Eagle-Halibut Pole

About this object

Narrative

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 Gitiks. The pole was purchased for the Museum of Anthropology in 1947, and partially restored in 1975 by conservator Roy Waterman, with the assistance of Nisga’a artist Norman Tait. Tait said: "This pole is a self-portrait of Oyea [or Oyei]... He's wearing a shaman's bear claw headdress, and he's holding his powers in the box on top." The carved and decorated chest that was originally part of the pole had become separated, and is now in the collection of the Canadian Museum of History, in Gatineau, Quebec. The tall shark fin piece that was once on top of the pole has been in storage since 1976. 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)".

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. 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 in storage), 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

Memorial pole, carved in shallow and deep relief. From the top down: shark with three human faces above; four circular rings are superimposed above a human head; beaver with a stick in its mouth; a (replacement) box, between the arms of a medicine man on whose chest is a supernatural halibut. In the mouth of the halibut is a human figure. The figure is wearing a headdress with four horn-like projections.