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Haida Art
Haida Art


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Much of what we know about shaman is provided by commentary on particular individuals, sometimes by traders, travellers and ethnographers, but mostly by missionaries, although the latter and shaman were mutually suspicious of each other as competitors. The most famous shaman was, without doubt, Dr. Kudé of Masset; numerous photographs taken of him in the 1880s and 1890s show that he fitted the image of a shaman perfectly. Dr. Kudé left his shamanic paraphernalia, including fish effigies he must have used for first salmon ceremonies, to the Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford University. He appears in a famous photograph of three shaman from Masset dressed in a mixture of sacred an secular clothing.

The dress of a male shaman is described by Swanton:

The dress of a shaman differed somewhat in accordance with the kind of spirit speaking through him. Usually he wore a dancing blanket (Chilkat Blanket), carried an oval rattle, and had a number of bone "head-scratchers" hung around his neck. His hair was allowed to grow long, and was never combed or cleaned. Sometimes he wore a bone stuck through it; at others he wore a cap slanting upon either side to a ridge at the top; sometimes he wore a circular fillet. He always wore a long bone through the septum of his nose.

The traditional clothing of a shaman is particularly well documented in the art of the Haida, who portrayed the shaman on the pair of posts that flanked his or her mortuary to warn off trespassers. The costume depicted is invariably a fringed apron ornamented with deer hooves or puffin beaks. A male shaman always wore his hair long, collected in a bun on top of his head, topped with a wedge-shaped or pointed hat, or a crown of grizzly bear claws. The crown of claws (or occasionally goat horns) is more usual among the Tsimshian but was frequently depicted in Haida argillite portraits of shaman, perhaps because it appealed to tourists.

VII-B-812 An argillite figure of a skaga, or shaman, with all of the accoutrements of his trade, including a nose pin as well as a bone tube in his hair knot. In his right hand, he holds a bone soul catcher, and in his left a carved rattle. He wears only a decorated apron of fringed deerskin, and his box of charms is placed conveniently before him.

Possibly acquired by James Deans in 1899 for the A. Aaronson collection.
CMC VII-B-812 (S92-4272)

VII-X-484 Front and rear views of an argillite carving of a shaman with a chief and his slave, which relates to a story about a shaman from Tanu. It was probably carved at Skidegate.

Collected at Carcross, Yukon Territory, in 1972 by Dr. Catherine McClellan.
CMC VII-X-484 (S94-6805 front, S94-6806 back)

Wooden carvings of shaman are often very naturalistic, and a dozen or two were made by Simeon Stiltla, Charles Edenshaw and possibly by others. New documentation indicates that the works once attributed to Gwaitilth are actually by Simeon Stiltla (1833-1883). The most elaborate of these pieces, such as the one collected by John R. Swanton for the American Museum of Natural History, show the dead shaman laid out, knees bent, in his mortuary house; often he is clutching in one hand a globular rattle with a human or animal face on it, and in the other a soul catcher.

VII-B-1654 This wooden figure of a shaman has a large Killer Whale fin protruding from his head. The face of the same creature is portrayed on his apron. The symmetrical position of the hands is unusual for a shaman and may indicate that he is diving or swimming in the underwater world of the Killer Whale chief.

Purchased in London, England, in 1976. 
CMC VII-B-1654 (S94-6774)

A model of a shaman's mortuary showing the placement of his body with his head resting on his box of charms. The image of the shaman is repeated on the corner posts, and a large Raven stands guard on the top. Many actual mortuaries like this were placed on small islands near the old villages, but all of them have been looted by curiosity seekers. This fine model was made by Simeon Stiltla in 1900 for John R. Swanton. American Museum of Natural History.

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