Eagle-Halibut Pole

About this object


The Eagle-Halibut pole of Laay’ (From the House of Sim’oogit Laay, Lax-w’isax clan of Eagle tribe) was first raised at the Nisga’a village of Gwinwok, on the Nass River. During a severe flood around 1900, the pole was washed downriver. Eventually it was re-erected at Git'iks. Barbeau wrote, "Oyai, the outstanding craftsman of the Wolf clan at the canyon of the Nass, took charge of the carving. As Peter Calder stated in 1947 that it was the work of Charlie Morrison (Tsem'akengahlyaen) of Gitlarhdamks and of the Gisransnat group, it may be assumed that he was responsible for at least part of it" (1950: 64:I:53). According to Barbeau, the pole was also called "Fin of the Shark (Naekem-kaet)". In 1947 Barbeau arranged for the pole to be purchased for UBC. In 1975 it was restored by conservator Roy Waterman, and Nisga’a artist Norman Tait. Tait said: "This pole is a self-portrait of Oyea... He's wearing a shaman's bear claw headdress, and he's holding his powers in the box on top." The pole was raised in the Great Hall in September 1976. The long 'shark fin' piece, that was originally the top of the pole, was not raised with the pole (in storage).

Cultural context

status; memorial

Iconographic meaning

Crests belong to the family of the person in whose honour the pole was raised. This pole is from the Eagle clan. Main pole: the beaver has a flaming stick in its mouth - a clan crest. There's also a supernatural whale which Oyei adopted as his own crest - the whale had four faces normally (three here) and came down the Nass River grinning as it swam on its back. The fish with the human coming out of its mouth is a family crest referring to the story of the first man on the Nass River who came from Alaska searching for a new land and was swallowed by a great halibut who later disgorged him on the beach. The medicine man is a self-portrait of the medicine man who carved the pole and the box represents his medicine box. Norman Tait said his grandfather told him the medicine man "... brought himself back to life through his medicine box." Crest figures from top to bottom: Xsgaak (Eagle, now missing), K’aat (Shark), with faces above (7-metre-long fin--A50020 b), Human face surmounted by four cylinders, Ts’imilx (Beaver), Ansgiy’st (Burial box), Hagwi’look’am ts’im-aks (Man Underneath), Naxnogam txux hlok’gwit Gunas (Spirit-Halibut swallowing Gunas).

Physical description

"Fin of the Shark" (Barbeau); upper section of the Eagle-Halibut memorial pole. Unpainted wood.