There has been a mini-flurry of new arborglyphs found in BC – well two of them – but they are extraordinarily rare. First up for this blog is the example above, which comes from Klahoose First Nation territory, roughly around Toba Inlet in the extreme NE corner of the Salish Sea (map). This human face was carved into a tree some time in the 19th century. It’s in rather stunning condition, setting aside the cut block it finds itself in. Risk of blowdown is probably why, after appropriate ceremony, it has been moved to the Klahoose offices at T’oq (Squirrel Cove). As the page describes:
The Klahoose Cultural Leader Norman Harry Sr. and a Tla’amin Cultural Leader Erik Blaney witnessed and performed a ceremony to ensure cultural protocol was observed. The heartfelt moments before the tree was harvested was both moving and surreal on that snowy winter Friday. Needless to say that the emotional event was a historical moment for those who witnessed.
I heard about this a few months ago but without permission I didn’t want to post the pictures I was kindly sent by several people. Now that the Klahoose have created a page for it, we can all see this remarkable find. It’s really moving to see the face being swallowed by the living centuries of healing lobes.
Such carved trees are rare in BC – and they transcend their general site type “Culturally Modified Tree”, about which many archaeologists express a certain weariness. There is a book on the subject by Gitxsan forester and artists Michael Blackstock entitled “Faces in the Forest: First Nations Art Created on Living Trees”. Blackstock appears to be adding to the inventory of these features!
So what are these masked trees about? Well, this no doubt varies according to place and age and ethnicity. I doubt there is a single reason why these were carved. Blackstock is quoted in this article (PDF) by Shauna McRanor:
“Everyone knows each others boundaries and [Olive Mulwain,a Gitxsan elder] says they are called ‘Anliit’iisxw’ (blazing mark or post marking boundary of a territory) . “When those responsible for drawing or carving the information are commissioned by the chiefs to “communicate ownership of important trails or territory” that are recounted in oral records- the adaawk these material objects may be considered to function in much the same way as totem poles. Mary Johnson, a Gitxsan hereditary chief of the House of Antgulilbix, has explained, through the retelling of an ancient adaawk, the relationship between oral land records, dendroglyphs, and the feast system: during a potlatch held long ago, the chiefs decided to compensate a murder victim’s house with territory that belonged to the offender’s lineage, and therefore along the adjusted boundary, a tree was incised with the matrilineal crest of the land’s new owners to manifest materially this authoritative agree- ment. Since it is important that such a reliable boundary marker endure “until the end of the Blackstock thought it conceivable that “the image would be re-carved as the original tree carving rotted,”52a practice that would resemble the preservation of a disintegrating totem pole through its replacement with an authentic copy. Thus, if, as it seems, both the controlled making and keeping of these material records are considered juridically consequential as confirmation of a transaction-that is, their physical form is required as evidence of the creation, maintenance, alteration, or termination of a legal relationship between persons-it would allow them to be classified, like totem poles, as probative archival documents of land tenure.53
But for the Klahoose, it may be an entirely different story.
These features have come up before on the blog – the mosquito man of Calvert Island of course, which I tried to pin on Dan Leen, but some of the comments dispute that. And if you look in the comments on this old post, you’ll see a good discussion takes place and leads to, among other things, the image below from the Yukon, on which more information can be found here.
Also, I remind readers of the pedantic point these things should be called dendroglyphs, since aborglyph is a hybrid latin-greek formulation. And, Michael Blackstock’s book, which started as a UNBC thesis, is available through many University libraries as an e-book.