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Midi playing: Sadness

I did this essay when I was a sophmore in high school. I'm not pretending to be an expert on this tribe, it was just a report I had to do to pass the class. We were given a list of tribes of which to study. I wanted to do the Mayan or Incan tribes, but someone beat me to it. This tribe was all that was left. I did make an A on the report. I hope you find it somewhat informative.

The Kwakiutl, pronounced Kwah-kee-oo-tel, or Kwah-kee-olth, are American Indians that lived in and around Vancouver Island and on the mainland coast of British Columbia. The language of the tribe was Wakashan. The Kwakiutl also inhabited the coast in parts of Alaska, Washington, and Oregon. But, most are said to be in Canada. In the area, there are many resources in which the tribe uses wisely and have made essential for life.


The area of the Kwakiutl was great for fishing, since they had deep, cold, murky waters. They probably traveled a short distance for hunting on dry land. They hunted with a bow and arrow. With them, they hunted black bears, grizzly bears, and wolves. But, most of the tribe depended on the fishing for food and supplies for living.

They had a variety and an abundance of fish and other sea foods, like mammals: porposes, seals, sea lions, sea otters, whales, sea birds and other sea fowl. Also, they ate mullosks: clams, muscles, oysters, limpets, aldone, crabs, octobus, squid and sea urchins. Eggs from sea gulls and puffins also made delightful meals for them. The most important food was five species of Pacific salmon. Salmon was the staple food.

Other important fish were: eulachon {oo-la-ken}, herring smelt, cod, rockfish, lingcod, halinat, eel, sturgeon, dogfish, and many other species. None of these were as valued as eulachon, also called candlefish. The reason for this is because its content in fat was very high. So high, in fact, that if a whick were placed in the mouth of one and lit, it would burn like a candle. The oil, also called grease, of the candlefish was a frequent part of Kwakiutl meals. It was served in small bowls and used to dip other food into.


The Kwakiutl had a certain way to dress. Mats for floors were also used as clothing. During cold, wet, weather, warm and water resistant clothing was manditory. The most common of the dress was a garment like a cedar bark cape or cloak, or blanket. The wearer had to wrap this bit of clothing around his or her body. There were many varieties of doing this, and they were then tied or pinned shut. Cedar bark was sometimes woven together with wool of a mountain goat. Also, the tribe raised wooly dogs for the purpose of the thick coats. The clothing was then rubbed in fish oil, to increase water resistance.

During the summer, the Kwakiutl wore few clothes. Men and boys wore beachcloth or nothing at all. Women wore a short skirt only. During special occasions, they would wear fancy moccosins for ceremonial dress. But, most of the time, they just went barefoot.


Because the Kwakiutl have access to fish and their body oils, the tribe was an important part of the trade network amongst other tribes. They also hunted, trapping animals for their meat and fur. Such creatures were usually otters, weasels, mink, marmonts, and squirrels which were caught in baited traps. With the furs, women could make clothes and jewelery. And with meat, they obviously fed themselves.

Religion and Objects of Power

The Kwakiutl believed that spirits came to earth each winter, dwelt amongst humans, and passed on their powers to a young man or woman. Then, members of a secret society imitated the beings. This was called the Winter Ceremonials. These dancers and performers cherished and enacted what was thought to guarantee the tribe's spiritual renewal and economic prosperity.

Performers in the Winter Ceremonials were filled with magnificent stage. They used magic, trickery, and effects. The impersonators would die in a viscious bloody fashion, then be brought back to life. Statues and objects could talk during these ceremonies. Magical objects would fly from place to place. And they would appear and disappear mysteriously.

There were many ceremonial props to help the Kwakiutl perform these ceremonies. They were mostly masks, but were also some other fine things.

A ceremonial bowl was used. It was shaped like a large spoon. The handle of which was shaped like a face. This face was of Dzonokwa. Dzonokwa was giant female monster that was said to wander the woods. She would kidnap and eat children. She would also give great wealth to some people.

A mask of a fool dancer was used too. Thid was a colorful mask with a long nose. Performers would wear them during the Cannibal dances. The long nose was an allusion of the A'lesiamk, supernaturals with long noses which were thought to grant fool dancers their power.

People imbued with the power of the Cannibal-at-the-North-End-of-the-World exhibited wild behavior. Through Winter Ceremonials, the mebers of the Cannibal Society sought to tame it. Rattles were made in the shape of human skulls and rattled by the assistance of the Cannibal Society. This act was thought to calm the spirit.

There was a mask representing the assistance of the Cannibal-at-the-North-End-of-the-World. Ho'xuhok, a crane-like creature, and two ravens. On this mask, the beak of the birds were designed to move and clack to the beat of the dancer wearing it.

One mask, a simple, subtly hued raven dramatically open to reveal the face of another being. This being was called the Colored Raven of the Sea. It innitiates the Cannibal Society would often become wild at the sight of it. The reason being is that it was associated with the Cannibal-at-the-North-End-of-the-World.

There was a mask representing Sisuitl, an assistant of a female warrior named Tooquid. Sisiutl was a snake-like being, having serpents' heads at both ends of her body, and a human's head in the center.

Another object was a feast bowl. It was shaped oddly like a two-headed wolf. Each held a Copper in its teeth. The Copper was very important to the tribe. The most important of all ceremonial objects.

There was also an oddly shaped mask of two octopus heads on top of one another. The wearer would manipulate strings, which were virtually invisable in the dark, and would animate the tenticles and the mouth of the smaller head.

The last of the ceremonial objects were the wooden puppets. The puppet was depicted as a ghost dancer and two children. These objects were thought to bring life to the dead and were associated with Tooquid. The puppets were manipulated during the dance to signify her multiworldly powers.


Summer villaiges were built near prime fishing spots. This was both along the coast and up river. It was composed of small wooden cabins for temporary use. They were rectangular with long, sloping, or flat roof.

Winter villaiges were built in sheltered locations that offered protection from high winter tides and fierce storms from the Pacific Ocean.

These villaiges consisted of large houses, sometimes elevated on stilts to escape tides. But all homes had doorways facing the beach and ocean.

In steep areas, platforms were built to support the homes. Boardwalks were layed around the entire villaige, in front of houses.

The wooden winter homes were made first by frames. Building them took a lot of cooperative efforts. The houses were around 10ft wide, 100ft long and 20ft high. Three posts were put up in the front of the home, three in the center and three in the back. Heavy horizontal beams ran across the axis. Smaller beams ran perpendicular. Frame rafters lashed to beams overlapped with planks and shingles. Walls and roof were structurally separate and could be removed to allow light and ventilation into the home.


The statues of the home resident's were signified as totem poles, a cedar pole with decorative carvings. Also, the Kwakiutl made jewelery. As the creatures were hunted and trapped and shells were brought from the beaches, they were turned into various pieces of jewelery. Nearly everyone wore ear pendants, or ear ring and nose rings made of sea shell. Some married women wore a lip plug, called a labret. This was made from wood, bone or shell. It was inserted into a hole under the lower lip. Necklaces were popular, and women used furs to make bracelets and anklets for themselves.

Roles of Women

As men spent most of their time hunting, fishing, trapping, building canoes and homes, the women did their thing. Chances are, they stayed home in the villaige and watched children, made jewelery, clothes, and prepared food. From my research, I didn't find much about women taking a lot of action in this tribe, so I assume they didn't take part in the major actions in the tribe that men saw to.

Family Organization

One thing families did was, when they had a baby they had a baby-naming ceremony. The families all lived together in a communal dwelling, instead of a single-family housing. The chief of the tribe pretty much ran things, but in family, the men hunted, built homes and canoes, they fished, and built ceremonial props. Women did what women usually do. They cooked, had children, and made clothing.

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