Woody Morrison: Introducing New Technology--The Oarlock - P.O.W. Report

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Woody Morrison: Introducing New Technology--The Oarlock

Dr. Woody Morrison makes regular posts on Tlingit and Haida people of Alaska facebook page. You are encouraged to follow the page!

GIINAANGW K’YUUSII

(The Oarlock)
by Dr. Woodrow Ḵáawan Sangáa, BA, JD.

The Spaniards first came into Northern Haida country - Alaska - in the 1500's and, it was then that we first saw the use of Thole Pins, fore-runner to on their Longboats: they were rowing. However we did not adopt their usage until about 300 years later. The unwillingness to utilize this new technology was not out of ignorance or the fear of change, but because we recognized that there are always unintended consequences to using any new technology.

For thousands of years we Haida had gone to sea in our cedar-log Ocean-going canoes (Tluu) - sixty to ninety feet in length. These canoes required as many as 24 to 30 paddlers and, the seating in the canoe was partly by ability and by order-of-inheritance rGiinaangw k’yuusii (Oarlock) ather than personal preference. When paddling, everyone faced forward except the Chief's Naat Yaak’úu (true nephew - heir apparent) who sat back-to-back with his Ḵáa (Uncle).

His responsibility was to apprise his Ḵáa (Uncle) of anything coming from behind (an unusually large wave, or to describe special features of the land just passed, or human danger). Ḵaagáay (the uncle – also term of endearment for Halibut) had to be able to trust the word and the judgement of his nephew implicitly, for, eventually, that nephew would succeed his Ḵáa (Uncle), as a leader.

Since everyone was facing forward and could see where they were going, there was no need for anyone to give orders.

There are two types of Societies - Command Structured (with accompanying Command Structured - Language) and the Common-Mind (Gúudangáay SG̱wáansang) structure. The Common-Mind society is based upon cultural imperatives gleaned from thousands of years of experience.

Much like the flocks of birds and schools of fish that can change direction instantaneously without any orders given; indigenous peoples learn to think alike, how to focus all their activities toward a sustainable society. There are four values at play in this society: Trust, Share, Help each other, and Give Back – all members of the society are certain of the responses of the other.

For example, say the X̱aadas Tluuwáay (large traveling - canoe) is experiencing G̱áayuwaa (very large seas), and an overly large wave is coming from one side. Without orders, the paddlers all moved to that side of the canoe to deal with the problem. Standing, the paddlers thrust their paddles, blade down, into the wave and hold down. The physics of the wave’s movement is upward. By thrusting those paddles into the water and holding tight, had the effect of lifting the canoe over the wave. Kayakers employ that technique - they call it "cutting off the the top of the wave". The canoe is thrown over the top of the wave. Thus, the paddlers moved with one synchronized mind rather than someone ordering the actions of the Paddlers.

We X̱aat’áay (Haida) immediately saw the advantage of using the oarlock Giinaangw k’yuusii (Oarlock) but, when we examined the consequences, the possible resultant changes to our society and culture it would effect; it was decided to watch and study the problem some more.

Yes, the Canoe could be propelled quickly with fewer people, however, it would be at the expense of fundamentally changing our X̱aadas Hlan Gwáay gudahldiyáay (Haida World-View) and our Societal Structure.

The past is in front of me, I can see everything that has happened to us and our relationship with the natural world since we came into Being as Humans; the future is behind me. It is like sitting in a river with my back upstream; I cannot see what is coming and, when something comes into view I have to deal with it right at that moment because it will never be there again.

On the other hand, when I am traveling (physical time), the future is ahead of me; I can plan my journey, however, I cannot see far enough ahead to see what is going to happen on that journey. When I am traveling I always look back to see where I have been (where I am) - that is a part of being human (looking at my own behavior). Thus, I must be aware of everything that has happened (know my history) and be alert to that which has not yet occurred.

Since rowing with oars requires that people face backward while they row, someone would have to take command; giving orders, about when to stroke, how to turn and so on. People would not be engaged in the same way with the sea since they would be looking at what was behind them instead of what was before them. With everyone facing what is coming, it is possible to utilize the collective wisdom of all the paddlers rather than the judgement of just that one person.

Also, a hierarchy would be created that would affect the sense of unity among the people. The society would change and become Command-Structured with the majority of members dependent upon the words (orders) of a select few. And, because the nephew of the Chief would not be needed to warn of dangers, that responsibility of protecting the lives of the society would be subsumed to the person giving orders; depriving the Nephew of that crucial experience.

We Haida resisted using the oarlock (Giinaangw k’yuusii) until the early 1900's when due to a population crash brought about by disease and other factors, we no longer took our great Haida Canoes (X̱aadas Tluuwaa) to sea.

We switched to using ḵu Tluu (smaller canoes) that could be propelled with oars held in place by oarlocks. In many cases, it made the efficient propelling of a canoe, that would normally require 3 or 4 paddlers, by a single person, possible; a lone paddler could propel a canoe . "I could now do things myself; no longer needed the cooperation of other persons."

(TO BE CONTINUED)








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