Author Tags: 1850-1900, First Nations, Haida Gwaii
Born in Scotland in 1827, James Deans was also the first of the highly committed ‘ethnologists’ to live among Aboriginals for an extended period. Franz Boas was better trained and made more varied studies than Deans, but Boas never spent more than two weeks in any one B.C. location other than Victoria. James Deans lived among the Haida for fourteen months from 1869 to 1870, having arrived on the Queen Charlottes Islands one year after a terrible smallpox epidemic.
James Deans rose to social prominence after he was commissed to hire artists in Skidegate to produce models of their houses for a replica of a Haida village that was erected at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. The popularity of his appearances at this fair’s Columbian Exposition—during which he provided daily ‘readings’ of the totem poles—prompted Deans to publish his only book, Tales from the Totems of the Hidery (1899) at age 70.
Deans submitted numerous articles to the American Antiquarian and Oriental Journal in the 1890s. Here he frankly describes his own level of expertise and observes the extent to which lives of the Haida were radically transformed during his own knowledge of them: “The first thing I found I had to learn was the style of their carvings. ‘What is that bird on top of that column?’ I would ask. ‘That is a raven.’ ‘And that one over there? It is an eagle,’ ‘What is that one with its wings spread?’ ‘It is the thunder bird.’ ‘What is that animal cut out on the base of these columns?’ ‘That is the beaver.’ And so forth. After awhile I got to know the one from the other. My next step was to ask why they were carved on the columns. The answer I got was, ‘Everything you see carved on them has a story.’ ‘Tell me the 'story of this one, please.’ The answer came, ‘I do not know it,’ or, ‘I will tell you bye-and-bye,’ or, ‘Give me something and I will tell you all.’ I was prepared to wait, or to give, or do anything; yet after all, I got but little. However, a little here, and a little there, a little now, and a little then, after a number of years, amounted to something. Even then, the field is so vast that, after all my trouble, I must own I know but little…
“…a great change has come over these people within the last five years. Also the age of the carved columns has passed. Some are being cut down for fire-wood, numbers fall through age, or are shaken down by the earthquakes and high winds which periodically visit these coasts and islands. A few costly marble ones, erected in the village burying ground and streets, are still standing. No new ones are raised. Everyone's ambition, now a-days, is to have a beautiful marble tombstone erected to his or her memory, with an inscription, giving the name, supposed age and date of death. Some even go so far as to have one ready, with a blank space for the date, and sometimes the cause of death to be filled in by their relations, after that event.
“A few years ago, when I returned to Victoria, at the close of my summer's work, I got $40 in hard cash from an old man in order to get him a tombstone. From him also I got a drawing of his crest which was the above mentioned Thunder bird, or as it is called in the native, Hadap El-anga. This he wished to have engraven above the inscriptions, giving his name and date as near as possible of his birth, and where it happened, with the usual blank space for the remainder. The stone he received in due season, where it was stowed away, there to wait until required. I give this story to show the change taking place amongst these people. And with it close my introduction, and describe the villages as they appeared in the heyday of the totem period.”
James Deans died in 1905.
Deans, James & Oscar Lovell Triggs (editor). Tales from the Totems of the Hidery (Chicago: International Folk-Lore Association, 1899).
[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2005] "QCI" "First Nations" "1850-1900" "Folklore"
THE MOON SYMBOL ON THE TOTEM POSTS ON THE NORTHWEST COAST
By JAMES DEANS. The American Antiquarian and Oriental Journal, 1891, pp. 341-346.
In writing about these carved columns, or totem posts, as some people call them, once so abundant in all the native villages in parts of this coast, I shall divide my subject into the following parts or headings, viz: their appearance, location, origin and meaning. What I am able to say concerning them is the result of over twenty years' research under difficulties of no mean description, owing to these people being unwilling to reveal to strangers the use of the columns and the signification of the carvings thereon, as the following specimen of the method I had to use in order to learn their meaning will show. The first thing I found I had to learn was the style of their carvings. " What is that bird on top of that column?" 1 would ask. "That is a raven." " And that one over there? It is an eagle," " What is that one with its wings spread?" "It is the thunder bird." "What is that animal cut out on the base of these columns?" "That is the beaver." And so forth. After awhile I got to know the one from the other.
My next step was to ask why they were carved on the columns. The answer I got was, "Everything you see carved on them has a story." " Tell me the 'story of this one, please." The answer came, "I do not know it," or, "I will tell you bye-and-bye," or, "Give me something and I will tell you all." I was prepared to wait, or to give, or do anything; yet after all, I got but little. However, a little here, and a little there, a little now, and a little then, after a number of years, amounted to something. Even then, the field is so vast that, after all my trouble, I must own I know but little. What I am about to write I received as truth, and believing it so, I send you what I have learned. After long years of acquaintance with these people, during which time many that I knew and showed kindness to as children, have grown to be men and women. These know and trust me as a friend. Besides, a great change has come over these people within the last five years. Also the age of the carved columns has passed. Some are being cut down for fire-wood, numbers fall through age, or are shaken down by the earthquakes and high winds which periodically visit these coasts and islands. A few costly marble ones, erected in the village burying ground and streets, are still standing. No new ones are raised. Everyone's ambition, now a-days, is to have a beautiful marble tombstone erected to his or her memory, with an inscription, giving the name, supposed age and date of death. Some even go so far as to have one ready, with a blank space for the date, and sometimes the cause of death to be filled in by their relations, after that event.
A few years ago, when I returned to Victoria, at the close of my summer's work, I got $40 in hard cash from an old man in order to get him a tombstone. From him also I got a drawing of his crest which was the above mentioned Thunder bird, or as it is called in the native, Hadap El-anga. This he wished to have engraven above the inscriptions, giving his name and date as near as possible of his birth, and where it happened, with the usual blank space for the remainder. The stone he received in due season, where it was stowed away, there to wait until required. I give this story to show the change taking place amongst these people. And with it close my introduction, and describe the villages as they appeared in the heyday of the totem period.
The traveler by any of the steamers on this coast in, I shall say, 1862 would be surprised as he came in sight of any Indian town, to see the number of tall columns, of various heights and forms, standing from end to end of every town, mostly in front of the houses, although a large number often were placed behind. As he drew near he would be amused to find them carved from bottom to top with figures, which he would naturally take to be runics or hieroglyphics. If he went through the village he would find that a number of these columns had no carvings on them, but instead had a box placed on top; on one side of this box was engraven something resembling the face of a human being. At some places he would see a long box resting on two strong cedar posts. At other places he would notice a long pole, like a flagstaff with a bird on top of it, with a plate of copper either held in its beak, or placed in the pole beneath its perch. Often these poles have ropes placed beneath the bird in order to haul up a flag on gala days. Again he would find amongst this motley group others carved from their base upward ten or twelve feet, while the remainder of the column was divided into circles of a breadth of twelve inches. On numbers of these columns, tops as well as sides, were engraved men, women and children with hats, whose crowns are four of these circles in height. In others, a man is covered with five or more of these circles above his head, with a beaver sitting above his head on the uppermost circle. While most of these columns are without coloring, yet a few are painted with bright colors, having a pleasing effect. The colors used were bright red, yellow, dark green and black. The houses were always built in a row, with two gables, the main entrance always facing the shore. In the center of this gable, and close to the wall, is the principal column in which an oval hole was cut to serve as a doorway. The lowest figure on these columns is a bear, a beaver, or a wolf; all have been carved in a sitting posture. In the lower part of the belly of the object the entrance or oval doorway was always placed. The average height of these columns may be placed at thirty feet; in width, four feet.
In their preparation a large cedar tree was selected, one easily split and with few knots being preferred. because knots interfere with the carving. After felling, it was cut into the desired length, and then split in two. The section chosen for the column was hollowed out to about five inches in thickness, according to the wish of the owner, After the bark and rough places were removed, it was floated to the village; and the carver set to work. When finished, it was raised by the united strength of the tribe, and by numbers invited from adjoining ones,
In order that your readers may have an idea of the appearance of these columns, when finished and set on end, I shall take a few of them as subjects for description, beginning with one which has three different figures on it. The one at its base is a beaver. (Tsing.) It is carved in a sitting posture, with the entrance, or oval hole, in the lower part of its belly. This symbolizes an ancient legend of the Haidas. Next above, and sitting on the head of the beaver is the Thunder bird, (El-anga) which also has an ancient story. The next and last on the column is an old woman carved as sitting on the bird's bead. She is represented as having an enormous labret placed on her lower lip, which is stretched until it disfigures her face, and is highly characteristic of old women amongst these people. This may be slid to represent the typical woman of the Haidas. as her name Itl-tads-dah or perhaps, more correctly, Iiltuh Inotoch, (Typical Woman) would imply, which in reality, she is shown to be on the carving. First, her large lip piece shows her to hold the highest rank possible to obtain among the ancient Haidas. Again her Tadu Skeel Of four degrees above her head shows her to be a chieftaness of as many degrees as there are bands or circles on her long hat. These she seems to have had in her own right. Again she is carved as holding another Tadu Skeel of six degrees, one end of which is resting between her feet on the head of El-angu while the other end is held by her hand under her chin. This Tadu Skeel, I think, Would give her a claim to six degrees of nobility, obtained by inheritance. This column must, I think, have been erected to the memory of a woman who ranked high amongst the nobles of Haidah Land. Further of her history, I know not.
The next one I shall take has four designs. The first two is the bear, called by the Haidas Hoo-its. It is represented in a sitting posture, with a cray fish in front of him. The next figure above is a frog, called Kim-ques-tan, with its head down, and its fore feet placed on the bear's head. The fourth and last figure is a beaver (Tsing). It has hold of the frog by the middle, in front of the hind legs. On this column the Tadu Skeel of one degree is placed on the head of the uppermost figure, which is a beaver. These four carvings seem to be family crests. The beaver with the Tadu Skeel doubtless was the crest of the head of the family, which is often placed on top of the column.
The next and last one I shall give, is one painted in bright colors -red, yellow and dark green. The figure at the base of this one is the Tsing (beaver) who, as is usual, is carved in a sitting posture, with a stick in his hands. Exceptionally in this case is a figure of a full moon on its belly, immediately above the oval doorway. Above, and sitting on the head of the Tsing is the typical woman of the Haidas. In her arms she holds the young crow (Keet-Kie). On her head is seated the raven (Choocah), having a new moon in his beak, called by the Haidas Kuny-hi-hatla, or crescent moon. On the raven's head is the hat of distinction, or Tadu Skeel, showing that he is a most important person, or great chief. On top of the Tadu Skeel is seated the grizzly bear (Hoo-its). This column symbolizes the changes of the moon. First, the beaver has eaten up the moon, which is, as shown above, carved over the doorway. In order to show he has done it, the carver has placed it as if it shone out of his stomach. The old woman holding the young raven means that she has sent the raven away to hunt for a new moon, to take the place of the old one. In his absence she nurses the young one (raven). Having found a new moon, he has been carved as returning with it in his beak. Above all, the bear, which is the crest of the person who raised this column. is also shown, as if he was watching the restoration of the moon.
In the summer Of 1884 a census of every town, old or new, was taken, including the number of people, houses, columns, etc. This I shall give with the location of each town or village. The returns give Skidegat thirty, houses and fifty carved columns, besides, I think, thirty mortuary ones, and a number of Sathling-un-Nah or dead houses, or tombs behind the village. To-day, 1891, very few old style houses are left, all having been replaced by modern ones, built from models, from houses in Victoria.
The village of Guneshewa, Q. C. I., named after its chief Grunshawas town, had eighteen houses and twenty-five carved columns, besides mortuary ones, and dead houses.
Captain Skidanse's town is given as having twenty-five houses and thirty carved columns, besides a number of mortuary ones.
In Captain Clue's town, Tamo, Q, C. I., the number given is twenty houses and twenty-five carved columns.
Niustint's town, so called after its chief, is the southmost town on the Q. C. Islands. It had twenty houses, twenty-five carved columns and twenty mortuary ones, given at date.
In the district of Massett there are three villages, namely, Yan on the west side of the inlet. At the above date it had twenty houses, twenty-five carved columns. Yon-tc-wuss, the principal village. stands on the east side of the inlet. It had forty houses and fifty carved columns, besides a few mortuary ones. Hayung, the third village, has been abandoned for a number of years. It had six or seven columns standing, also a few fallen ones. Yateza, a new village a few miles from Massett, had three houses and one carved column. At Kung, on Naolen or Vrago Sound, there were fifteen houses, all in ruins but two, and twenty carved columns. Tadens is a new village on an old site. It had seven or eight houses and one carved column, erected a few years ago. At the deserted villages of Yakh and Kioosta, besides a great many tombs, there were a number of columns with very ancient carvings. At the former there were six houses and ten carved columns. At the latter, fifteen houses and eighteen carved columns.
The Gold Harbour Indians' village of Heenii, on Maud Island Q. C. I. This village was built about 1876 by the remnant of the West Coast tribes, who bought a piece of land from the Skideyats, and formed a new tribe by moving into it. At the above date there was in this village thirteen houses and eighteen tombs.
At the village of Kai-Soon there was ten or twelve houses, and about as many carved columns, besides a number of tombs.
The old village of Chu-att, had (I think) about fifteen houses, mostly in ruins, and I believe twenty carved columns. At this village the tombs far outnumber those at any village on Haidah Land.
There are three or four villages of Haidas in Southern Alaska, at Kyyanie, and other places, who have also carved columns.
In all Haidah Land including the above mentioned tribes in 1884 1 am sure there was not less than 500 carved columns.
The Skickeens of Alaska, in 1862 had a vast number of these columns in their villages.
Amongst the Simsheans, at Fort Simpson, in the villages on the Nass and Skeena, as well as at various other places. the number and designs of these columns, was simply astonishing.
As far as I have seen, the style of the carvings, as practiced by the Haidas of Queen Charlotte's Islands and all outlying tribes speaking the same language, and known by the name of Haidas (strangers), is the same as practiced by the Kling-gate (Thlingkeet) tribes, of Southern Alaska, and probably all the other tribes speaking the Kling-gate language ; the Simsheans, who occupy a vast territory on the Islands, inlets and rivers of the mainland in British Columbia, and who speak the Simshean language. The modes of carving as practiced by the above mentioned people and nations are unique in their designs, crests, and legends, while the styles of their neighbors, the Bill Billas, Bella-Coolas, Quackguills and others are so different that it may freely be said they have a style of their own, if the rude carvings, on the ruder poles they have, may be called a style.
Perhaps, as far as I have gone, I have been too precise in my account of these columns, their locations and numbers, but then, when I consider the ever-increasing amount of inquiry concerning them, and well knowing that in a few more years a description of them will only be found in the pages of history, I thus take the liberty to be precise, believing that by insertion in the pages of your valuable journal they will be preserved for the use of future inquirers, for all time. In may next paper I shall speak of the origin and significance of the columns and their carving.
CARVED COLUMNS OR TOTEM POSTS OF THE HAIDAS. BY JAMES DEANS. The American Antiquarian and Oriental Journal, 1891, pp. 282-287.
In a former paper I spoke of the appearance of these posts and of the different places at which they were to be found. In this paper I shall, at least, speak of their origin and shall quote, so far as I am able, tradition and history. In the first place, I shall give the traditions as I have had them from the old people among the Haida, in particular, and notably from Edensvud, an old chief of Tewioostor, then living at Massett, Queen Charlotte Islands, B. C. They (the Haidas) say they do not know how long ago it was that their forefathers began to build themselves houses after the present style and to set up carved columns. It was many generations ago. At first they lived in very cold and comfortless huts, without columns or any such thing, outside of their dwelling. Whether it was in order to improve his house or to inform the rest of his tribe about his name or that of his village, that the chief erected these columns, I have never been able to discover. If the name has been preserved to posterity, these people do not care to make it known. This chief seems to have been in possession of more than ordinary intelligence, because he set himself to devise a more comfortable style of house in every respect. While he was thinking over a plan an angel--or rather, I ought to have said. a spirit, for among these people angels and spirits were one and the same-appeared to his clarvoyant[sic] eyes and showed him the style of a house, with the measurements and everything connected with the future building in detail, excepting a carved column. In the same manner King David got the plan of the temple at Jerusalem (*See I Chron., XXVIII, 13 -19.1 ). Having been provided with a plan, he and all his tribe set to work in order to get out the requisite material. Just as they were about to build, the same visitor appeared to the chief and again showed him the plan, with this difference: a carved column was placed in front of the house, with his crest (a raven) carved on top. Underneath the raven was a second carving, the crest of his wife, an eagle. Lower down still were the crests of Y's father and mother, and also those of his wife's family. While showing him the plan his adviser from the celestial sphere told him that not only was his tribe or himself to build houses like the one shown, but all the people in every village were to build the same and to set up columns. Slowly but surely as the old huts were pulled down, new styled ones took their places, each one having one or more columns. One had the husband's crest and that of his parents; the other had the wife's crest and that of her parents underneath.
This story of the origin and adoption of the new style of architecture, including the columns, by the Haidas I have told as I got it from these people. who firmly believe that it was given to their forefathers in the manner described by tradition, As said before there is no tradition whereby one may form an opinion as to the time the first column was set up. In the three closing decades of the last century, when these islands were first visited by Europeans, these columns were found in every village visited . In 1883, if I remember aright, I was shown a part of a tall column on North island, one of the Queen Charlotte group This column stood in front of a chief's house in 1770. At the time of my visit, excepting this column, nothing remained of this village but the outlines marking the' sites of the houses, and if the roots of a spruce had not entwined the rotten remains of the column it would long ago have disappeared.
To erect a house and set up its attendant columns was very expensive, and often cost the savings of years-not only of the party building, but his relatives as well. First a large number were invited to get out the material and raft it to the place of erection. When all was ready a larger number were invited to a raising bee. Meanwhile the carvers were at work on the column. For this they were paid according to the quality of the work, so many blankets per fathom. The manner of measuring a fathom by these people was thus: the measurer laid his chest on the work and spread his arms out to right and to left. The space between the ends of the fingers of both hands was their fathom. A first-class post cost generally several thousand dollars. The following I give as a sample, believing it did not cost so much:
During the summer of 1872 I visited a large, newly finished house. Leaning against the wall were several bundles of sticks. Each stick was as thick as a man's thumb and two feet in length. My Indians told me that altogether these bundies contained 5,000 sticks, and that each stick was a tally for one blanket given away, or in all 5,000 blankets. In those days a blanket would cost these people not less than six dollars by the bale, representing in cash $30,000 paid away in connection with this house. I told the Indians that was a large amount to pay such a building and I could not believe it. To this they all replied that it was true. So I said no more, but went and overhauled one of the bundles. The quantity of sticks was correct, if the blankets were. The owner of this house was a skaga or doctor, and was of considerable importance among the various tribes. His name I have unfortunately lost. Instead of a carved column he had a veritable totem pole set up about twelve feet from his house. The post, which was quite round, was twelve inches in diameter and at least twenty-five feet in height. Placed on top of it was an image of a man, two feet high, naked, with the privy member erect, very large and out of all proportion. This image was the totem. The post on which the figure was placed was, like the round towers of Scotland and Ireland, a symbolization of the male privy member, and in both places was a remnant of the ancient phallic mode of worship, so prevalent throughout the world in - by-gone ages. Both this image and the post on which it was placed were emblematical of the origin of life. When Skaga Modeve -- his name, I believe, was Modeve -- raised this post he did not do it only because it was his totem, but as a sign as well. It did not read to these people, "Modeve, the Great Medicine Man, Lives Here." It read: "The great mystery of life is my totem; its origin and preservation has always been my study, therefore I am a skagillda laggan (good doctor)."
Thus I have given the origin and signification of one sort of totem posts. In the summer of 1889 I was once more in the vicinity of this house. I found the little garden full of potatoes in full bloom. The house I found about the same. The post with the little image on top was there also, but the sexual part was gone. In answer to my enquiry as to what had become of those parts the Indians with me replied: "Since we became Christians we did not like to see it there. So a number of us loaded our guns with bullets and fired at it until we shot it off." As for the skaga, he had been gathered to his fathers a number of years, and a distant relation owned the house.
I shall proceed to take up the carved columns proper; but, before doing so, it will be necessary for a proper understanding of the subject, to give a bit of history hitherto unknown to the world.
A very marked trait in the character of all the Indians on this coast is pride. It shows itself in a variety of forms. In the first place, it gives them a desire to acquire property in order to build a house and set up a carved column. At first he is content with a common one, such as I have already described; afterwards, as his wealth increases, his ambition is to have another house and column which shall excel, in beauty and style of carving, all the others in the village. In the second place, it leads them to think lightly of others who are poor and have neither house nor column, and also to think themselves and their tribe better than all the others.
In order to lead them to be something among their people, an ugly, disgusting name used to be given them in childhood name that would be ashamed of-and being so, would be led to acquire property to give to the chief, who, for a certain amount, would tattoo their class symbol-whether the sun, dog-fish, wasco, or whatever else it might be-the youths on their breasts, and the maidens on their legs and arms. Afterwards each one would get a new and better name.
In those days the power of the chief was absolute; also none but he had columns, because he alone had the means to pay for a fine house and column. Thus matters remained unchanged for generations; but by and-by a new day and life began to dawn amongst these people. The traders from China, in the latter part of the last century, and the whalers in the early part of the present one, came amongst them. The Hudson Bay Company also opened a trading post at Fort Simpson, and afterwards the steamer Beaver visited and traded with the different tribes along the coast. At this stage the men and boys found that by trading with and working for the white people, on land and on board the steamer, they could soon get property enough to build houses and to raise columns for theme chiefs themselves, or at least as selves, and finally to become rich as chiefs. The women and girls also found out that by prostitution and by various services, such as washing, mending clothes, and such like, they too could become rich, wear a large labret, build large houses, and raise fine columns. They too had equal rights in these things with the men when they had the means to pay for them.
The Queen Charlotte Islands Haidas, while the traders visited them, and the whalers made their quarters at Skidegate, did well; but after a while the traders ceased to visit them, and the whalers found better quarters on the Sandwich Islands. This was about 1830, or a little later. From the time they left until 1849-1859, when gold was discovered on these islands, few white people visited them.
During the few years of the gold fever they were visited by a number of vessels. Two of them were wrecked and their crews made prisoners, and afterward taken to Fort Simpson, where they were redeemed by the Hudson Bay Company. By these transactions they made considerable money, which added to the number of new columns. The gold excitement soon died out, but the natives had then a bad reputation, so no one came near them. At length, being tired of having no visitors, they thought they would see what could be got by visiting others.
So during the summer Of 1853, having previously heard that many white people had come to Fort Victoria (as it was then called), and to Nundimo, they decided to visit these places, in order to see for themselves. During the summer of that year about five hundred of them, in their large canoes, landed in Victoria, which at that time was but a trading-post of the above company, and the few people there were all connected with it. Seeing so many wild-looking fellows come suddenly amongst them, the whites were badly scared. This led James Douglas, who was then Governor, to send for the chiefs, in order to have a conversation with them. They came, and he inquired what they wanted. "We have come," they replied, "to see if we can get something to do, and to trade." "That is all very well, but why so many?" "For protection against hostile tribes," they answered. "Very good," replied Mr. Douglass[sic], "but we can not have so many of you here; so get home again as fast as you can. Before you go, come to the store, and you will get something." After receiving goodly presents of blankets and other goods, they all left.
During their short stay they got well posted in the probability of their making money if they returned. So a few weeks after they left, four or five canoes returned quietly. At the first visit the men came in the majority; with the second visit the women came. . After a few months' stay these women sent home a quantity of blankets and other goods, besides fine dresses. Seeing what had been sent, most of the people were anxious to visit Victoria. During that and succeeding years for the next twenty, they came by canoe and steamer until there were but few left at home. After staying a while in Victoria they generally went to Port Townsend, W. T.; then to all the lumber mills on Puget Sound, and in British Columbia.
These twenty years were famous for two things as far as these Northern Indians in general were concerned, and the Haidas in particular. These two things were fine houses and the splendid carved columns. I am sorry to have it to tell that while they were building these houses and carving these columns, they were at the same time chanting the requiem of the Haida people.
As I have said, the Haidah's ambition was to build himself a house and to have a column which would excel all others in the beauty of its workmanship and in that which was distinctively his own. In order to secure this he must have not only his own crest, such as the eagle, or raven, or beaver, but he must have the crests of his own or his wife's father and mother, especially if they belonged to any of the gens or orders, such as the bear, scongna, chimbago and wasco.
If a Haida was able to have a column longer and broader than his neighbors it also entitled him to rank high among the people. At first the columns were short and the space to admit carvings limited; so with crests above and one or two old stories, the broadside was covered. Consequently, when they grew larger there was more space to fill up, as -well as more new columns. This caused a demand for stories. Everything was taken hold of amongst their own and neighboring tribes on the islands and mainland; stories handed down through passing ages-stories almost forgotten by the old people, were collected and carved. Thus they went on carving until every family had one or two, and every village was full from end to end, mostly in front, a few being behind and on top of the houses.
While all this building and carving and striving to excel was going on, funds were wanted to meet the demands of those who were left at home to conduct operations. In order to meet them, mothers, daughters., sisters and wives prostituted themselves at every opportunity, irrespective of conditions, as long as something could be made to send home.
After a few short years of this kind of life, nature outraged and exhausted landed victim after victim in an untimely grave; some far from home, others going home to die, until few were left. As a natural outcome of all this, every column had showed a marked improvement on the one preceding it, but the family had all disappeared. Let me illustrate this by an instance which came under my observation: In 1883 there was a column finished a few years before my visit to Massett, alongside of which every time I passed I loved to linger in silent admiration of its carvings, they were so beautiful. Behind it stood the frame of a house, showing equally artistic skill. Under this frame I noticed a rude hut of boards, making a wide contrast between the two. Upon inquiry I found that the property belonged to a man who had a beautiful wife, or sister, whose charms were such that they could readily bring great earnings to the owner of them. Wishing to have a new house, it was agreed between the two that in order to have a house and column far surpassing anything in the land, he would remain at home and employ the most artistic skill on the work, and she would go down to southern parts and there, by the sale of her charms, would raise the funds with which to carry on the work. She went, and regularly by canoe and by steamer, came a supply of goods and money. The column was carved and set up, and the boards were being got ready with which to cover the frame of the house, when suddenly the supply from the South stopped. A few weeks later, word came up that she was dead and buried. Nature, unable to stand the drain on her constitution, gave out, and landed her in an untimely grave. Ever after, when I passed this house, I felt sorry when I thought of the life sacrificed in order to bring it to that state of perfection. Her intention was to return when all was finished and have the pleasure of saying, we have a prettier house and column than any in the village. Had she lived she would have stayed, after all was finished, in southern ports until she had made enough to buy one or two hundred dollars worth of goods and provisions; then returned home again; the tribe would have been invited to a housewarming, when most of the provisions would have been consumed and all the goods would have been given away in presents. But she died, and the house remains as a sign of her ruin-its beauty covering a wreck.
A WEIRD MOURNING SONG OF THE HAIDAS. BY JAMES DEANS. The American Antiquarian and Oriental Journal, 1891, pp. 52-54.
During a fourteen-months' stay on the Queen Charlotte islands in the years 1869-70, connected with coast mining, we had to employ a large number of Indians, who, in order to be nearer their work and also to have homes, added house to house, until there was quite a village. In the center of this village stood two large houses, one being a store and trading post, the other dwelling and boarding house for the white people employed on the works, which at the time numbered fifteen. A little to the north of the latter was an Indian house of considerable dimensions. In this house, three or four times every week, all the Indians met for what appeared to be some sort of amusement. They seated themselves in an oval around a fire, which was all the light they had. While thus squatted on the floor, they all together sung, and beat time with sticks on a board laying before each one. After singing and beating a while, one of their number would begin to speak, then all would stop and listen. As soon as the speaker stopped, all would again sing until the speaker, who had been sitting passive, again began to speak. Thus they, kept on until one or two o'clock in the morning. One thing I noticed, they always ended with the same song every night. And such a song( Anything so weird in the midnight hours I never before heard in all my life. So weird, so sad and mournful was it, that I never forgot it. When it was sung I could not help shedding tears, let me do my best. After two or three nights' experience, I asked the Indians what they were doing and what they were singing. In answer to my request, I received the following. Before I begin it will be necessary, in order to understand clearly the cause of these meetings, to give a few facts.
Early in the spring of 1868, the smallpox broke out amongst our Indian population. The Haidas, in order to escape the fell destroyer of their race, left to the number of three hundred. They started in twenty-five large canoes, hoping, after a few weeks' sailing at farthest, to reach their island home. But oh, vain hope! In less than two days' sailing they found with dismay that six or seven of their number had the dreaded smallpox and could go no further. Here they anchored in a small harbor on an island. Here they stayed by their companions until they died, and then left, leaving behind them the bodies wrapped in blankets where they died, and beside them all their belongings. Thus one by one they were left behind, until one boy alone of all that number, reached home. At first they broke up the canoes when there was none left to sail them; afterwards, when there were few to break them, they were left on shore, where their owners lay, rotting in the timber.
To hold communion with the spirits of their relations who thus fell by the way, my informant said, they met, and to learn what progress they were making in the other life-which they considered to be one of unending progression - and if satisfactory the women, who are the mourners, would wash their faces and leave off their lamentations. When the Haidas mourn the passing away of their relations, they paint their faces black, which so remains for one year. As the year of mourning draws to a close, regular seances are held in one or the other of the houses. Those of their number who are mediumistic would give tests under spirit control. Sometimes a Skaga (who is a good medium) would be brought from his home in a distant village to give them communications from the shady side of life. The Skaga thus brought was always paid handsomely, as the following will show. My informant further said that after ten or twelve days were past a famous Skaga named, I think, Tow-ah-tee, living at Gumshewa. had been sent for to give them who had lost relations in the village, words of comfort from the dark beyond, and that each person had agreed to pay a number of blankets according to their ability. He said that when the Skaga came I had to come also, and see for myself by taking part in the ceremony. The Skaga came and I went to see.
Entering the house I found at least twenty-five people, men, women and children, seated as before mentioned in all oval form, with a small fire at one end and the Skaga at the other, both within its circuit. All were seated on the floor. While the singing and beating were going on, 1 noticed the Skaga's body making spasmodic movements, which ceased when he began to speak, while all listened without a word or a move. To my surprise, his voice would change every time he spoke-now like a man's, then like a woman's or a young person's. Amongst the number who subscribed to pay the Skaga was a man named Scielass (dirty), who with his wife took part in the sitting, they being anxious to hear from their two sons, nice boys. who both fell by the smallpox. These boys both came that night, and gave their experience. A young woman, a relation to some one in the company, one who had been well known to all present while in the body, came and through the Skaga medium; and through him gave a most excellent discourse. Thus they kept on, the hours passing unheeded until near two o'clock, when all left for home after singing the same weird song with its mournful numbers. From what I heard that night and what I learned the next morning, the past night's work was highly satisfactory, as was apparent. Next morning all the women appeared in clean clothes and with clean faces. After remaining amongst these people a few days, the Skaga got his fee and left for home,
As I have gone so far from my original subject, I may as well say a few words on what was said bv the visitors from the other side through their medium, the Skaga. While on this part of the subject, I shall only give a summary of the whole, instead of taking each one in detail. Some said that when they awoke to consciousness, they were glad to find that, instead of their old bodies all covered with the loathsome smallpox, they not only had clean and beautiful bodies, but were in a beautiful country, where the skies were ever clear and the loveliest of flowers were ever in bloom, All said they were so happy that if they could come back to live again on earth they would not do so, Some of them gave messages for other spirits, who were unable to control the Skaga. Most of them told their relations not to grieve for them any more, because they were not dead, and their grief only rendered them (the spirits) unhappy. Thus they all kept on until morning, giving and receiving messages, which in the estimation of these people were strictly honest. To me it was something new, something I had never seen nor heard of before. After seriously considering the matter, I concluded that what the spirits of the dead, after throwing off their earthly bodies, were able to communicate with their friends and relations still on earth, through a medium, was the matter embraced in this song.