Kwakiutl Nation


Kwakiutl Literature

See page for gravures of Curtis’ work.

QUOTES:: “Of all these coast-dwellers the Kwakiutl tribes were one of the most important groups, and, at the present time, theirs are the only villages where primitive life can still be observed. Their ceremonies are developed to the point which fully justifies the term dramatic. They are rich in mythology and tradition. Their sea-going canoes possess the most beautiful lines, and few tribes have built canoes approaching theirs in size. Their houses are large, and skillfully constructed. Their heraldic columns evidence considerable skill in carving…. In their development of ceremonial masks and costumes they are far in advance of any other group of North American Indian.”

“Of medium stature, the Kwakiutl are as a rule well formed and strongly built. The face is very characteristic, being usually high and with a prominent, frequently hooked, nose not found among other North Pacific tribes. Head-flattening was an invariable practice, and most of the elderly people have artificially lengthened heads…Until about the middle of the nineteenth century artificial deforming of the head was general among the Kwakiutl, while the tribes along Quatsino sound carried the practice to greater extremes….A pad of floss was bound tightly over the forehead, and other pads were stuffed into the space between the temples and the sides of the cradle, the purpose being to produce a straight line from the tip of the nose to the crown of the head. It was regarded as little less than disgraceful for any one, especially a woman, to have a depression where nose meets forehead.”

“Of all the art and industries practiced by the Kwakiutl tribes none reached a higher development than the art of working in wood. The principal phase of this work – the riving of cedar planks – has become obsolete because the necessity that mothered the art no longer exists; but splendid canoes, serviceable, water-tight chests, ponderous feasting dishes, ingenious masks, and a host of indispensable utensils are daily manufactured with the most elementary tools.”


“In preparation for curing, the fish is opened at one side of the backbone, which is then removed with the head and laid aside. The roe is thrown into another heap, the entrails and gills are rejected, and the flesh, inside and outside , is rubbed off with a handful of green leaves. The strip along each side of the back is cut off and sliced into a thin sheet, leaving the fish itself of uniform thickness of the flesh at the belly. Held open by skewers, this is hung up to dry, first in the sun, then in the smoke of the house-fire. The thin sheets are hung on poles to become partially dry in the sun; and then skewers are inserted to prevent curling as they thoroughly dry out in the smoke. Above the fire are five tiers of racks, and each lot of salmon spends a day on each of the first four, beginning on the lowest. After five days on the topmost tier the cured flesh is packed in large bag-like baskets or in cedar chests, which are kept in a dry place.”

“Those who have to do with the curing of sickness fall into four classes. One who by ‘eka’ (sorcery effected by sympathetic magic) encompasses the illness and finally the death of an enemy is called ‘ekenoh,’ that is, one skilled in sorcery. Such a one also has the power to counteract the evil works of his colleagues. The medicine-man, or shaman, expels or induces occult sickness by the direct exertion of his preternatural power upon the body of the patient or the victim… Those who by the operation of sympathetic magic but without any alleged direct connection with supernatural beings, obtain good results in healing are ‘pepespatenuh.’ The healer who treats understood ailments and employs no means other than vegetal or animal remedies is called ‘patenuh’ or medicine givers.”


Kwakuitl Recipies



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