Saturday, October 22, 2011

Observations on Haida Gwaii Islands

A Voyage Around the World

in the years
1785, 1786, 1787, and 1788.

Performed in the King George
Commanded by Captain Portlock;
and the Queen Charlotte
Commanded by Captain Dixon;

Page 99 [1787.]

In the forenoon of the 30th, the winds were moderate and favourable ; at noon we faw land to the north. At feven o'clock in the morning of the 1st of July, we had a frefh wefterly breeze, and ftretched to the fouth-eaft. About noon we faw a deep bay, bearing north-eaft by eaft. The winds, during the afternoon, were light and variable ; we therefore ftood to the north, determining, if poffible, to make the bay in fight, fuppofing it probable that we fhould find inhabitants there.

We had light variable airs during the night, with a heavy fwell from the fouth-weft, and in the morning of the fecond, found ourfelves unable to reach the bay : a moderate breeze afterwards fprung up at north- eaft, and we ftood in for the land.

At feven o'clock, feveral canoes appeared, full of natives, who were returning from fifhing. Some of them being clad in rich beaver cloaks, we tempted them with hatchets, adzes, toes [long flat pieces of iron], pans, and tin kettles. After gratifying their curiofity by furveying the veffel, and expreffing their aftonifhment at fo wonderful a ftructure, they began to trade with us, and we purchafed all their cloaks and fkins. By their fignificant geftures we alfo underftood that plenty of inhabitants and furs might be found on fhore.

At ten we were about a mile from fhore, and faw a village confifting of fix or feven huts. We fteered for a bay which now opened to the eaft. As we advanced up this bay, we faw an appearance of an excellent harbour ; but about noon the tide fet fo ftrongly againft us, that we could not poffibly make it ; we therefore hove the main top- fail to the maft, intending to traffic with the local natives.

No lefs than ten canoes, in which there were about an hundred and thirty people, were almoft inftantly about the fhip, all of whom had either beaver cloaks, or fome valuable fkins. They were indeed fo anxious about the difpofal of their commodities, that there were feveral quarrels and contentions among them about the priority of their coming along fide the veffel, and their claims of being entitled to be ferved firft. Perhaps they were apprehenfive that we had not a fufficient quantity of toes to pay for all the articles they had brought us, for hardly any thing elfe was taken in barter for them, and thofe were eagerly demanded. About three hundred and ten beaver fkins were purchafed of thefe Haida people in lefs than forty minutes. So flourifhing a trade we had never before experienced.

Page 110 [1787.]
Chapter. XII

Observations on Haida Gwaii Islands---Meet two veffels, called the Prince of Wales and the Princefs Royal, from London---perfons, manners, and cuftoms of the inhabitants---Drefs---Manufuctures.

HAVING quitted the iflands, a few obfervations on them and their inhabitants may not be thought improper. From the number of inlets we met with, in coafling along the shore, and from our feeing the fame inhabitants on the oppofite fide of the coaft it is more than probable that this is not one continued land, but forms a group of iflands. In confequence of which they were diftinguifhed by the name of Xaadaa Gwaii, They are lituated from 51 deg. 42 min. to 54 dcg. 24 min. north latitude; and from 130 deg. to 133 deg. 30 min. weft longitude,

The great quantity of furs we met with here, renders it probable that thefe people have no intercourfe with any civilized nation i and we have reafon to flatter ourfelves with having the honour of adding thefe iflands to the geography of this country. We faw but few ornaments among the inhabitants, and their knives were probably acquired by war, all the tribes feeming to be hoftile to each other. ...

The women indifcriminately diftort the under lip, like thofe at Norfolk Sound. Though thefe Haida were, in general, jealous of their women, and feldom permitted them to come on board our veffel, yet fome of them not only permitted, but even perfuaded them, to accept of the invitations of our people; but their fole inducement was that of plunder : thefe tribes were the moft expert and rapacious thieves of any we had met with.

We had now purchafed at thefe Iflands upwards of eighteen hundred fea otter fkins, many of which were extremely fine, besides various other furs : toes were principally demanded in barter for thefe goods, but our dealers were fo numerous that we found it neceffary to exhibit many other articles to pleafe them all.

But to return : At noon on the 5th, we were only twelve miles north of King George's Sound. In the afternoon at fix, we faw Woody Point, about four leagues diftant. At ten in the morning of the 7th, we had a light breeze, and the land about two leagues diftant. At ten we beheld a fail to the fouth-eaft, accompanied by a fmaller veffel. Willing to be informed of their deftination, or to what country they belonged, the captain gave orders to tack, and fire a gun to leewards The fignal was immediately anfwered by the fmaller veffel, which hoifted our company's colours. They fpoke us foon after twelve, and we had the fatisfaction of being informed that they were fitted out by our owners from London. The fhip's name was the Prince of Wales, Captain Collinett ; and that of the floop, the Princefs Royal, Captain Duncan.

Thefe veffels, which left England in September 1786, had fettled a factory at Staten's Ifland, to collect oil and feal fkins, and had proceeded from thence to King George's Sound, without touching any where. They had been almoft a month in King George's Sound, but had traded very little; a fhip called the Imperial Eagle, Captain Berkeley, having got there before them.

The information we received from these veffels, convinced us that no advantage could be expected by our making King George's Sound ; and they were informed by us, that at Prince William's Sound, their next deftination, no encouragement could be expected.

The two captains, and another gentleman from on board the Prince of Wales, came on board us, where they continued all night ; and in the morning of the 9th, we parted company, faluting our brother traders with three hearty cheers.

As we are finally quitting the American coaft, it may not be impertinent to obferve, that, though we have made fome difcoveries on this coaft, in addition to what have been already made, yet fo imperfectly is it at prefent known, that it is even doubted whether we have yet feen the main land. That the coaft abounds with iflands is certain, but whether any of the land we have been near is really the continent, future navigators muft determine.

The animals of this country may be known by the fkins we purchafed, and we have feen dogs among the Haida: though they appear to be of the wolf kind, they are docile, and perfectly obedient.

The people are, In general, ftraight, well proportioned, and of the middle ftature; but thin and lean : they have alfo fmall eyes, and prominent cheek bones. Should thefe Haida wafh their faces, their complexions would be but little darker than thofe of the Europeans. The hair of thefe people is long and black, and is capable of being rendered very ornamental, but they rub into it fuch quantities of greafe and red oker, as to make it appear extremely difgufting, though it by that means becomes a fafer afylum for the vermin. Some of the women, however, keep their hair in decent order, and tye it in a kind of club on the neck.

They have not much variety in their drefs. The coats of the men confift of fkins, made in various forms, but frequently in the fhape of a waggoner's frock and fome of them have a piece of fur faftened round the waift. The women wear an under garment of fine tanned leather, extending from the neck almoft to the ancle. Over this is tied round the waift a kind of apron of the fame materials. Their upper covering refembles that which the men wear, and is alfo compofed of tanned leather. They refufe to wear furs, and their reafons for it fhew that they are not totally without delicacy. Should their garments be worth purchafing, which would certainly be the cafe if they were cloathed in valuable furs, their hufbands would ftrip them at a moment's warning, whenever they could find a purchafer for them.

The Haida are much delighted with mafks, and caps of various kinds, which are decorated with the painted figures of beafts, birds, fifhes. etc. Some of their carvings in wood have been fhewn us, that were not deftitute of merit.

In their finging, they are extremely exact in beating time, either with their hands or paddles ; and to affift: their vocal exertions, the chief fhakes a kind of rattle with great glee, and accompanies his inftrument with ridiculous grimaces and gefticulations.

Thefe Haida manufacture a kind of blanket, compofed of the wool or hair of beafts ; they are variegated, and appear not to be woven, but to be formed entirely by the hand ; they are, however, very neat, and not a little prized among them.

Exclufive of their common habits, they have large war-coats, made of the elk-fkin, tanned and doubled. For weapons they have fpears fixed to a long pole, and a fhort dagger, ufually fheathed in leather, and tied round the body.

Dried fifh is their principal winter food, though in their hunting feafons, they have great variety ; but broiled feal affords them the moft luxurious repaft.

Barbarous and uncultivated as thefe poor creatures are, they are not ignorant of gaming. One of them, at Port Mulgrave, loft a knife and feveral toes, in a very fhort time, at a game played with fifty-two fmall pieces of wood, marked in different places with red paint. Though we could not comprehend the principle of the game, we obferved that the excellence of it confided in a judicious arrangement of the feveral fticks or men.

Having thus given a fketch of the manners of the inhabitants on this dreary coaft, I fhall refume my narrative.

From the 9th to the 12th of Auguft, we had a frefh breeze at north-weft ; and from that time to the 15th, alternately calms and light variable winds. On the 16th we had a frefh breeze from north north-weft. .

In the morning of the fccond of September, we fteered due weft, in order to make Owyhee, which we faw early in the morning of the 5th, bearing from fouth fouth-weft. []

source: cihm_33255.pdf