Polynesian objects from early European exploration, £19.99
Chert knife lashed to a wooden handle
Yurok, 18th century
From California, North America
This knife was probably used by the Yurok of northern California, especially for the preparation of salmon, both for broiling and preservation by smoking.
The Yurok and Karuk live along the Klamath river. Though they speak different languages, they share a common material culture and similar legends about the origins of salmon. Many stories tell of mythological heroes, ikhareya, who inhabited the earth before the arrival of human beings and created animals. Early in the twentieth century, a Karok elder, Sweet William of Ishipishi, told the anthropologist Alfred Kroeber about a hero called Sugar Loaf Mountain. He created salmon, and kept them in a pool. When they grew he allowed them down to the ocean, and then to return upriver. He created a net to catch the salmon, and a club to kill them with. At first he had no knife and could only cook the salmon whole. Finally another creature Fish Hawk or Chukchuk decided to make a yuhirim or stone knife. He created a taharatar, a flint flaker, so that when people arrived on earth they would be able to make knives, keep them sharp, and prepare the fish properly.
The knife was probably collected on George Vancouver's voyage in 1791-95 at the village of Tsurai or Trinidad.
J.C.H. King, First peoples, first contacts: (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)