Interview with Marcus Alfred

Interview with Marcus Alfred

Interviewer: Franziska von Rosen
Location: Alert Bay

Marcus Alfred: My English name is Marcus Alfred. My Potlach name is P̓adzismax̱wa, which comes from Blunden Harbour. It got passed on from my grandfather, Binatsa, and that was his Hamat’sa name before he became a chief. He could have chosen to pass this hamat’sa on to Michael, Pewi’s son. But Michael received a hamat’sa from Ahda Brenda, who passed it first to my grandpa, Lorne Smith. I got my Hamat’sa from my grandfather from Blunden Harbour. I have lived in the ‘Namgis First Nation in Alert Bay almost all my life. This is where I have grown up and where I have learned how to dance and sing.

Franziska von Rosen: Tell me a bit about the dances you hold.

MA: What I hold in the Big House is a really sacred, and high standing dance called the Hamat’sa.  Every Hamat’sa has a Hiligax̱ste’.  That’s my sister Pewi, she is the lady that feeds the Hamat’sa, the cannibal, so that he doesn’t have to go and feed off anybody else at the ceremony.

FvR: How did you learn to dance?

MA: Well, here in Alert Bay we really value our art and culture. We have a lot of artists and lots of dancers.

Before I became a Hamat’sa there was my dad, Wayne Alfred. He is one of the best known dancers around. The way he dances is beautiful. I learned to dance from him. I also learned from others, even up-and-coming Hamat’sa that just started. You see them dancing in that world that they are in at the time, dancing by. And they do a really, really beautiful move, and you pick up on it. You watch birds dance on the ground, you watch eagles flying in the air, just little movements that they make; that is all expression, just like carving. You would not be able to tell what a mask is if it did not have that look to it. Every mask represents itself, just like every dancer. [Insert photo: pine.marcus.jpg]

FvR: How did you receive Hamat’sa?

MA: It has been passed on and passed on and passed on. It has been given from my grandfather, to his son, to his son and now it is up to me to keep continuing what I have learned. There are not that many elders around anymore. It is up to the last of them to continue it, making sure that we can learn, making sure that I can show my child, my daughter – I have a two year old daughter who is growing up, and I want to make sure that she continues to learn our culture.

FvR: What does it mean to be Hamat’sa?

MA: Hamat’sa is a secret society; it is not supposed to be talked about. But for education you need to keep this going, so it is good to bring this out. It is a really beautiful thing. When you are doing those hand motions, doing all the movements, you know, you picture that you are sucking intestines in, you have lice on your hair, so you are scratching at it; ravens are eating your eyes, you try to be as dramatic as possible to make what you are doing become as realistic as you can. That is basically what I try to do.

I have a Hamat’sa but you don’t go out there and say, I got a Hamat’sa. You just go out there. Anybody needs help, you help them, you feed them, whatever you know. Like I say, I don’t just do Hamat’sa. I learn other things so I can keep passing it down.

FvR: How old were you when you were initiated?

MA: I was initiated at the age of 12. When I was younger, about eight or nine, I used to see the old people dancing. I caught the last bit of the elders, and that was the most beautiful thing ever to be able to see. I was lucky to be born in ‘81 so I could see all this. When I saw that I thought it was the most wonderful thing in the world, seeing those hand movements, beautiful things they were doing, how realistic they made it. I have always had that want to do it. So I made myself better by studying, learning different dances, to the point where I could just slide right into it. I am 24 now, so within those 10 years I have been practising a lot.

I am glad to be the oldest boy grandchild of Pat Alfred, which means that the Hamat’sa got passed to me. And I continue that until I have my own son to pass it on to.

FvR: When you are dancing and you are the Hamat’sa, what goes through your mind?

MA: You are trying to be real. You are trying to make it seem as if you just came out of the woods. Once you come out on to the dance floor all your fans are out there, but they are not there. You don’t want to get stage fright. There are two thousand people in the Big House and you are going to dance.

When you are coming out, you are Hamat’sa, you are Cannibal. You put your lips out so you can be that much closer to the flesh; so you are going towards them, you are prancing, you want their flesh; so you want to be that kind of a person. If you were to see it for the first time, you would picture him as an evil person, but it is all staged to make it look realistic.

It is a beautiful thing to be part of the Kwakwaka’wakw people, to be one of us; show the power and strength of our people who have travelled these waters for centuries and centuries. Those are the people who passed those things down to my grandfather and grandmother and passed it down to me.

©2019 This project was made possible with the support of the Department of Canadian Heritage through Canadian Culture Online
Native Dance