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Haida Villages
Haida Villages

     Haida Gwaii


(Page 2 of 3)
Masset (cont.)

In June 1876, Reverend William H. Collison became the first missionary to take up residence on Haida Gwaii, and his description of arriving at Masset is memorable:

We landed in front of the large lodge of the leading chief, Wiah, who was the head of the bear clan at Masset. This numbered among its members the majority of the Masset tribe. The entrance to this lodge was a small oval doorway cut through the base of a large totem, which compelled those entering to bend in order to pass through it. On entering we found ourselves on a tier or gallery of some five or six feet in width, which formed the uppermost of several similar platforms rising one above the other from the ground floor below, and running all round the house. A stairway led down from this upper platform to the basement or floor. This was the plan on which all the houses were built, the object being defence in case of attack. The small doorway prevented a surprise or rush of an enemy, while when bullets were flying and crashing through the walls from without, those within remained in safety in the excavated space on the ground floor, in the centre of which was the fireplace.

. . . Around the fire a number of Haida were seated, many of whom, both men and women, had their faces painted in red or black, while some were besmeared with both colours. The chief sat in a peculiarly shaped seat carved out of one piece of wood, a section of a tree, and placed on the first tier or platform, whilst around the fire a number of his slaves were engaged in preparing food.

A model by Charles Edenshaw of Monster House (Na Yuans), owned by Wiah, the town chief of Masset. The actual house was the largest ever built by the Haida.

Collected before 1914 by Thomas Deasey, the Indian agent at Masset.
CMC VII-B-1166 (S85-3285)
The scale of Monster House can be measured by the number of people standing in front of it and by the height of the bottom figure of a Bear on its frontal pole.

Photograph by Edward Dossetter, 1881.
CMC S71-3735

The interior of Chief Wiah's Monster House, showing the two deep house pits. There are sleeping compartments on the upper level (right). A doorway (left) that is covered with pictures from the London Illustrated News leads to Wiah's sleeping compartment, which is built outside the house itself. Most of the furniture is from the captured ship Susan Sturgis.

Photograph by Richard Maynard, 1884.

Chief Wiah welcomed Reverend Collison to his house primarily because of the missionary's friendship with Chief Stiltla, Wiah's next-door neighbour, but also because the Haida felt they were losing out to the Tsimshian, who had established a model community under Reverend William Duncan at Metlakatla. Nevertheless, Chief Wiah's greeting was cautious:

"Your words are good," he replied. "They are wise words. We have heard of the white man's wisdom. We have heard that he possesses the secret of life. He has heard the words of the Chief above. We have seen the change made in the Tsimshian. But why did you not come before? Why did the Iron People not send us the news when it was sent to the Tsimshian? The smallpox which came upon us many years ago killed many of our people. It came first from the north land, from the Iron People who came from the land where the sun sets. Again it came not many years ago, when I was a young man. It came then from the land of the Iron People where the sun rises. Our people are brave in warfare and never turn their backs on their foes, but this foe we could not see and we could not fight. Our medicine men are wise, but they could not drive away the evil spirit, and why? Because it was the sickness of the Iron People. It came from them. You have visited our camps, and you have seen many of the lodges empty. In them the campfires once burned brightly, and around them the hunters and warriors told of their deeds in the past. Now the fires have gone out and the brave men have fallen before the Iron Man's sickness. You have come too late for them!"

He paused, and again his advisers prompted him in low tones, after which he resumed: "And now another enemy has arisen. It is the spirit of the firewater. Our people have learned how to make it, and it has turned friends to foes. This also has come from the land where the sun rises. It is the bad medicine of the Yetz haada. It has weakened the hands of our hunters. They cannot shoot as their fathers did. Their eyes are not so clear. Our fathers' eyes were like the eagle's. The firewater has dimmed our sight. It came from your people. If your people had the good news of the Great Chief, the Good Spirit, why did they not send it to us first and not these evil spirits? You have come too late." With these words he sat down.

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