Grave near Victoria on the harbour, 1859, by William Tyrwhitt-Drake. Source: British Museum. Click for their record and verso.
So, not long ago we had an excellent discussion here centered around Edward Richardson’s 1864 painting of a Coast Salish grave house or mausoleum. I’ve recently come across another set of images of these places which are so important to First Nations. These images were painted by well-known early Victoria resident (and former mayor and Supreme Court of BC Justice) Montague Tyrwhitt-Drake. They’re pretty interesting paintings from the early colonial period on southern Vancouver Island which I don’t recall seeing before.
The painting above clearly shows a small mausoleum, weighted with rocks on top, in front of which are two carved figures. The one on the right includes fishers or river otters, both of which have important spiritual significance in this area. Each of these images has notes on the back, which are also reproduced at the British Museum site (click the image to go to the accession record). For this image, the notes aren’t transcribed, though maybe someone with better olde handwritinge fkills would care to have a go As near as I can make out, the back reads:
This is another eccentric specimen of Indian taste for sculpture, it is equal to the finest specimens of _________ — see the elegant attitude of that man scratching his ?cheek bone, but a _____ ________ _______ would have mastered __________ a flight of ___________ imagination. The other is holding two dogs [sic] of a breed which I am afraid is lost to the present generation. This ______ are carved in wood and _____ ________ near a large grave of the family vault above ground ___________ .
It”s true, both sculptures are lively and naturalistic. In both cases, and the one below, there is apparently a rendering of face paint. I’m sure those readers more knowledgeable than I will see a lot of interesting detail in these pictures. Note the open prairie environment – anthropogenic Garry Oak meadow, no doubt.
Posted in Archaeology, archives, First Nations, Northwest Coast, Vancouver Island
Tagged Esquimalt, graves, mausoleum, mortuary, painting, sculpture, Songhees, Victoria, Victoria BC, William Tyrwhitt-Drake
"Arriving for a tree burial by canoe, in British Columbia, a traditional Indian ceremony", c. 1920. Watercolour by Joanna Simpson Wilson.
One of the most distinctive burial methods on the Northwest Coast was the creation of platforms in trees, on which coffins would be placed. While the practice is commonly recorded and discussed in the Anthropological literature, photographs of tree “burials” are rare — and even if they were not, then reproduction of these images might well be problematic.
I recently ran across the image above by the little-known Canadian author Joanna Simpson Wilson (1896-1987), which shows numerous bentwood boxes attached to trees as a throng of mourners gathers below. The platforms are rather insubstantial and the coffins are stacked several-high in places, with red cloth attached — perhaps the remains of blankets. After a number of years, the boxes would deteriorate and the remains of the body would fall from the tree. At this time, a secondary burial at a village site cemetery or other place might be performed. I have seen the remains of several tree burials in the field, with human remains scattered beneath the branches of a large spruce — looking up, there are large branches with ring-like pathologies where the bark grew around rope, and other evidence of cultural modification. Archaeologically, there is a trend over the long term along the coast for inhumation of human remains to give way to sky burials or mortuary houses.
According to this site, the setting of the painting is the Kwakwaka’wakw village of Tsaxis (near Fort Rupert / Port Hardy on Vancouver Island), specifically a place called Storey Beach (more pics).
Boas 1934: Geographical Names of the Kwakiutl Indians. Click to enlarge. Strangely, Tsaxis (#13) is not plotted on the map.