Nature Notes

Vol. X March, 1932 No. 3

Arts and Crafts of Northwest Coastal Indians

canoe paddle

The great Pacific, together with its numerous arms sounds and other similar waterways, enabled the Indians of this region to travel almost entirely by water. It must also be remembered that the extremely dense forests that characterized this region further aided in such travel by prohibiting easy access on land and also by making available the material from which were fashioned the canoes and other implements which enabled those people to move about. Often, too, in search of seal, fish and even whale these Indians journeyed far to sea in great dugouts that carried as many as fifty or sixty men. Such expeditions most certainly brought the wayfarers into the teeth of many stormy seasons with Neptune. Yet the canoes were fashioned to withstand such attacks, as best they could by having an upraised, projecting prow which served to cleave the waves. Bailers, made of cedar bark, were carried to bail out the water that was shipped when waves did break over into the craft.

The canoes themselves were fashioned from cedar logs. By a combination of stone or bone adzes, fire and water the log was hollowed out and the canoe fashioned to serve the purpose for which it was intended and, as one many expect, the means of locomotion was dependent upon the brawn of the man, or men, who used it. In the stern sat the man who steered it who also used a paddle for this particular task while, on sealing or whaling expeditions, the prow harbored the harpooner who flung a harpoon of yew tipped with bone or stone at the prey. It is also said that, on occasion, sails of wood or matting were used -- particularly when it was necessary to move heavy burdens such as house planks and similar belongings when a move to another locality was to be effected.

canoe bailer

Anyone who has been upon the Pacific in modern craft can well appreciate the difficulties which these waters can present. He cannot help but admire the courage of these early northwestern Americans and their ingenuity in meeting and overcoming these dangerous and varied problems in the utilization of primative raw materials at hand.


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