The British Museum's collections, £16.99
Length: 160.000 cm
Gift of Fleetwood Sandeman
AOA +228.a, b-e
Room 26: North America
Probably Haida, 19th century
From the Northwest Coast, North America
Northern British Columbia and South-east Alaska are characterized by large islands, with inlets, deep straits and fiords. Mountains made travel over land almost impossible. Seagoing canoes were vital, for subsistence, trade and for participation in ceremonial activities. They were up to about 21 m (70 ft) long, carved from red cedar.
Canoes of this archaic type, known as head canoes, were constructed perhaps until the middle of the nineteenth century. Their hulls are gracefully flared, with thin near-vertical bows and long sloping sterns. The high bows are sometimes fitted with figures representing clan crests.
Both technically and symbolically, boat models like this share much with feast dishes, which were sometimes carved in the form of canoes.
They were made using elbow adzes and straight and curved knives. This canoe is decorated with abstract designs from unidentified family crests. Canoes are given names to celebrate the status of their owner.
The construction and use of dug-out canoes has become a central feature of the revival of Haida culture under the influence of the artist Bill Reid (1920-98). Other Northwest Coast peoples, particularly the Coast Salish, continued to use dugout canoes through the twentieth century, for racing.
J.C.H. King, First peoples, first contacts: (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)