Wednesday, January 18, 2017

About the Indians of the Northwest Coast

About the Indian Tribes Of The Northwest Coast.

A long and narrow strip of land stretches from Vancouver Island northward to Alaska. It is bounded on the east by the great mountains, on the west by the Pacific Ocean. Its coast line is irregular; narrow fiords run far into the land. The climate is generally temperate, but there is much rain. Dense forests of pine, cedar, hemlock, and maple cover the mountain slopes. Many kinds of berries grow there abundantly, supplying food for man. In the mountain forests are deer, elk, caribou; both black and grizzly bears are found; wolves are not uncommon. In the remoter mountains are mountain sheep and mountain goats. Beaver and otter swim in the fresh waters, while the seal, fur seal, sea-lion, and whale are found in the sea. In the waters are also many fish, such as halibut, cod, salmon, herring, and oolachen; shell-fish are abundant.
In this interesting land are many different tribes of Indians, speaking languages which in some cases are very unlike. Among the more important tribes or group of tribes, are the Tlingit, Haida, Tshimpshian, and Kwakiutl. While all these tribes are plainly Indians, there are many persons among them who are light-skinned and brown-haired. The hair is also at times quite wavy. The forms are good and the faces pleasing.
But these Indians are not always satisfied with the forms and faces nature gives them. They have various fashions which change their appearance. Among these is changing the shape of the head. Formerly the Chinooks, living near the Columbia River, changed the shape of all the baby boys' heads. The bones of the head in a little baby are soft and can be pressed out of shape. As the child grows older, the bones become harder and cannot be easily altered. The Chinooks made the little head wedge-shaped in a side view. This was done by a board, which was hinged to the cradle-board, and brought down upon the little boy's forehead. It forced the head to broaden in front and the forehead to slant sharply. After the pressure had been kept on for some months, the shape of the head was fixed for life. From the strange shape of their heads thus produced, the Chinooks were often called“Flat-heads.” On Vancouver Island the head of the Koskimo baby girl was forced by circular bandages wrapped around it to grow long and cylindrical.

Another fashion among the women of some tribes was the piercing of the lower lip for the wearing of a plug as an ornament. Thus, when a little girl among the Haida was twelve or thirteen years old, her aunt or grandmother took her to some quiet place along the seashore; there she pierced a little hole in the lower lip of the child, using a bit of sharp shell or stone. To keep the hole from closing when it healed, a bit of grass stalk was put into it. For a few days the place was sore, but it soon got well. The bit of stalk was then removed, and a little peg of wood put in. Later a larger peg or plug was inserted. When the girl had grown to be an old woman, she wore a large plug in her lower lip, which would hold it out flat almost like a shelf.

Many of the Northwest Coast tribes tattooed; generally the men were more marked with this than women. The patterns were usually animal figures, showing the man's family. The Haida were fond of having these queer pictures pricked into them. Upon their breasts they had the totem animal; on their arms other suitable patterns

The villages of these tribes are almost always on the seashore. The houses were generally in one long line, and all faced the sea. The houses of the different tribes differed somewhat. The house of the Haida was almost square, measuring perhaps forty or fifty feet on a side. In olden times they were sunk several feet into the ground. On entering the house the visitor found himself upon a platform several feet wide running around the four sides; from it he stepped down upon a second platform, and from it upon a central square of dirt which contained the fireplace. The eating place was around this hearth; the place for lounging, visiting, and sleeping was on the upper platform. There each person of the household had his or her own place. At its rear edge, near the wall, were boxes containing the person's treasures and the household's food. There was but one doorway and no windows in a Haida house. Outside the house, at the middle of the front, stood a curious, great, carved post of wood. These were covered with queer animal and bird 

The beach in front of the village used to be covered with canoes dragged up on the sand. These canoes were “dugouts” of single tree trunks. The logs were cut in summer time, the best wood being yellow cedar. The chief tool used was the adze, made of stone or shell. Fire was used to char the wood to be cut away. After it had been partly cut out inside it was stretched or shaped by steaming with water and hot stones, and then putting in stretchers. Sometimes single-log canoes were large enough to carry from thirty to sixty people. They were often carved and painted at the ends. The paddles used in driving these canoes were rather slender and long-bladed, often painted with designs.
The present dress of these Indians is largely the same as our own. In the days of the first voyagers, they wore beautiful garments of native manufacture. They had quantities of fine furs of seals and sea-otters. These were worn as blankets; when not in use they were carefully folded and laid away in boxes. They wore close and fine blankets of the wool of the mountain sheep and the hair of the mountain goat. These were closely woven and had a fine long fringe along the lower border. They were covered with patterns representing the totem animals. The blanket itself was a dirty white in color, but
the designs were worked in black, yellow, or brown. Further south, among the Tshimpshian Indians of British Columbia, fine blankets were woven of the soft and flexible inner bark of the cedar; these were bordered with strips of fur.

These Indians still wear the ancient hat. Among the southern tribes it is made of cedar bark, and is soft and flimsy. In the north it is made of spruce or other roots, and is firm and unyielding. The shape of the lower part of the hat is a truncated cone. Among the Tlingit and Haida this is surmounted by a curious, tall cylinder, which is divided into several joints, or segments, called skil. The number of these shows the importance of the wearer

The food of these tribes came largely from the sea. Fish were speared, trapped, and caught with hook and line. For halibut, queer, large, wooden hooks were used. When the fish had been drawn to the surface, they were killed with wooden clubs. Both hooks and clubs were curiously carved. Flesh of larger fishes, like halibut and salmon, was dried in the sun or over fire, and packed away. Clams were dried and strung on sticks. Seaweed was dried and pressed into great, square flat cakes; so were berries and scraped cedar bark. The people were fond of oil, and got it from many different fish. The most prized was that of the oolachen or candle-fish. This fish is so greasy that when put into a frying-pan, there is soon nothing left but some bones and scales floating about in the grease! To get this oil, the little fish were thrown into a canoe full of water. This was heated with stones made very hot in a fire, and then dropped into it. The heat drove out the oil, which floated on the top and was skimmed off and put into natural bottles—tubes of hollow seaweed stalk. At all meals a dish of oil stood in the midst of the party, and bits of dried fish, seaweed cake, or dried bark were dipped into it before being eaten.