Dr. Morrison: Haida Mythology and Technology - P.O.W. Report

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Dr. Morrison: Haida Mythology and Technology

Dr. Woodrow Morrison makes regular posts to the Tlingit and Haida peoples of Alaska [and you should follow the page there].

Here is another post by the good Doctor:

by Dr. Woodrow Ḵáawan Sangáa, BA, JD.


It is as fishermen, however, that the Haidas excel. They catch cod and dogfish with hook and line, as many as a hundred hooks being attached to a single line (skate of gear). They take herring, which run near the surface in enormous shoals, by means of dip nets, open-mesh baskets, seines, and rakes. With the fish-rake, a piece of wood with a row of bone spikes, they sweep the "rake" through schools of Herring, bringing up two or three fish,sometimes more, at a time.

Salmon and halibut, however, are the staple foods. Each Spring, before beginning the major salmon fishing effort, 10,000 Haidas gathered at Cape Lookout. The men go out and troll for King Salmon. The days catch is brought ashore and laid our side by side – heads to the east and backs to the north.

A cooking fire is started, songs and dances are performed for the King Salmon, at the end of the singing and dancing the Salmon are cooked and a small bit is eaten by the entire encampment and, at daylight the bones, fins, tails and heads are returned to the ocean with the supplication, "More to come." The Salmon fishing season is now officially opened and the peoples dispersed to their respective rivers.

They transported the walls of their houses to the fishing camp areas where skeletal houses structures stood empty during most of the year. The planks were fitted into place and, they were ready for the salmons season. They Sun-dried the first runs of Pink Salmon and smoked the rest in special smokehouses of plank walls and bark roofs.
Haidas did not use hook and line for the taking of Pink, Red, Chum, and Silver salmon. They caught them at the mouths of streams with dragnets, and in waterfalls or rapids with fish-spears or harpoons with detachable barbed heads of bone. They also employed weirs. Where the water is deep, they build a wicker fence across the stream, with openings at intervals leading into cylindrical basket traps.

Where the water was shallow and swift, they constructed two weirs a short distance apart; the salmon, leaping the first, are caught between the two, and could be secured at leisure with spears or dips nets.

The struggle for existence was rarely ever severe, and food was especially abundant during the summer, when the Haidas bend their energies to the accumulation of a reserve food for the leaner winter months and for the lavish feasts and ceremonies occurring then. Great quantities of bark, berries, and fish were dried and stored away in boxes. Shellfish were steamed, dried, and strung on skewers. Strips of deer fat were dried and smoked, cooked, and packed in boxes.

Oil and grease, used as a sauce with bark cakes, dried fish, and practically everything else the natives eat, are obtained from herring, cod, surplus salmon, and sea mammals. The flesh, often partially putrefied, is boiled, and the oil or grease skimmed from the surface, strained, and stored in boxes.

Not content with their own supply, Haidas obtained from the mainland quantities of Saaw (ooligan - candlefish), a fish so oily that, when dried, it can be used as a candle by simply inserting a wick.


The Haidas generated fire by rotating a stick of hard wood on a piece of dry bark, and they cook most of their food.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.