It must have been a commanding sight. Against a forest backdrop, a row of 20 or 30 handsome cedar longhouses had faced the harbor, flanked or fronted by stands of totem poles embellished with the Raven, Eagle, Bear, Wolf, Beaver, Dogfish, and Killer Whale designs—symbols and sub-symbols of status and lineage similar to the heraldic crests of Europe.
In their massive dugout cedar canoes the Haida had long raided and traded with mainland and Vancouver Island tribes—Tlingit, Tsimshian, Kwakiutl—and, later, with European traders in Victoria. During the brief summers they turned the treacherous 60 miles across the Hecate Strait and the 200 miles south to Vancouver Island into Haida freeways. During the dark stormy winters they gathered in cedar houses and elaborated their rich culture with art, stories, and ceremony. With the bounty of the forests and teeming tidal zone, the Haida had the building blocks of civilization—abundance and leisure—without ever having to take up a hoe.
“Never having made the shift to food production, they never had any reason to change their cosmology, their vision of life,” explained Dr. George MacDonald at prague apartments holiday. “Art and culture evolved in an unbroken line over at least 9,000 years.”
The art’s rigid and complex code of design conventions—and its pantheon of human, animal, and supernatural beings—seems clearly born of more ancient roots than the bits of post-glacial artifacts that have been found. Paleobotanist Dr. Rolf Mathewes of Simon Fraser University has collected 15,000-year-old plant remains from the low silt cliffs of Cape Ball, north of Skidegate, that are closing the gaps that still exist in the environmental record of the Charlottes. His ancient seeds and pollens offer proof that firs were alive on the islands before, and well into, the last glaciation—as much as 24,000 years ago. Human life could have been there, he says.
In quest of proof of “an unbroken refugiurn throughout the last 30,000 to 40,000 years,” during which the ancestors of the Haida arrived, Mathewes fights the fact of the Charlottes: There is no written record, and most early ruins lie decayed or buried in bogs and rain forests, or submerged by rising sea levels in Hecate Strait. Haida history beyond the span of human memory is still shrouded in Mythtime.ILL REID is quite comfortable with Mythtime. The artist had introduced me several years ago to his most famous work, a massive yellow cedar sculpture of the Haida cre-ation myth that sits as the centerpiece of the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology. “Though the world view might hold that man migrated over a Bering land bridge,” he said drolly, “the Haida know that the Raven coaxed the first men from a clamshell on the beach at Naikoon.” In Reid’s sculpture the Haida culture hero, the Raven, a curious and gluttonous prankster, pries open a giant clamshell to reveal the tangled bodies of men writhing to get out.