Saturday, 25 May 2013

Haida Gwaii art in London


For some time now I've been working on a series of poems based on the mythology of the first nation people of the Haida Gwaii islands off the north Pacific coast of Canada and Alaska.  Their art work has always fascinated me, particularly the house poles they erected in front of their houses, intricately carved from giant redwood trees. These poles tell the family stories of the clan who live there and often feature either the raven or the eagle.  So imagine my delight and surprise when I walked into the British Museum to see the Ice Age Art exhibition and there in the courtyard was a Haida house pole! It comes from the village of Masset on Kayang inlet - which no longer exists as a Haida habitation.  The chief's house was called either Goose House or Bear house and the pole that tells his lineage has been beautifully preserved. You can see the mythic figure of the Shaman with his Puffin Beak rattles near the top, and lower down there's a small man crouched on the head of the sea monster between the tail flukes of the whale.  Sitting at the top is the chief whose pole it is. Not a raven in sight though - Chief Wiah obviously had connections with the sea, since there are two sea monsters, a whale and an orca beneath him.  I'd love to know the stories they represent.





To come face to face with a Haida artefact was such wonderful serendipity!



5 comments:

  1. That's so interesting, thanks a bundle. I knew nothing about this, and now know only what you've shared - but when I get to the BM soon for the exhibition I'll look with new curiosity.

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  2. A lovely coincidence.
    Are there people who still identify as Haida?

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    1. I'm Haida. My grandfather is a hereditary chief. He passed about 18 months ago. Fascinating man. My hero and mentor :)

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  3. Yes, Lilyanne - really worth a look. The housepole is in the cafe in the courtyard.

    Hi Al - yes, there are still descendants of the original Haida people there and one or two who spoke the language as a child, which you can find on YouTube. It's fascinating!

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  4. Hi Kathleen, I stumbled across the exhibition last weekend too. It is very impressive - and particularly apposite for me because I have also been working on a piece of fiction with Haida connections. Nice to run across someone else with the same interests!

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