Tsunami Preparedness Oral History of the Hoh


[Speaking in Hoh language] We learned our oral history from our ancestors. In our traditional ways, we do not have a written language, so we heard the stories from our elders. The story of the thunderbird and the whale is one of our oral history stories. The thunderbird lives in the glacier at the headwaters of the Olympic Mountains. The whale, we all know, lives in the Pacific Ocean. When the thunderbird comes out, he may not even be looking for a whale or whale hunting, but he will go out to the sea. Usually we can hear him coming with the thunder and the lightnight. Grandfather used to say “[Speaking in Hoh language]” He’s coming. We can hear him. “[Speaking in Hoh language]” He’s going a long ways. He’s not stopping. When he gets to the water, he’ll flap his wings. And if he flaps them hard and goes down, the water will come up and cause the tsunami. The faster and harder the thunderbird comes down and lifts quickly, the wave will be bigger. But if he’s going “[Speaking in Hoh language]” far away, we’ll barely hear the thunder and see the lightning. These stories we have listened to, and we believe them. In our native stories, when we feel the ground shake, we’re told in our language to run to high ground, or get away from the ocean because it’s dangerous. One time we literally were in that situation at Hoh River. We were on the beach smelting, and we had a beach buggy. We saw the waves go far out into the rocks. There’s rocks all in front our village. And the wave went out. We could barely see the waves capping as they were going out. And five minutes later maybe, it was as high as this house. The waves came back in. And there weren’t a lot of them; like this one was just one wave. And there down that road that goes to our village was my uncle waving us over with his hat. When the next wave went way out again, it didn’t scare us. We were just curious and watched it. “Wow. Look at that.” And there’s no smelt on the beach. No fish on the beach that we could see. So, we all got in the beach buggy and went up to the village road and my uncle was there. He said, “Don’t you know that’s going to be a tidal wave?” We didn’t call them tsunamis. Tidal wave in our language “[Speaking in Hoh language]”. So we drove up as far as we could on the hill and put our buggy there, because we had no roads from the highway to the village. We took a car down as far as we could go, then we crossed the river to our homes in canoes. We hauled that beach buggy over on two canoes and two boards. That’s how we had a vehicle over there to go smelting and make money to feed our families. We got up the village and he told us the story that years and years and years ago, there was a great big tidal wave that came along our ocean. So, whenever we see something like that, like we saw that day, the water going out, get off the beach. We didn’t feel the earth moving. We just saw the wave go way out and come back in. That was the Chilean Earthquake. That is how a lot of it is handed down is from things that happened when they’re telling stories when we’re sitting around and just visiting and talking and they’ll tell about how it was a long time ago and about what we should do; how we should do it.

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