Sacred Texts  Native American  Northwest  Index  Previous  Next 

The Thunder Bird Tootooch Legends, by W.L. Webber, [1936], at

p. 18


The Indians of the Northwest Coast had a method of binding the head of the growing infant with leather thongs, fastened to a flat board. This caused the skull to decrease in diameter and make it grow out behind, giving the effect shown by the Kloochman in the picture. These cone-like heads were a mark of distinction and were not permitted to other than the children of freemen. This custom prevailed among some of the tribes until thirty-five years ago. Indians now living have the so-called sugar-loaf heads, one of the last marks from their barbarian ancestors.

The labret was also used by members of these tribes. It had several forms, the most popular being a piece of flat wood, grooved around the edge and inserted in a hole below the lower lip. When it was in use the lip was held out firm and straight but when it was taken out the lip fell down into place so that the tongue could be thrust through the opening, creating the impression among early explorers that the people had two mouths.

The natives tattooed the body as well as painting their faces with the symbols of their clan. Tattooing was generally applied on the backs of the arms and on the front of the legs, less frequently than on other parts of the body. The painting on their faces was done at potlatch feasts and was the identification mark of the clan or sept to which the individual belonged. Many older Totem Pole figures of men carry the facial markings, a custom that is now dying out.

The Indian woman shown in the frontispiece is weaving grass baskets. She is sitting on a cedar mat and wearing a double woven cape-like garment, made from the same material. Capes of this kind are still in use on Vancouver Island. They are very useful in the rainy season. With them the natives wear a flat, round hat, this also sheds the water. The chronicles of Captain Vancouver and other early voyagers, recorded that much of the clothing used by these uncivilized people was made of root fibers interwoven with the woolly hair of dogs which were bred for the purpose; these dogs, also used for food, are now extinct.

The Indians along the coast secured their food from the adjacent waters and were not land travellers. They did not use footwear of any kind either in summer or winter. In the cold weather these primitive people clothed themselves in garments of such value that the early adventurers chanced the hazards of the seven seas to barter for them. A small piece of iron often sufficed to buy a sea-otter hide or cloak, to be sold in China or American ports for a hundred dollars or more. These sea mammals have since been exterminated. A specimen of one may be seen in the Provincial Museum in Victoria.

Returning to the picture again: the Indian woman has to use a model of probably the original "Rock-a-bye-baby-in-the-tree-top." When the papoose frets, the cord is pulled with her toe. The wooden cradle then swings up and down and then to and fro. The house is decorated with the Black Fish (Killer Whale) Crest, showing that the inmate is a member of that clan, a sept of the Ocean people.

Next: Stick Game