Northwest Coast

A. Area extends north to Yukatat Bay in Southern Alaska to Northern CA.

1. Coastal region semi-isolated by coastal range to east.

a. Kept in touch, however.

b. Used waterways for travel resulting in master boat and canoe builders and seamen.

c. Overland trails used for inland mountain trading.

2. Dense rainforest warmed by the Japanese current.

a. Major trees: Cedar, Fir, Hemlock, Spruce.

II.  Who were the Northwest Coast people.

A. Seafaring, hunting and gathering people.

1. Ate halibut, salmon, shellfish, whales, seals, greens, bulbs,  and berries.

2. Rich environment allowed mucho leisure time.

a. Wealth of resources allowed time for nonessentials.

3. Limited agriculture, grew tobacco.

4.  Lived  and camped near rivers and the ocean.

B. Rank was most important.

1. Based on heredity and family connections.

a. Inherited were: titles, names, rights to signs, songs, personal designs.

2. Animals associated with clan origins (totemism).

3.  See V. Social Systems for details.

C. Warfare well known.

1.  Raids for slaves and wealth.

2.  Avenging insults.

3. Body armor made of slats of bark covered in hide.

a. Helmet very similar to armor of northern China.

4. Weapons consisted of daggers, clubs, bow and arrows, and spear and atlatl and dart.

D. Seasonal lifestyle accommodated resources and weather.

1. Work (secular) season was the spring, summer, and early fall.

a. Moved to bakoos in springtime to store food and resources.

2. Ritual season, tsetseka was during the winter, wet months.

E. Most prolific art producers of the continent.

1. Forms conventionalized.

a. Important aspects of animal enlarged for emphasis (bear fangs and claws, beaver incisors and cross-hatched tail, mythical animals.

2. Animal form changed to suit form of object it decorates.

a. Animal may be split in half.

b. Joints frequently represented as eyes, occasionally faces.

c. Animal organs fill spaces.

F. Clothes made of shredded cedar bark, dog hair, mountain goat hair, some skins.

        1. Generally shoeless.

        2.  Hats favored for both genders.

        3.  Women favored skirt and poncho.

        4.  Men favored aprons or tunics.

        5.  The further south you go the more likely folks are to wear hides.

G.  Wealth extremely important.

        1.  Many forms of currency and even more forms of treasure.

                    a.  Dentalium (singular), dentalia (plural)

         2.  Wealth worn for display       

III. Northwest Coast divisions.

A. Tlingit (most northerly) and Haida (Queen Charlotte Islands).

1.  Recognized by extreme care in manufacture.

a. Detail well articulated.

b. Little painting used.

c. Dignified restraint in the work.

B. Central area dominated by Kwakiutl (northeast Vancouver Island).

1. Increased emphasis on painting.

a. Black, red, and white paint only.

2. Development of mechanical contrivance.

a. Masks of transformation.

b. Jack-in-the-box.

3. Sculpture is bolder than that of the north.

C. Southern area dominated by Salish, Nootka (Vancouver Island), Makah. 

1. Work cruder than the north and central.

a. Masks far less detailed.

2. Emphasis on painting.  Early paints made of ground minerals - with red, made from red ocher, predominating.

3. Makah site at Ozette on coast in Olympic Rain Forest.

a. Occupied for several hundred years, seasonally occupied until 1930s.

b. One of 5 major coastal villages.

c. Was a bakoos or seasonal hunting area for seals, otters, whales.

i. Whales harpooned by canoe.

ii. Fur seals were of greatest importance.

d.  Material remains.

i. Many household items found.

ii. Cedar dorsal fin studded with 700 sea otter teeth.

e. Site inundated by mud slides around 1,300 - 1,400 AD.

i. Mud encapsulated early organic materials, encapsulation created anaerobic conditions.

IV. Totems were applied to a variety of items.  Take the totem quiz

V. Material Culture

A.  Wood - cedar most important, but Sitka spruce, and red alder used, also.

1.  “D” shaped adze.

a. Originally blades made of stone, later of steel.

2.  Architecture - cedar plank houses

a.  Roofs sloped sharply backwards to divert the rain water from drenching folks as they went in and out of the houses.

b.  House frontals are planks placed on front of houses.

i. Small door in lower portion.

ii.  Heavily painted.

c. Inside house post.

i. Non supportive, hollowed out in back.

3. Poles - both to honor ancestors.

a. Vertical memorial pole.

i.  contained no human remains.

ii. 50’ high.

iii. Single large figure carved at bottom of pole, remainder of pole uncarved.

b. Mortuary poles were carved before they were erected.

i.  50' tall or more.

ii. Contained niche at top for cremated remains or held total individual encorpus.

ii. Traits of poles.

aa. Guardian figures.

bb. Potlatch rings.

cc.  Figures like a family crest.

dd. Poles not repainted or pulled upright if fallen.

iii.  Figures on poles

aa. Most important was bottom or base figure, heraldic private property.

bb. Story figure secondary, illustrated family lore, reduced in size.

cc. Figures may be stretched or compressed, even inverted.

4.  Kerfed boxes were folded and so have one side seam, made by Tsimshin, Haida, Tlingit.

a. Used for storage of food and clothing.

b. Relief carving with painted surface.

c. Sign of prestige.

d. Box designs possibly obscured to aide transfer.

        i. Atypical is a representation of a whole body.

5.  Frontlets worn by men on their foreheads.  (See picture to right.)

a.  Usually highly decorated.

i.  haliotis quite common.

ii.  ground cinnabar sold as "vermilion" (mercury ore) used as red paint.

aa.  deadly toxic.

bb.  first brought from China by Russians in 1770s.





6.  Dugout Canoes - made from cedar or Sitka spruce (Haida man shapes an upside-down canoe in picture on right.)

a. used for transportation, fishing, collecting dentalia, whaling

b. large and small, could carry up to thirty men and their gear.


B.  Ivory, Bone, Horn, Shell.

1.  Ivory

a. carved and incised designs

b.  made into tools, game pieces, shaman's gear, jewelry

c.  harvested from sperm whale teeth, and the tusks of the narwhal, walrus.

d. imported frozen wooly mammoth tusks from Arctic.

2.  Bone

a. Bear bone tubes used by shamans as "soul catcher."

3. Horn and other keratinous materials

a.  Horn

i.  Made into large spoons that brought big prestige for men.

ii. Mountain goat horn was traded from Plateau peoples.

aa.  Later used cattle horns.

iii.  Often made in sets.

iv.  Incised and painted with crests.

b. Puffin beaks

i.  noisemaking pendants on the dance aprons of shamans.


4. Shell

a. Operculum

    i. white enameled feeding rasp of the sea snail

    ii.  used to simulate teeth in masks, war helmets, and other ceremonial garments.

b.  Dentalia

c.  Abalone - traded in from Northern California or Monterey, CA area.


                C. Stone.

1. labrets.

2. Mauls and hammers.

3. Tobacco mortars.

4. Slave killers.

5. Argillite (carbonite shale) was used by Haida.

      a. Modified in later times for tourists.

6. red ocher imported from Plateau for red paint.


D. Metal.

1.  Copper

a.  Used to make coppers

i.  beaten nuggets of native copper imported from Plateau peoples

ii.  viewed as bodies of ancestors

iii.  most highly valued of treasures

b.  Used to ornament masks and frontlets

2.  Silver and gold

a. modern artists use these for jewelry and precious objects.

3. Coins

a.  first adopted from Chinese and attached as pendants to garments and blankets.

E. Fibers

1. Chilcat blankets.

a.  Mountain goat wool, dog hair, shredded Cedar bark with duck down and cotton from Fireweed.

i. Mountain Goat hair traded in from Plateau peoples.

b. Originally Tsimshin (“Dancing blanket”) given to Tlingit.

c. Haida ( “Fringe around the Body”), preferred Yakutat Bay to Nootka.

2. Applique blankets and shirts with shells, buttons, Chinese coins, red and blue fabric on blanket base.

 3.  Baskets

a.  Made of cedar bark, cherry bark, bear grass

b.  Twined and coiled both made.

                c.  Designs applied by paint or imbrication.

F. Shamans' paraphernalia.

1. Charms and amulets.

2. Sewn to dance apron.
Soul catchers of bear bone and abalone

3. Ivory, bone, bear teeth, sperm whale teeth, abalone (nacre) from Monterey.

4. Soul catchers made from tubes of bear bone. 

a.  5”-7” tall.

b.  Curing ceremony (soul on the loose).

c.  Maskettes, held in hand not worn.

5.  Shirts with copious fringe and noisemakers (Puffin beaks), some quill work, some dentalia.


VI. Social Order consisted of ranked classes of individuals established at the level of the tribe, the numina, the personal name.

A. Types of traditional rank.  In modern times rank is no longer as important.

1. Slaves could obtain no rank traditionally.

2. Commoners had only one rank.  No commoner, however high their rank, had the right to participate in the winter ceremonial dances.

3. Nobility possessed sufficient rank to acquire the rights to songs, symbols, dances, names.

B. How rank is acquired or lost.

1. The highest ranking nobility were the oldest sons of lines of oldest sons who are traced to a real or mythical ancestors. 

2.  Commoner women who married nobles were accorded noble status out of respect to noble husbands.

3. In historic times there is evidence of murder and raiding to obtain rank and rights.

4. Adoption of commoner men into noble families in later times as population declined.

a. Not enough tribal members to fill all of the  hereditary positions.

5. Men vied for position with each other through insults and recitations of lineage. 

C. Privileges of rank.

1. Related to potlatch (1849 - 1933)

a. The right to sit in a specific seat at potlatch.

b. The right to receive gifts of ranked value presented in their name in a specific rank related order.

c.  The right to occupy hereditary positions as indicated by a personal name.

d. The right to sing particular songs.

e. The right to use certain carvings and designs.

f. The right to wear certain ceremonial masks and to perform certain dances.

g. The right to participate at various levels in the winter ceremonial dances.

h. The right to initiation.

D. Social restrictions of rank.

1. Little socialization between commoners and nobility.

a. Children segregated in play.

b. Noble families intermarry to perpetuate wealth.

VII. Potlatch (Chinook for “give away”) was a give away ceremony in which the givers vied to be the most generous, thus assuring the greatest return on their investment.

A. Associated with every major change in social life, 

1. Birth, naming, first tooth, ten-month name, first contribution to family wealth, 15 - 16 year name, adult status, advancement in rank, marriage, death, ongoing commemoration.

B. Sequence of events which follows the establishment of event for potlatch.

1. Arrival of guests, feeding of lunch, performances, speeches, prestation, eating dinner, recess, recongregation, roll call and prestation, dances, fruit snack, dancing resumes, midnight snack, prestation.

2.  Gifts in 1921 include coppers (valued between 5,000 & 7,000 blankets), blankets, canoes, sewing machines, food, dishes, textiles, money, pool tables, motor boats, oak trunks, clothing, furniture, gramophones.

1. Slaves (traditional times).

2. In death and commemoration the gifts wipe away tears

VIII. Tsetseka or ceremonial season, November - March.

A. Four day period marked the change from Bakoos to Tsetseka.

1. Memorial services held during this period for the year’s dead.

2. A time of pleasure and relaxation.

3. Individual identity was changed, new names and new songs.

a. Stiff penalties for violation of new names.

4. Supernaturals came to initiate the young into different grades of dance societies.

a. initiates divided from non initiates.

i. Initiates divided between Sparrows (mockers and cajolers of Seals) and Seals (under the influence of  spirits). 

B. Initiates were to convince non initiates that spirits were in the village and that the drama unfolding was real.

C. Impersonators wore appropriate masks.

1. They emphasize the painted surface.

2. Masks have interchangeable anatomical parts.

3. Articulated to aide transformation (wolf>eagle>human).

4. There are a few nested stone masks.

5. Thunderbird has eagle attributes with horns.

a. Can lift a killer whale.

D. Hamatsa Society (cannibal society - "cannibal" refers to ancient ancestors who were flesh-eating birds) was borrowed by the Tlingit from the north around 1835.

1. Costly to join.

a. Must dance progressively graded for 12 years.

b. Expensive to join.

c. Rituals last a min. of 4 days.

2. Premise that birds come down to eat human flesh.

3. Hamatsa personages.

a.  Head Hamatsa is invisible, detectable only by his whistle.

b. Tsonakwa lived in the terrestrial realm, she was a giantess from far away zone.

i. Depicted in dark brown and black.

ii. Ragged and aged appearance.

iii. Pursed lips goes whoo whoo.

iv.  Considered clumsy and stupid.

v. Has control over the source of valuables.

vi. One fearful aspect.

aa. Carries a burden basket on her back for children she abducts.

vii.  Role of Tsonakwa in winter ceremonies.

aa. Clumsy, falls asleep by the fire, crashes into things, can’t dance right.

bb. Removes coppers from her basket for the chief which he keeps or distributes.

c.  Komokwa ruler of the undersea world.

 i. Male who is master and protector of seals.

aa. Seals indicate wealth.

ii. He rules from his undersea palace.

iii. Associated with the animals like seal, loon, octopus, killer whales.

iv.  Associated with physical phenomenon of tides and whirlpool.

v. Masks demonstrate many protuberances in the form of octopus suckers, sea anemones, or rising bubbles.

4. Hamatsa initiation.

i. Novices are abducted by Hamatsa spirit at the edge of town and kept in a ceremonial fraternity house for four days where spirit is exorcized.

ii. Initiates returned and danced to show the capture.  They wear cedar-bark neck rings (dyed red with alder).

iii. During the period of return to society there were many performances.

aa. Tricks, slight of hand, demonstrated intensity, officiated by speakers.

bb. Subterranean tunnels (summer built), false bottom chests.

cc. Heavy use of masks in red, black and white, many of birds, many articulated.

iv. Seating in ceremonial house with center of focus on central hearth. allowing many shadow areas.

aa. Easy to create illusions.

bb. Novices seated within reach of illusionists.

v. Prop men sat in the rafters to aid the dancers.

aa. Mythical birds flew on lines.

bb. Sound effects.

E. Other societies existed under the control of the War-Spirit Initiator, the Atlakim, the Once More From Heaven society (they had been given supernatural treasures).