Screened by the fog, a Tlingit war party in the early nineteenth century approaches an enemy village. The warriors paddle silently, steering their great war canoes close to the steep shore. The canoes are the ancient battle craft, with upright, broad and flaring bows, apparently designed as a shield against arrows. These high bows were said to be removeable for ease in travelling. Their details seem to be exaggerations of classic Nootkan canoe design, but these war canoes were used in the early historic period all along the coast, from Vancouver Island to Alaska. They are known today only from a few drawings and paintings and a handful of Native models. The Tlingit name of this canoe type was kookh-da-gi-gin-yakw. The Kwakwaka'wakw term was muhnka, and it is by this name that the archaic war canoe is best known today.
Standing in the bow of the lead canoe is a warrior armed with a flintlock trade musket and steel dagger, the pommel of which is in the form of a raven's head. Raven's image, a crest derived from lineage myths, appears on his canoe and paddles, his heavy hide armour and his carved helmet with its trailing plume of human hair. All the warriors are armed with daggers or spears and wear armour, some of it reinforced with rows of Chinese coins.
A pair of ravens wheel and call in the fog above the canoes. They are the counterparts in nature of the mythical culture hero Raven, the source of the images below. All along the Northwest Coast there was the belief that ravens spoke a language that could be understood by those given that power, and could foretell victory or danger. Perhaps these are off to tell the unsuspecting village of the warriors' approach.
American Indian Art Magazine, vol.19, no.1, p.49