Suquamish Canoes (Photo Diary)

8685a photo DSCN8685a_zps166acf75.jpg

The Northwest Coast culture area is oriented toward water: both the ocean and the many rivers flowing into it. Before the coming of the Europeans, the villages were built near water, either on the sea coast or on a river. Transportation was primarily by water. Distances were measured by how far a canoe could travel in a single day. The traditional cultures of the Norwest Coast Indians nations, such as the Suquamish, is often characterized as a canoe culture.

The Suquamish are the people of the clear salt water. For more than 10,000 years they have occupied that area known today as the Kitsap Peninsula, Bainbridge Island, Blake Island, and parts of Whidbey Island.

Traditionally the Suquamish, a Salish-speaking people, were a maritime people. Since settling in the area thousands of years ago, they carried out trade by travelling long distances throughout the Salish Sea. They travelled northward to the islands, westward to the Pacific Ocean and down the coast. They travelled for fishing, trading, visiting, and warfare against enemy nations.

8570 photo DSCN8570_zpsa67fc58e.jpg

During the 20th century the canoe culture which had characterized Suquamish life nearly disappeared. Then in 1989, a revitalization began with Paddle to Seattle. This event marked the beginning of the re-emergence of many aspects of Suqamish culture.

Carriers of the Canoe Culture Through Time

8591 photo DSCN8591_zpsd0c3536e.jpg

8592 photo DSCN8592_zps34067bbb.jpg

8582 photo DSCN8582_zps9a270782.jpg

There are many creation stories among the people: these stories do not contradict one another. In the Suquamish Museum there are six sculptures holding up a canoe giving homage to Carriers of the Canoe Culture through Time.

8668 photo DSCN8668_zpsb56104fb.jpg

8660 photo DSCN8660_zps70124b3c.jpg

The two animals at the back of the canoe are Otters: they represent the earliest times of creation, when people and animals could shape shift and had the full freedom of communication.

8659 photo DSCN8659_zps29a688ec.jpg

The two figures in the center represent the Ancestors, from a time before the land was shared with non-Indians.

8590 photo DSCN8590_zps29202850.jpg

The two people in the front of the canoe are the Suquamish people today.

Modern Canoes:

8515 photo DSCN8521_zpsac88dcac.jpg

8523 photo DSCN8523_zps8456a847.jpg

8521 photo DSCN8518_zps354dba84.jpg

Tulalip Canoes (Photo Diary)

For the Salish-speaking tribes of the Washington coast, canoes were traditionally not only their most important form of transportation, they were also cultural icons. The Hibulb Cultural Center and Natural History Preserve honors the Tulalip (Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Skykomish, and others) cultures.

8927 photo DSCN8927_zps8c1d3ff8.jpg

8900 photo DSCN8900_zps68cae51f.jpg

The importance of canoes to the Tulalip peoples is evident in the Hibulb Culture Center. The canoe theme shown in the windows above is repeated throughout the Center.  

Canoes were made by hollowing out a single log with fire and adzes. By filling the hollowed out log with hot water, the canoe makers could then widen the canoe by forcing stout cross-pieces between the gunwales.

Carving a canoe begins with spiritual preparation: the carvers must prepare themselves with fasting, prayers, and the sweatlodge. It is not uncommon for the task of carving a large canoe to take two years. Once the log is chosen, a prayer is said for the cedar and an offering is given to thank it for its sacrifice.

The final stage in carving the canoe involves the use of hot rocks and water to steam-bend the sides outwards. This steaming also draws the bow and stern upwards as well as adding strength to the vessel. For the large ocean-going canoes, the prow and stern pieces are added last, the thwarts and seats are installed, and the exterior is finished. Then the canoe is given a name and is ready to begin its life on the water.

8902 photo DSCN8902_zpsfbf9ec97.jpg

Three canoes are displayed in the Center.

River Canoe:

8869 photo DSCN8869_zps29ca94fd.jpg

The river canoe shown above was carved about 1880 by William Shelton. It was restored by the Tulalip Tribes Carving and Arts Department.

8914 photo DSCN8914_zps4f5bd3b1.jpg

8915 photo DSCN8915_zpsc0d6118a.jpg

The bow of the canoe is shown above.

Small Canoe:

8878 photo DSCN8878_zps33fbad36.jpg

8912 photo DSCN8912_zps5ccaae6b.jpg

This small canoe was carved about 1930 from a single log by William Shelton.

Ocean-Going Canoe:

8887 photo DSCN8887_zps1df7aa86.jpg

This canoe was made about 1880 as part of a wedding dowry. The canoe was built by the bride’s family from the Quinault Nation and given to the Tulalip groom is a wedding present.

8888 photo DSCN8888_zps11c7a37c.jpg

Shown above is a detail of where the mast would have been placed. Sails, prior to the arrival of the Europeans, were made from woven mats.

8889 photo DSCN8889_zps8732ec07.jpg

8906 photo DSCN8906_zps83897529.jpg

The canoe was made from hollowing out a single large cedar log. The sides were then spread apart and the bow and stern pieces were then added.

8911 photo DSCN8911_zpsdcf985b9.jpg

The bow is shown above.

8904 photo DSCN8904_zpsa6f8483c.jpg

The stern of the canoe is shown above. The stern piece was added to the dugout form.

8905 photo DSCN8905_zps0c17e28b.jpg

The photograph above shows the additional piece which was added to the gunnels.

8907 photo DSCN8907_zps2e0295b5.jpg

The photograph above shows how the thwarts (i.e. seats) were attached.

8944 photo DSCN8944_zps34cdf5f5.jpg

Northwest Coast Canoes

The area along the Pacific Coast north of California and between the Cascade Mountains and the ocean, is the home to many Indian nations who traditionally based their economy on the use of sea coast and river ecological resources. This is an area which stretches from the Tlingit homelands in Alaska to the Tolowa homelands in northern California. The Northwest Coast culture area is oriented toward water: the ocean to the west and the many rivers flowing into it. Before the coming of the Europeans, the villages were built near water: the sea coast or a river.

Haida House

Haida houses and canoes are shown above.  

For a people oriented toward the sea and the rivers, canoes made from cedar were an important part of the Northwestern cultures. Nowhere else in the world were canoes developed to such a degree of sophistication and artistry. The canoes were large, elegant, and seagoing.

NW Coast Canoe 1

Kwakiutl Canoe

Photographs of a Northwest Coast canoes by Edward Curtis is shown above.

The first Europeans into this area were amazed at the carrying capacity and beautiful construction of the Northwest Coast canoes. The canoes were used for fishing, for hunting sea mammals such as whales, and for trade up and down the coast. Haida oral tradition tells of canoe voyages to Hawaii.

Transportation was primarily by water and distances were measured by how far a canoe could travel in a single day. The various Indian nations along the Northwest Coast undertook long trading voyages to exchanges specialized goods and local resources. In addition, distant nations were often connected through marriage alliances among the chiefly elites.

Writing about Northwest Coast canoes in 1868, Gilbert Sproat reported:

“They are moved by a single sail or by paddles, or in ascending shallow rapid streams, by long poles.”

In rough water they would tie bladders of seal-skin to the sides of the canoe to prevent it from upsetting.

With regard to paddling the canoes, Gilbert Sproat reported:

“In taking a seat in a canoe, the paddler drops on his knees at the bottom, then turns his toes in, and sits down as it were on his heels. The paddle is grasped both in the middle and at the handle. To give a stroke and propel the canoe forward, the hand grasping the middle of the paddle draws the blade of the paddle backwards through the water, and the hand grasping the handle pushes the handle-end forward, and thus aids the other hand in making each stroke of the paddle; a sort of double action movement.”

In a moderately sized canoe, two paddlers were able to make about 40 miles in a day.

The reports of sails on Northwest Coast canoes has been controversial. With an ethnocentric assumption that the Indian nations of the Northwest Coast were isolated and “primitive”, and ignoring oral traditions of trade with distant lands (including Hawaii) and trade items showing contact with Asia, most non-Indian scholars have steadfastly reported that the use of sails was introduced by the European explorers. In 1868 Gilbert Sproat explained the sail this way:

“The sail-of which it is supposed, but rather vaguely, that they got the idea from Meares some eighty years ago-is a square mat tied at the top to a small stick or yard crossing a mast placed close to the bow.”

Sailing Canoe 3

Sailing Canoe 1

Sailing Canoe 2

Photographs of Northwest Coast canoes with sails are shown above.

In some instances, cedar planks were lashed between two or three canoes to make extra space for cargo or to make a stage for groups of dancers. Cedar planks lashed across the gunwales of a single canoe would create a platform for a single ceremonial dancer.  

Canoe Dancers

For the people of the Northwest Coast the canoe was more than just a utilitarian object: it was, and still is, a spiritual vessel that is an object of great respect. Respect for spirituality of the canoe begins with its life as a tree in the forest, and continues with the ceremonies involved with cutting down and fashioning it into a canoe. The canoe is a metaphor for the importance of community as the large canoes require a community of workers, people working in harmony both socially and spiritually. The canoe is seen as a living entity, a spiritual entity. Each canoe has its own spirit and personality.

The Northwest Coast canoes are dugout canoes which are fashioned from a single log. Carving a canoe begins with spiritual preparation: the carvers must prepare themselves with fasting, prayers, and the sweatlodge. It is not uncommon for the task of carving a large canoe to take two years. Once the log is chosen, a prayer is said for the cedar and an offering is given to thank it for its sacrifice. The carver then rough-shapes the log, removing the bark and sapwood with an ax and an elbow adze. Then the ends are tapered.

At this time, the log is left to season over the winter. This is a crucial step in that it ensures that the canoe will not crack too badly in later stages of carving. Once the log is seasoned, then the exterior lines of the canoe are established. The inside is then hollowed out, initially using wedges to split out large sections, and finally completing this task with controlled burning and adzing. The final stage in carving the canoe involves the use of hot rocks and water to steam-bend the sides outwards. This steaming also draws the bow and stern upwards as well as adding strength to the vessel.

Finally, the prow and stern pieces are added, the thwarts and seats are installed, and the exterior is finished. Then the canoe is given a name and is ready to begin its life on the water.

The Tlingit in southern Alaska would make canoes during the winter using red cedar logs for the larger canoes. In making the canoe, the outside of the log was first shaped and then the log was hollowed out. To make sure that the canoe walls were of a uniform thickness, small holes were bored from the outside and wooden plugs stuck in them. When the plug was reached in hollowing out the inside, the workers knew that they had reached the proper thickness. Once the canoe was hollowed out, it was then spread to give it greater stability. This was done by filling the canoe with water and then dropping hot stones into the water. Crosspieces would then spread the softening walls of the canoe and these would gradually be replaced by longer ones in order to obtain the correct shape.

With regard to the overall size of the Tlingit canoes, the long-distance voyaging canoes (sometimes called “war” canoes) ranged from 35 to 65 feet long and six to eight feet wide. They could carry 50 to 60 people and had about a five-ton capacity.

The long projecting prows and the high, spur-shaped sterns of Tlingit canoes were used to display clan and tribal crests. The figures on the canoes were generally outlined in black and then filled in with red, yellow, and green.

Tlingit canoes are named and the concept or idea of the name is carried out with figures carved on the bow and stern. Common Tlingit canoes names are Sun, Moon, Earth, Island, Shaman, Whale, Otter, Eagle, and Raven.

The Makah, in what is now Washington State, were highly skilled mariners. Using sophisticated navigational and maritime skills, they were able to travel the rough waters of the Pacific Ocean and the swift waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca with relative ease. They used various types of canoes. Carved from western red cedar, there were canoes used for a myriad of purposes, each one specifically created for that task. There were war, whaling, halibut, salmon fishing, sealing canoes and large cargo canoes. There were even smaller canoes which children used for practice. The canoes had sails so that paddlers could use the wind to their advantage. When they landed, it was done stern first so that, if necessary, the paddlers could make a quick exit. The canoes and their contents were never disturbed as the Makah were taught from an early age to respect the belongings of others. The Makah were tireless paddlers and traveled great distances to obtain food or trade their wealth.

The Makah whaling canoe was about 40 feet in length with the prow of the boat carved separately and attached to the bow. The canoe’s interior was painted a deep red. The exterior of the canoe was painted black with a solution of burnt alder and fish oil or sometimes with a special mud from a swamp. The Makah used woven mats as canoe sails.

The Coast Salish also constructed canoes for sheltered water use in the bays, inlets, and rivers of the Puget Sound area. Salish canoes were made to master the open ocean as well as the waters of Puget Sound and the straits. The Salish people traveled up and down the coast fishing, trading, and hunting. The Salish inland water canoe had a more gently sloping bow and a rounded a bottom. These canoes were very stable.

Among the Coast Salish, when a family needed a canoe, they would commission a canoe-making specialist to make it for them. A good canoe carver could make two large canoes or four small ones out of a single log. The large ocean-going canoes could carry as many as one hundred people.

Over the past decade there has been a revitalization of traditional canoe building among the Northwest Coast Nations.

Grand Ronde’s Canoe Journey

Title 1

The Cultural Resources Department of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde in collaboration with the Willamette Heritage Center at The Mill presented a special exhibition from April 8 to May 30 entitled “Grand Ronde’s Canoe Journey.”

“This exhibition brings to life the cultural importance and heritage of the historic shovelnose canoes used by the Native Peoples to travel throughout the Willamette Valley. These canoes, perfect for the shallow Willamette River, were smaller and more agile than the larger, more familiar Chinook style canoes that plied the Columbia.”

Long House

Like most of the North American Indians, the Indians of coastal Oregon and Washington did not live in tipis. The traditional house form of this region was the long house. Shown above is a model of a typical long house for this area.

Shovelnose Canoe

The shovelnose canoe (shown above) was made from a single log which was split and then hollowed out.

Paddles

Drum 1

Drum 2

None of the more than 500 Native American languages has a word which can be translated as “art.” Art was not a separate category, but was (and still is) incorporated into everyday life. Thus items used regularly, such as the canoe paddles and the drums shown above, were decorated.

Hats

Jewelry

The Northwest Coast tends to be a rainy area and the woven rain hat is one of the major features of the area. In addition, as can be seen in the photos above, the people created jewelry from a variety of materials, including dentalium shells.

Wealth Blades

Obsidian, a type of volcanic glass, was highly prized for make very sharp stone blades. In some instances, such as those shown above, large blades were made as a way of showing wealth. These were (and still are) traded over long distances.

Wood tools

The tools used for making houses and canoes often included some of the wooden tools shown above.

Modern 4

Modern 1

Modern 2

Modern 3

Over the past decade there has been a revitalization of traditional canoe building among the Northwest Coast Nations. Shown above are some of the pictures of the modern canoes from the exhibit.