Painted wood model of the Bear or Goose House

Haida, AD 1890s
From Kayang, British Columbia, North America

This model was carved for The British Museum in the 1890s by John Gwaytihl (about 1820-1912). The actual house had been abandoned twenty to forty years earlier, after a decline in the population due to epidemics of disease introduced by Europeans.

Such a house was both a practical dwelling and the spiritual centre for the lineage. This house is the ancestral home of a lineage of the Eagle moiety. This was symbolized particularly by the pole carved at the entrance of the house.

Such poles are misleadingly called 'totem' poles, even though they have nothing to do with totems, the guardian spirits from the natural world, obtained by individuals during spirit quests in the Algonquian-speaking north-east of the continent.

This pole recounts the story of a hunter who brought in a whale, after complaints from his mother-in-law about his abilities. This scene is shown in the middle of the pole. The British Museum later purchased the original pole from Chief Wiyah of Mussett. It now stands on the East Staircase.

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More information


J.C.H. King, First peoples, first contacts: (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)


Height: 85.000 cm

Museum number

AOA 1898.10-20.1



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