Background on Totem Poles

CARVED COLUMNS OR TOTEM POSTS OF THE HAIDAS

By James Deans
The American Antiquarian and Oriental Journal, Volume XIII, 1891

Part 1: THE MOON SYMBOL ON THE TOTEM POSTS ON THE NORTHWEST COAST
Part 2: CARVED COLUMNS OR TOTEM POSTS OF THE HAIDAS
Additional Correspondence: A WEIRD MOURNING SONG OF THE HAIDAS
THE STORY OF SKAGA BELUS

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.

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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.

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A WEIRD MOURNING SONG OF THE HAIDAS

Correspondence from James Deans
The American Antiquarian and Oriental Journal, 1891, pp. 52-54.

Editor American Antiquarian

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. JAMES DEANS.

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THE STORY OF SKAGA BELUS

By James Deans
The American Antiquarian and Oriental Journal, 1891, pp. 81-84.


This remarkable legend I found amongst the Haida tribes of Queen Charlotte's islands, British Columbia. Although only a legend it contains historical data enough to shed a gleam of light on the long-forgotten migrations of the early inhabitants of Northwestern America. And as such it is well worth preserving, not only in the valuable pages of THE AMERICAN ANTIQUARIAN, but by all and every one who take an interest in the subject in America and in other countries as well. But I must to the main point of my story, Skaga Belus.

Skaga is the name in the Haida language for a doctor or medicine man. The words Skah gilda, from which skaga is a contraction, means one with long hair, from their never cutting their hair, but always wearing it rolled up in a bunch on the top of the head. This makes them resemble the figures on the tablets in the ruined cities of South America. If those figures were priests, so likewise were the Skaga, whose functions amongst the Haidas is all that remains of an ancient priesthood -- a fact of which I have many proofs. I have heard of many famous ones, but the greatest of them all was the subject of my story. Skaga Beelas or Belus was the most famous as well as the most remarkable of all who ever lived in Haida land or amongst any of the tribes on this Northwest coast. The account given of him by the Haida tribes is as follows:

Very long ago, our fathers and mothers tell us, lived a good Skaga. He was the best man that ever lived in Haida land; he was good and kind of heart, ever ready to attend the sick and to help the poor and distressed; always advising the people to love each other, because, he said, if they lived in unity tere would be no war or bloodshed, nor no theiving [sic]; all the Haida tribes, instead of fighting and trying to destroy each other, would live and love one another like brothers and sisters. After living amongst them for many years, and having gained the respect of these people from the eldest to the youngest, he called them together, and to their sorrow, told them that he was going to leave them; that they were not to grieve over his absence, because after a while he would return and never again leave them. So wishing them all keel-slie (farewell), he took his departure. As to the moce of his going away I may say a few words. Some of the people say he died and was buried; others of them say that his body lay dead for a yar and that his soul went to heaven, where it heard and saw wonderful things, along with thir parents, in hte beautiful country to which they had all gone. He told them that all who while here had led goood lives were happy in that beautiful country beyond, and that at the end of life's journey would not only be met by their relations gone before, but would each one of them have homes prepared for them corresponding in beauty to the lives led by them while on earth.

When he left he was sorely missed by all the people, who never failed to look forward to his return. At the end of a year's absence he suddenly made his appearance amongst them agian. After he returned he lived with them so long and grew so old, that excepting his spine, which alone he could use to move his back, all other parts of his body were dead and shrunken. If his life before he left was good, after his return it was better. Still anxious to teach them everything food, the more earnest was he to urge them to love and help each other, and above all to keep from inter-tribal wars. He further told them, if they did so they owuld become a great, a happy and a prosperous people. If, on the contrary, they fought tribe against tribe and made slaves of their brothers and sisters, they would become weak, because few in numbers, and at last a fair compexioned race of people from the land of the rising sun would come and take possession of their country and all their belongings, until their existence as a people would cease, thir name be forgotten, and oof their language nothing but a few names of places would remain. When these people came, they (the Haidas) were neither to kill nor ill treat them, because they would bring amongst them implements far better than the rude stone ones then in use. And he also told them that these people would give them a new and better sort of food. He, tradition says, conversed with them after that manner as long as his strength lasted, and with his latest breath could be heard to say "Be kind ot each other."

By the new sort of implements, the Haidas of to-day consider the small iron adzes (called toes) brought amongst them by the earliest traders, and the axes and other tools of the present day, a fulfillment of the first part of the prophecy; flour is considered a fulfillment of the latter part, while we colonists are believed by them to be the fair strangers from the east.

The Haidas are keen traders, and they have often told me that they were so out of respect to Belus. They also boast that they never killed a white man, for the same reason.

As regards the weird song which affected me so much, this may be said: Belus, it seems, told them that along with the evils which would befall them following their decandence would be dreadful diseases, which coming amongst them would spare neither youth nor age, and for the loss of their relations they would naturally feel bad;; so as a means of relief he recommended them to hold sittings as before mentioned, because, said he, by coming to your sittings your spirit friends, as well as those who died before their time, would be able to learn something whereby they would be enabled to advance to higher homes (spheres), while prescence at your sittings would cheer the lot of those left behind. Besides these admonitions, he also taught them the above mentioned song, or rather I should say lament, because it may truly be considered as one -- the lament of Skaga Belus, a lament not only for the dear departed, but for the failing fortunes of the Haida people. He also told them that every time they met, in order to commune with their spirit friends, they were to sing it just before leaving for their homes. This they never failed to do, with its slow, weird and mournful numbers. The tune somewhat resembles the one usually sung in Scotland to the tune of "Land o' the Leal" or to some of the bian orans (mournful songs) of our Scottish Yeal. As far as I the words are concerned, I am unable to give them, although I have tried for years to get them correct. During a four months' stay with the Haidas the past summer (1889), I tried hard to get the words and tune; to my surprise I could not find one who knew anything of Skaga Belus, although in the same trive twenty years ago every one, from the oldest to the youngest, knew him and sung his song. Instead of these weird songs of oldn times, which now are seldom heard, such new songs (to these people) as "Nearer my God to Thee," etc., can be heard any time, day or night.

In conclusion, I shall say a few words while asking the question, Who was Belus?

Bol, Bel, Belus, Baa., or as the Greeks called him, Apollo, was the first king of Assyria. He conquered Babylonia from the Arabians, over which he reigned for twenty-seven years - from 1993 to 1966 B.B., or about four thousand years ago. After his death his son Ninus caused him to be placed amongst the gods, and he was worshiped as the sun at divers places and by divers people. The Jews had a temple wherein to worship him, with a grove arund [sic] it.* (*Josephus, Antiquities, Vol. I) The Babylonians also had a temple for his worship. (Ibid., Vol. II, 10.) This temple was the most ancient and became the nost nagnificent at one time in the world. Amongst the British Druids May-day was called Beil Teine (Belus Fire), because on that day they burned large fires to Biel. In the los-lands of Scotland a bone or large fire is called Beil-fire to this day.

The Chiapanecs, a very old branch of the Toltecs, say they were descended from Cham (Ham), the sone of Noah, and that the first settler in Chiapas was Mae, or Imoe, or as he is oftener called, Ninus. This Ninus was the son of Belo (Belus) who was the son of Nimrod, who was the son of Chus, who was the grandson of Ham. When or where these Chiapanecs got the name Belo or Belus, I can not say; but wherever they got it, it no doubt was from a people who pronounced the name Bel, Belus or Belinus, and not from a people who called it Baal. In looking over the pages of ancient history we find that the Pelasgi or Syrians, who lived on the sea coast of that country, pronounced it Bel. No doubt from these Pelasgi, who were great sailors, and were found all over the (then) known world, as well as making a settlement in Greece about 1883, B.C., came the Bel, Belus, or Belinus into the west. How the Haidas came to get the name I have so far been unable to find any clue, except that the name is pronounced Belus instead of Baal. It is strange that a people living so remote as the Haidas should be, as well as most of the ancient nations, acquainted with Belus. They did not get the name from our prople - quite the reverse. The story has passed through unnumbered ages down among them from sire to son. Not the least strange is it that it was Belus who first taught them the occult sciences and to practice them as used to be done in ancient times.

 

 

There was nothing revolting about their meetings. Each person would sit quietly down alonside of each other, until an oval was formed, at one end of which was a small fire; at the other end, next the door sat the Skaga or medium. After a little quiet conversation one of the number would take up a song, in which all but the Skaga would join. The song would be liek the following: "The Skaga is here to-night E ha ha, hac hoo. And through him our friends of the a-wohl (feast time) will come. Hydrel, hydrel (come, come), hak-weet (quickly)," etc. While the Skaga was talking all was quiet, unless a question was asked of the control. In the time between one control leaving and the next one taking possession they also used to sing, how glad they were again to hear from him or her, as the case hight be. And so on to the end, when finishing up with Belus' song, all went to bed. Judge Swan, of Port Townsend, thinks the Haidas are descendants of the ancient Aztecs. I believe myself that in remote times some connection existed between them.

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