Story of a Peace Ceremony between two Tlingit Clans
A Lukaax.ádi clan song tells the story of a wife whose husband was taken as a hostage:
What do you think is going to happen to your Raven, Eagle?
He’s already been taken, so just accept your fate.
The story, which according to oral traditions occurred unknown generations ago, recounts that the wife, who belonged to an Eagle clan, was crying because she didn’t know whether her husband, who is of a Raven clan, would be killed or allowed to live. Even if he was allowed to live, she would not be able to see him for an entire year.
During the year, the hostage was kept captive and was governed by strict taboos. He was not allowed to use the hand which was used to commit the crime — not even to feed or clothe himself. The attendants assigned to the hostage were required to care for his every need otherwise their shaman could lose his powers. The hostage also acted as a mediator or judge. He could impose a punishment on his clan if they violated any terms of the treaty.
A Tlingit symbol of peace is the deer or Guwakaan since it is considered gentle and is a symbol of peace. The Peace Ceremony was performed a year after a hostage was taken. In the ceremony, the hostage is transformed into a Guwakaan. He was given a name after a life-giving object such as spring water. The weeklong ceremony began with the two clans meeting on neutral grounds. The hostage was carried on the shoulders of his attendants in a circle in a counterclockwise direction. He then danced between his two attendants. The first song that is sung is sad and then is followed by happier songs. The Guwakaan extends his arms outstretched as if he were holding a bucket of spring water to signify that peace is at hand. Members of his clan dance forward, dip their hands into the bucket, and then act as if they were drinking the life-giving spring water.
After the ceremony, the Guwakaan was allowed to return to his clan.
One of the last traditional Peace Ceremonies was held in the early 1900s between the Wrangell Eagle Kaagwaantaan clan and the Sitka Raven Kiks.ádi clan.