Monumental Art of Gitwangak

Language Group or Village

Photograph by H.I Smith, ca. 1926.

1. Man-in-the-Copper-Shield pole

The Man-in-the-Copper-Shield pole, which was erected in memory of Kwawdzebax around 1918. The pole belonged to the house of Thaku or Halaist of the Frog-Raven phratry, and was carved by Hagbegwatu for the Fireweed phratry of Gitsegukla.

Originally, the pole was painted in commercial paint with white on the shaft, pale blue for the figures, black eyes and red for the nostrils. The pole itself was carved relatively crudely with large adze marks.
 
At the top of the pole is the Man-in-the-Copper-Shield, who is wearing a woven cedar bark hat and has his hands on his knees. There is a large uncarved space, followed by another Man-in-the-Copper-Shield, who has his hands folded across his abdomen. At the bottom of the pole is a Hanging-Frog and then Halfway-Out, depicted as a large human face.

Photograph by H.I. Smith, ca. 1926.

2. Hanging-Frog or Frogs-Hanging-Down pole

Hanging-Frog or Frogs-Hanging-Down pole raised by Txaphapa of the house of Lelt. The pole was carved by Githawn of Kitselas who was a member of Txaphapa’s family.
 
The pole was likely raised around the time of the Skeena River Rebellion in 1887 with the earliest known photograph being taken in 1899 by J. O’Dwyer.
 
At the top of the pole is the Person-of-the-Lake, a human figure who rose from the lake and who is holding the pole on which the frogs climb. Next is Copper-Smell, which is depicted as the steel implement used by the French Canadian pioneers to strike-a-fire. Next is the bird Mawdzeks with its wings folded over its body, the Hanging-Frog, another Mawdzeks and then six small frogs hanging down. Then there is the Person-of-the-Doorway-Post who wears a woven cedar-bark headpiece and holds a cedar-bark rope in his hands. At the bottom of the pole is the Beaver and then the Chief-of-Frogs, who is squatting at the bottom of the pole to designate the pole as belonging to the Frog-Raven phratry.

Photograph by Adelaide de Menil, ca. 1967-68.

3. Man-in-the-Copper-Shield II pole

Man-in-the-Copper-Shield II pole raised by Chief Haku in memory of a former Chief of the same name.
 
At the top of the pole is Chief Haku, holding a small frog in his hands. Next is a large frog, a Man-in-the-Copper-Shield and then Halfway-Out. At the bottom of the pole is a large Hanging-Frog and then another Halfway-Out.
 
There is a possibility that the two Halfway-Out figures are actually representations of family members of Haku, Legemgenex and Kwohamon.

Photographer unknown, 1920.

4. Man-Cut-in-Half pole

Man-Cut-in-Half or Supernatural-Frog pole that was originally an entry pole to the house of Haku, and was erected around 1845. This was likely one of the earliest poles raised at the present-day village of Gitwangak after Taawdzep was abandoned.
 
At the top of the pole is the Supernatural-Frog, followed by Man-Cut-in-Half and then the Frog, which has its head facing up between the arms of the Man-Cut-in-Half.

Photograph by G. MacDonald, 2008.

5. Pole-of-the-Mountain-Lion pole

Pole-of-the-Mountain-Lion raised by Chief Arhteeh in memory of Chief Hlawts.
 
At the top of the pole is a separately-carved horizontal Mountain-Lion that is attached to the pole by the vertical tail of a small Wolf. Next is an Ensnared-Bear, another Wolf, and another Ensnared-Bear which has an opening in its body that was a ceremonial doorway to a feast house.
 
The pole was raised around 1865, and used as a house entry pole for ceremonial occasions. It was reinforced around 1885 and could no longer be used for this purpose. The pole itself and the separately carved Mountain-Lion were carved by two different individuals.

6. Ensnared-Bear pole

The Ensnared-Bear pole was erected by Chief Arhteeh ca. 1875.

At the top of the pole is a wolf, which was carved separately and then attached to the pole. Next are the mythical ancestors Xpisunt who is holding her two bear children and is sitting on a chest. Then there is a Wolf, an Ensnared-Bear, another Wolf and then another Ensnared-Bear at the bottom.

Detail of top of pole by Wilson Duff, year unknown.
Photograph by G.T. Emmons, 1910
Photograph by G. MacDonald, 2008.
Photograph by G. MacDonald, 2008.

7. Pole-of-the-Wolf pole

Pole-of-the-Wolf of Chief Arhteeh, raised in memory of Liginehle of the house of Sqayen of the Eagle phratry. The earliest photograph of the pole by J. O’Dwyer shows the pole looking slightly weathered in 1899.
 
At the top of the pole is the Wolf, with its long tail extending up along the pole. Next is an Ensnared-Bear, followed by Bear-Cubs, and at the bottom is the Bear-Mother, Xpisunt, the mythic ancestress who is holding a bear cub in her arms.

8. Bear's-Den or Half-Bear pole

The Bear’s-Den or Half-Bear pole erected by Chief Sqayen. This pole was erected in memory of Chief Liginehle of the house of Sqayen, and was probably erected no later than 1895.

At the top of the pole sits an Eagle with the White-Marten in its talons. Next is the Half-Bear or Bear’s-Den-Person, depicted in a human-like form with a hole in the centre of the abdomen, which represents the entrance to the bear’s den. Then there is another Eagle, followed by the Beaver with a cottonwood stick, a second Half-Bear or Bear’s-Den-Person (depicted with only two fingers), then a Split-Beaver, and at the bottom of the pole is possibly a third Half-Bear or Bear’s-Den-Person or a representation of a chief.

Photograph by G. MacDonald, 2008.
Photograph by unknown photographer, 1978.

9. Bear's-Den or Bear's-Den-Person pole

The Bear’s-Den or Bear’s-Den-Person pole of Chief Sqayen that was erected in memory of Liginehle. The pole was likely raised before 1840 at Taawdzep Fort, and then was relocated to the present-day village where it would remain until its destruction in 1969. The pole had undergone many restorations over the years, but was burned by a restoration worker who decided the pole was beyond repair.

Photo on Government of BC, 1947.
Photo by G.T. Emmons, 1910.

Originally, at the top of the pole sat a separately carved Eagle, which disappeared around 1910. Next are two Bear’s-Den  or Bear’s-Den-Person who are depicted in human-like forms with a hole in the centre of the abdomen that represents the opening to the bear’s den. The top figure has his hands held up on the chest and his tongue protruding from his mouth, while the second figure has bared teeth, hands also raised to the chest, but with palms facing out. At the base of the pole is a Split-Eagle with it’s wings draping down over each side of the ceremonial doorway.

10. Dog-Salmon pole

Dog-Salmon pole raised by Chief Tewalas. The pole was erected in memory of a former Chief Tewalas of the Eagle phratry around 1860.

At the top of the pole is the Person-with-the-Fish-Spear, who stands on the tail of the Dog-Salmon and holds a spear for fishing. Below the Dog-Salmon is a Split-Person, who is holding on to the fin of the second Dog-Salmon. At the base of the pole, is a second Split-Person who is being swallowed by the lower Dog-Salmon.

By 1925, the pole was leaning and was refurbished with a new central support post and then re-erected the following year in its original position on the riverbank.

 

Photograph of entire pole by C.M. Barbeau, ca. 1923.
Photograph by C.M. Barbeau, ca. 1923.
Photograph by H.I. Smith, 1926.

11. On-Top-Sits-the-Squirrel pole

On-Top-Sits-the-Squirrel pole was raised by Chief Tewalas of the Eagle phratry shortly after 1900. The pole was raised in memory of a predecessor of the same name. The pole was carved by Gwinuu of the Frog-Raven phratry of Kitwancool.

 

 

At the top of the pole sits the Squirrel, followed by a blank section, and then a human figure who holds a Marten in his hands. Next is the Eagle’s-Nest or the Small-Eagle-on-Beams, followed by a Starfish and at the base, a human figure with starfish on his hands, which represents Kweenu’s coat of arms.

The bottom three figures of the pole were removed in around the 1940’s due to the poor condition of that section of the pole. The top section was saved and was then relocated to the centre of the village.

Photograph by C.M. Barbeau, 1915.

12. Halibut or Ikuk pole

Halibut or Ikuk pole that was erected by Chief Semedik. The pole was erected around 1880 in memory of Chief Qawq.

 
At the top of the pole is the Person-with-Drum, and then a Split-Person or Half-Man who merges with a Bear’s-Den figure, who is depicted as a human-like figure with a hole in the centre of his stomach that represents the entrance to the bear’s den. Next is the Halibut Crest shown as two halibuts hanging from each hand. Next is a Split-Eagle, and then again Person-with-Drum at the base of the pole.

Detail of the crushed warriors. Photographer and year unknown.

13. Man-Crushing-Log pole

Man-Crushing-Log pole raised by Chief Hlengwah (Jim Laganitz) of the Frog-Raven phratry. The pole was raised in honour of Xstamgemgipik.

The pole was carved by Yaxyaq from the Frog-Raven phratry of Kitwancool. According to H.I. Smith, the pole “stood about a hundred feet further up stream close to the river bank, and that it was cut down about 1890 to save it from being undermined by the river” (1926). After it was cut down, the pole underwent conservation, but was never re-erected. The 60 foot pole was eventually cut into several parts, from which only one piece remains.

At the top of the pole are three copies of the Whole-Being, Whole-Man or All-One-Person all posed slightly different. The fourth figure is Halfway-Out, a large human face. Next are six small figures representing the Kitimat warriors who were defeated at Taawdzep fort. At the bottom of the pole are two Whole-Beings. The top Whole-Being is seated with arms folded horizontally across his stomach and then the bottom with hands together over the lap.

This is one of the few full-length views of the pole following its restoration. Photo by W. Duff, ca. 1970.


14. Drum-Hangs-On

Drum-Hangs-On was raised by Chief Semedik of the Eagle phratry. The pole was originally raised in 1907 or 1908 in memory of Sqayen. The pole was carved by Gakl of the Frog-Raven phratry from Kitwancool. At the top of the pole is an Eagle, followed by the Claw-Marks-of-the-Bear, which are incised along the top section of the pole. Next is an engraved Halibut that is followed by a Split-Eagle. At the base of the pole is a Bear’s-Den-Person, a human figure with a hole in the centre of the body to represent the opening to the bear’s den, and then a Drum or Drum-Person that is attached to the right side of the pole.

Photograph on right by H.I. Smith, 1924.
Photograph on left by C.M. Barbeau, ca. 1923.


15. Thunderbird or Giludal pole of Senantus and Tawalih

Thunderbird or Giludal pole of Senantus and Tawalih. The pole was erected in memory of Chief Halus around 1907.

At the top of the pole is a Thunderbird or Giludal, that is followed by two large Frogs or Flying-Frogs one after the other that are facing upwards. At the base of the pole is a Whole-Being or Whole-Person.

Photograph on the left by G. MacDonald, 2008.
Photograph on right by C.M. Barbeau, 1923.
Photograph by G.T. Emmons, 1910.

16. Whereon-Climb-the-Frogs pole of Lelt and Gibumandaw

This pole was erected around 1900 in memory of Taxtsux. The pole was carved by Kwawdzebax of the Frog-Raven phratry.
 
At the top of the pole is an Eagle or Mawdzeks, with a Frog facing upwards on its body. Next is Copper-Smell depicted in the shape of a human or Person-of-the-Lake who is holding two small animals, possibly White-Groundhogs. Then there is a large Climbing-Frog, a canoe with three figures (Nekt, Kewok, and Lutraisu), another Climbing-Frog and then at the base of the pole is a Half-Bear.

Photograph by W. Duff, ca. 1970.

17. On-Which-Soars-Raven or Raven-Sailing-through-the-Air pole

On-Which-Soars-Raven or Raven-Sailing-through-the-Air pole raised by Chief Hlengwah of the Frog-Raven phratry. The pole was raised in 1919 in memory of Chief Axgawt. The 35 foot long pole was carved by Hagbegwatu of the Fireweed phratry of Gitwangak. 
This pole was the last to be erected prior to the restoration project of 1924 through 1926.
 
At the top of the pole is On-Which-Soars-Raven or Raven-Sailing-through-the-Air, followed by a large blank section. At the base of the pole is Chief Axgawt, who is wearing rings of red cedar bark on its head and neck, and Nekt’s grizzly-bear armour.

Photograph by G.T. Emmons, 1910.

18. Monument of the Mountain Lion of Chief Axti.

This is a carving of a Mountain-Lion which was placed on a wooden platform in the centre of Gitwangak. The monument was carved by Hlengwah (Jim Laganitz) of the Frog-Raven phratry of Gitwangak. The Wolf phratry, under supervision of Charles Derrick, erected this monument around 1905 in memory of Chief Axti.
 
Monuments similar to this one are also found in Kitselas, Kispiox and Gitsegukla, and sometimes contain grave boxes, although there is no indication of this with the Monument of the Mountain Lion.

Photograph by H.I. Smith, 1926.

19. Man-Crushing-Log or Tongue-Licked (Nekt) II pole

Man-Crushing-Log or Tongue-Licked (Nekt) II pole raised by Chief Hlengwah (Jim Laganitz) shortly before 1905. The pole was in memory of his uncle, a previous Hlengwah. The pole was carved by Tom Campbell of the Frog-Raven phratry of Hazelton.
 
At the top of the pole is the trap door of Taawdzep, followed by the Thunderbird (Giludal), and then Nekt or Tongue-Licked shown in his grizzly bear armour. The plain section of the pole represents the Man-Crushing Log, and is followed by two defeated Kitimat warriors that are lying horizontally across the pole. At the base of the pole is a Whole-Being, and then a Flying-Frog.

20. A section of the original Tongue-Licked (Nekt) pole

A section of the original Tongue-Licked (Nekt) pole that was raised by Chief Hlengwah in front of his house. 

Nekt, the bottom figure on this pole, is the only well-documented figure as the majority of the pole had fallen before 1900. It was the original pole depicting the warrior Nekt wearing his grizzly-bear armour.

 

On the left, the pole is shown leaning against a house for support. Photographer and year unknown.
On the right, the pole is shown in the Grand Hall of the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Photograph by G. MacDonald, ca. 1988.

At one point, Nekt had eyes inlaid with mirrors or a metal. This pole is one of the rare examples of a pole that was preserved by the family rather than letting it fall and decay, which was customary.

21. Third generation of Tongue-Licked (Nekt) that was raised during the 1942 potlatch.

At the top of the pole sits the Giludal bird. There is a large blank space of pole, followed by four crushed warriors, and then Nekt with both human and bear characteristics. At the base of the pole appears to be a Frog.

Photograph by W. Duff, ca. 1970.

 

22-25. The House of Hlengwah

Chief Hlengwah (Jim Laganitz), who was the head Chief of the Frog-Raven's at the Kitwanga fortress, owned the last traditional-style house at Gitwangak. The house, which was erected around 1885, has four corner posts that were carved with crests associated with the warrior Nekt and the Kitwanga fortress.

*Refer to pole #17. On-Which-Raven-Soars for information on the pole in front of Hlengwah's house.

Houseposts at the rear of Hlengwah's house. Photograph by Viola Garfield, 1935.

22. Putting-a-Soul-on-Oneself or Soul-Put-On housepost of Hlengwah.

Located on the left at the back of the house is the crest Putting-a-Soul-on-Oneself. The crest depicts a man who is wearing a shaman’s crown of grizzly-bear claws. The man is holding his own spirit in his hands and he tries to put it in himself.

The post was carved by Chief Gwaslam of the Wolf phratry of Gitanyow.

23. The Frog housepost of Hlengwah.

Located on the right at the back of the house is a frog, representing the Frog-Raven phratry. The post displays both the light and dark spots associated with the crest.

The post was carved by Chief Gwaslam of the Wolf phratry of Gitanyow.

Houseposts at the front of Hlengwah's house. Photographer unknown, ca. 1930.

24. Whole-Being housepost of Hlengwah.

Located on the left at the front of the house, the pole depicts a crest that most likely originated on the Nass.

The post was carved by Chief Gwaslam of the Wolf phratry of Gitanyow.

25. Kitimat Warrior housepost of Hlengwah.

Located on the right at the front of the house is one of the warriors who was killed by the warrior Nekt. The warrior wears a cone-shaped basket hat (Made-of-Sticks) typical of those worn on the seacoast.
 
The post was carved by Chief Gwaslam of the Wolf phratry of Gitanyow.


Hlengwah's Four Houseposts. Photographs by H.I. Smith, 1926.

Photographer and date unknown.

26. Whereon-Climb-Frogs II

This new version of the pole was raised in front of Mrs. Jackson’s house around 1940. This pole was destroyed by a fire in the 1950s.
 
At the top of the pole sits a Chief, possibly the warrior Nekt. There is a large blank section, followed by the Man-in-the-Copper-Shield and then an Eagle (Mawdzeks). Next there is a small canoe with the figures of Nekt, Kewok, and Lutraisu. At the bottom is a Frog, and then a Half-Bear.

27. Bear-Mother pole that likely belonged to the family of Hlawts of the Wolf phratry.

A tall and relatively plain pole that originally had a small, separately carved bear at the top, a second small separately carved bear cub attached towards the bottom of the pole above the head of the Bear-Mother, who sits at the base.

 The long facial proportions and shallow carved limbs are characteristic of the 1940s, the period it was believed to have been carved.

Photographs by G. MacDonald, 2008.
Only known photograph of the Bear's-Den pole while it was standing. Photograph by J. O'Dwyer, 1899.

28. Bear’s-Den pole.
 
At the top of the pole stands a human figure, most likely Chief Qawq. The rest of the pole was plain, with exception to the two small holes towards the base of the pole that represented the Bear’s-Den.

 

29. Monument of the Crab

This crest was adopted by Chief Haimas following a rivalry with Chief Legaic of Port Simpson. It is said that Legaic was giving a feast to which a young Haimas was late arriving for. Haimas was late as he was on the beach collecting crabs. When Haimas had his turn to feast Legaic, he served crab shells filled with mountain goat fat, which was considered the richest of all foods. During this feast Haimas regained his status with the Coast Tsimshians.
 
The legs of this crab were likely able to be controlled by cords.

Photograph by H.I Smith, 1926.
Photograph by C.M. Barbeau, 1924.

30. Monument to Kitwancool Jim (Kamalmuk)

This pyramidal monument is the grave house of Kitwancool Jim, who was an important figure in the Skeena River Rebellion of 1886. He died in 1886 after being shot.

Photograph by Tourism BC, date unknown.

31. Monument to John Laganitz

A six foot tall carved figure in memory of John Laganitz of the Wolf phratry of Kitwancool. The figure is holding an eagle in his hands and is wearing a dance apron.
 
The carving stands in the Gitwangak cemetery, and the inscription reads: "John Laknitz. Dead, Aug. 5, 1926." The wall behind is part of an enclosure around the graves of John Laganitz and his family members.

Photographer and year unknown.

32. Monument to Ne-tzees-an-awask, Susan Ne-Yas-ha-lon-passt and Amelia Ne-aweh.

A carving of the Supernatural Grizzly Bear of the Skeena River, Medik. The creature has both the features of a grizzly bear and the two dorsal fins of the Supernatural Killer Whale.
 
This monument is quite similar to one at Gitsegukla that is also of Medik.

Photograph by C.M. Barbeau, 1923.

33. Monument of the Flying Frog

A marble grave marker in honour of Wudahayets.
 
The monument was carved in Vancouver or Victoria based on a helmet, which itself was based on the Flying-Frog crest of Nekt.
 
It was common to send wooden crest figures to monument works to have them translated into marble. This is an example of a piece of work that was very true to the original wooden piece.

Textual information for this page: Barbeau, 1929; MacDonald, 1984.

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