandfather stir the ashes with a hollow willow stick. When a glowing ember appeared, he put it to his lips and inhaled. The smoke smelled sweet to the boy's nostrils. He waited. He knew there was no hurrying Grandfather.
"Some call it our 'Tomanous'. Some have other words for it. White men say it is their Guardian Angel. I do not care either way. I know it exists and my purpose is to inform you, my son. And warn you. Some men have been known to use their spirit guide for evil purposes, against their enemies, or to accomplish harmful deeds. This is not its purpose! Use it only for 'Good', and you will live a long, satisfying life."
Kawa noted that Grandfather's eyes gleamed like gold in the light from the fire. This moment will never to be forgotten. "Young Cheeka who you just saw in the demonstration is living proof of what I try to teach you. His grandfather taught him well. Now that the control over his animal spirit is complete, he is the youngest bishop in the church and a good leader to follow."
"I want to be like him," stated Kawa. As an afterthought, he asked in a hushed voice, "What if it is used for Evil, what happens then?"
"Then all the Evil Gods will visit their wrath down upon you! That is why I stress - do not let it control you! If you let the Innerbeast rule - you are lost!"
They sat warming their hands over the fire, flames flickering shadows over their faces, and thought of the future.