Cartouche by Bill Reid

Tanu is situated on a sizable island, also named Tanu, opposite Kunga Island in Laskeek Bay. The name T’anu’ refers to a type of sea grass found near the village. Another name was “Klue’s village” (alternately spelled Kloo, Klew, Clew, Cloo) after Xe-u (which means “Southeast”) the original town chief and head of Those Born at Skedans, the ruling family of Tanu. The village arrangement is unusual, in that it faces two beaches divided by a rocky shoal. The house row makes a relatively sharp angle at the rocks, so that the whole village cannot be encompassed by any one photograph. Dawson’s 1878 photograph shows only the southwest section of the village.

John Work of the Hudson's Bay Company noted forty houses and 545 inhabitants to this town in about 1840, while anthropologist Swanton’s informants in 1898 recalled only twenty-six houses. Evidence of twenty-five house sites was found by the National Museum of Man survey in 1968. Judge Swan, who visited Tanu in 1883, commented that there were then thirty-one mortuary columns and fifteen mortuary houses in the village.

The first settlers at Tanu were of two closely aligned Eagle lineages, Those Born at Skedans and the Djigua Town People, who came from Cumshewa Inlet by way of Chicken Hawk Town on Lyell Island. According to Swanton’s informants, eleven chiefs had ruled at Tanu by the time the village was abandoned, which would suggest that based on the average reign of 10-15 years recorded for the Skidegate chiefs, the village had been in existence for between 110 and 165 years prior to 1900, when the last chief, Gitkun, was known to have been living. Thus, Tanu probably does not date from earlier than 1735, in the proto-historic period when movement of people on the Islands appears to have peaked in response to the first shock waves of contact reaching the periphery of the Northwest Coast.

The first head chief of Tanu was of Those Born at Skedans, but his death, at the hands of a member of the Raven lineage, Those Born at Qadago Creek, led to a period of rule by chiefs of the sister lineage of Eagles, the Djigua Town People. They provided four chiefs in a row before the original lineage line was re-established by a new nephew of the original chief, who had grown up at Skedans. All of the remaining chiefs until the town was abandoned were drawn from the ranks of Those Born at Skedans.

Panoramic Photograph by G.M. Dawson, ca. 1878.

Textual Information for this Page: G.F. MacDonald, 1983; J. Swanton, 1909.
Cartouche Artwork: Bill Reid.