Religion Haida customs, beliefs, and history were passed down orally through stories, songs, and dances. They had myths and legends about why certain things occurred, for example, the changes in season. There were also stories about each group and how they first appeared in this world. All of these stories were passed down to subsequent generations. The people of the Northwest believed that they were surrounded, at all times, by supernatural beings interfering with the natural world. In their culture, spirits were connected to all living things. http://firstpeoplesofcanada.com/fp_groups/fp_nwc5.html
Killer Whale is a very important crest and mythic being throughout the Pacific Northwest. In legend he is widely recognized as a clan ancestor, and is associated with power, dignity, prosperity and longevity. It was believed a Killer Whale could capsize a canoe and carry its occupants underwater to its village, transforming the occupants themselves into Killer Whales. Thus a Whale near the shore was a human transformed and trying to communicate with his previous human family ashore.
The art was originally made for practical purposes. Bentwood boxes, totems, spoons, knives, bowls, dishes all sort of other household goods were decorated with family crests, totems and other artwork that was unique to a particular family.
The First Humans Haida stories tell of how the first people emerged from a gigantic clam shell on the beach at Rose Spit. They got out with the help of Raven, who is the most powerful creature from myth time. Raven was wandering on the beach, when he heard some noise coming from a clam shell. He looked more closely and saw that it was full of little human creatures. They were terrified by the Raven and the big world outside the shell. "So, the Raven leaned his great head close to the shell, and with the smooth trickster's tongue, that had got him into and out of so many misadventures, in his troubled and troublesome existence, he coaxed and cajoled and coerced the little creatures to come out and play in his wonderful, shiny, new world." -Bill Reid, Haida artist
Seal The staple food of may coastal Natives was brought to the rivers and seas by Raven. Many celebrated the first catch of the season with ceremonies of thanksgiving, to ensure a good harvest. Wolf An important family crest, Wolf was revered for his skill as a hunter. To become a good hunter, one must acquire the spirit power associated with Wolf. Haida legends have a supernatural Sea Wolf, Wasgo, a creature part Wolf and part Whale.
Dolphin Known for its human traits, they where once humans, the great creator was asked by humans to make a bridge from the islands to the mainland, the creator said he would make a bridge, and he created a rainbow from the islands to the mainland, but if you fall off i will turn you into a sea creature, so many of humans tried to make the trip but the ones that fell off were turned into the first dolphins.
A symbol of power and prestige among the many nations of the world, the eagle is also an important symbol among the northwest coast people. The golden eagle lives primarily in the more mountainous regions while the bald eagle can be found along the coast. Eagle is one of the most important beings in the art and mythology. It is revered for its intelligence and great power, as well as its extraordinary vision. With its ability to soar to extreme altitude the Eagle is regarded as the principle messenger of the creator, the sun. Eagle down is a sacred symbol of peace and friendship and is frequently sprinkled before guests in welcome dances and other ceremonies. The eagle feathers are also used in a variety of ritual contexts, as well as adorning masks and head-dresses.
The Pacific Northwest Coast people believed that Salmon were actually humans with eternal life how lived in a large house far under the ocean. In the Spring, they put on their Salmon disguises and offered themselves to the villagers as food. The tribes believed that when entire fish skeletons were returned to the sea, the spirits would rise again and change into Salmon people. In this way, the cycle could begin again the following year. Since the villagers feared that the Salmon people would not be treated respectfully by White people who had no knowledge of the taboos and regulations, they did not want to sell Salmon to the first White men.
The frog is a creature of great importance in the Pacific Northwest Coast art and culture. With its ability to live on both water and land this creature is revered for its adaptability and power to live in both the natural and supernatural realm. Frogs are considered the spirit messengers of Shamans. Frog is known as the communicator between mother earth and man. He is considered the only child to mother earth. Frog is often used to represent the voice of the people. Being that this creature is very vocal, its songs are considered by some to contain great power and magic. Frog is also associated with copper and is a symbol of great wealth. Legendary Haida princes are said to have attended feasts wearing necklace chains made of living Frogs.
Owl The Owl is one of the many crest figures depicted in Northwest Coast Native design. Often, they are associated with the souls of deceased ancestors and are viewed with respect. Moon The Moon was the exclusive crest of only a few of the highest-ranking chiefs among the Haida; rights to this crest are still inherited. Raven is said to have released Moon and the stars are pieces of Moon, flung into the sky. An eclipse was said to be a codfish trying to swallow the moon and a bonfire, set with green boughs, choked the cod and stopped it.
Wasco is a mythical creature, part wolf, part killer whale. The legends of Wasco are found all along the northwest coast. His favorite prey is the killer whale and he is often depicted with his tail wrapped around a killer whale. He is usually drawn with a wolf head, and wolf tail but will often have one or more dorsal fins similar to a killer whale.
Bear are regarded with awe and respect by the native people of the northwest coast. It is considered to be a close relation of humankind with its complex behavior and appearance, and is referred to as the “Elder Kinsman”. It is one of the most prominent figures in crest, shamanic art and myth. With their strength and fierceness, bears are the guardian spirits of warriors. Bearskin cloaks are often worn during dances, ceremony and ritual performances. Jewellery and amulets were crafted from bear teeth and claws, for example a shaman would wear a bearclaw crown. Bear is usually depicted with a protruding tongue, clawed feet, little or no tail and a short, broad snout.
Thunderbird is the most powerful supernatural creature. He lived in the mountains and fed on whales. When he flapped his wings, thunder rolled; he kept lightning snakes under his wings to aid him in killing whales. For this reason, whalers painted lightning snakes on their canoes.
Northwest Coast art is distinguished by the use of formlines, and the use of characteristic shapes referred to as ovoids, U forms and S forms. The main traditional colors of Pacific Northwest Native Indian art are black and red. Black is the primary color used in the formline which is the outline for the body of the subject. The formline of Pacific Northwest Native Indian art is the main line that outlines the body of the subject whether it is a person or animal. The formline is usually black in color but can sometimes be red. The thickness of the formline itself can change at various places and contains all the other shapes used for a subject.
Examples Split U-Forms Examples of S-Forms L-Form
Principles and Elements of Design Color An important element of the cedar plank masks is color. Black, blue, and red are imaginatively applied, creating balance within the entire piece. Color is used to define each of the parts of the head as well as shape. Traditionally, just as today, paints were made from materials. Northwest Coast Indians produced red from iron oxide, black from graphite, and white from lime and burnt clamshells. Blue paint from the northern part of the coast has been analysed to be iron silica. All of these materials were mixed with oils, quite often salmon eggs, to make paint. Space There is the avoidance of empty space where a design form or line will add to the interest of complexity. This embellishment is, however, done with sufficiant restraint to maintain a proper integral balance of line, form, and carving. Shape Geometric and freeform design. Some designs sometimes seem to represent internal body parts, sometimes external appendages, and sometimes magical powers. These special designs are both angular and loose, free forms. A prominent form which is used to depict the body parts is the "U-form". It frequently depicts feathers and ears. Texture Texture supplies variation in the design. The carved cross-hatching can be echoed by the use of painted cross-hatching. Line Curves are emphasized on nostrils, eyes, and lips, by deeply incised carvings, contrasting color, or both. Nearly all lines, whether incised or painted, have a tendancy to run parallel and taper to a terminal point to each end. Form The masks were carved in 3-dimensional form.
Raven - The mercurial trickster of Northwest Coast Native lore. Curious and mischievious, often misbehaving but never boring. Sea Turtle - This totem is representative of Mother Earth. Thunderbird - A mythological bird known to manifest the rolling of thunder while beating its wings and creating lightening when blinking it's eyes. Known to kill whales. Eagle - Intelligent and resourceful. He rules the sky and is able to transform himself into a human. Wolf - Very powerful totem who can help people that are sick or in need. Bear - A teacher symbol as it is believed that Bear taught the People to catch salmon and pick berries. Frog - Known for bringing wealth and is associated with Copper Woman. In another myth, frog was held down in fire, when it burst lava flowed and engulfed an entire village. Otter - The otter is a mischievous creature that is also a symbol of laughter, curiosity, grace, and empathy. Salmon - The salmon symbolizes instinct, persistence, and determination. Owl - The owl is a very respected animal and is thought to symbolize the souls of the departed. Killer Whale - Whales are honored as strong and brave fish. The mythology of the killer whale is that is will bring food and assistance to a chief or other important person lying helpless and/or wounded.