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Dagger handle. [DCF Court Team 14/11/2002]

Longer Description

Dagger handle carved from a single piece of wood and representing, in three dimensions, a bear's head with a bear cub squatting on top. The base of the dagger has a long narrow slit in the wood, presumably for the blade, extending from the back of the bear's head to the front. This slit extends a short distance up the back of the bear's head and a short distance up the front of the bear's face almost to the top row of teeth visible in its mouth. The mouth is discernible by the outline of a lower jaw, two rows of teeth, and outline of an upper jaw. Immediately above the mouth is a nose with flare nostrils that extend on either side of the bear's face. Two large eyes in characteristic 'formline' design dominate the upper half of the bear's face. A squatting animal sits on top of the bear, it's front and rear legs bent. The back legs and paws extend a short distance down the back of the bear's head. The head of the squatting animal protrudes out between the bear's eyes. The head is distinguishable by two ears, the outlines of the bottom of the eye sockets or cheek bones, a wide-bridged nose and the outline of a jaw. This squatting animal was identified as a frog by the collector, but as a bear cub by Haida researcher Christian White. [CAK 27/04/2009]

Publications History

Discussed by Charles Harrison on p. 86 of his Ancient Warriors of the North Pacific (London: H.F. and G. Witherby, 1925): ‘Perhaps little less notable was the frog's head mask, which was an important "property" in the dances of the frog clan. The lower jaw of this was operated by the wearer, and a grating sound was produced which was believed to be like the croaking of a frog. The wearer of the Mask would carry in his hand the carved figure of a frog squatting on bear's head, and this formed the handle of a dagger which was made of a piece of steel plundered long ages ago from a trading vessel. Its significance was to the effect that the man belonged to the frog totem and his wife to that of the bear.' [NM 25 2 1997]
N.B. This mask is worn with dagger 1891.49.10.2. [JC 16 4 1999]
Reproduced in black and white as figure 7 on page 6 of 'Haida Art in the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, and the Rev. Charles Harrison', by June Bedford, in European Review of Native American Studies, Vol. XII, no. 2 (1998), pp. 1-10. Caption reads: 'Handle of dagger worn with Frog's head mask'. [JC 16 4 1999]

Research Notes

The following information comes from Haida delegates who worked with the museum's collection in September 2009 as part of the project “Haida Material Culture in British Museums: Generating New Forms of Knowledge”:
This dagger handle was viewed alongside tools on Monday Sept 14, 2009. Christian White observed that the main figure on the dagger handle looks like a bear even though its ears are uncharacteristic for a bear. He identified the squatting animal between the bear's ears as a bear cub, not a frog, and observed that the bear cub's eye is not carved. He thought the eyes of the large bear were done with a compass. Discussion of Haida daggers more generally can be viewed on Tape 9, time 5:27, which can be found in the Haida Project Related Documents File. [CAK 12/04/2010]

This object was viewed and confirmed as Haida by tribal members Vincent Collison, Lucille Bell, and Kwiiawah Jones on 7 September 2007 in preparation for a planned Haida community visit to PRM in 2009 [L Peers, 21/01/2008]

Primary Documentation

Accession book entry: 'From Rev. Ch. Harrison, 80 Halton Rd, Canonbury Sq. N. Collection of Haida objects collected by him.... - Dagger handle with totems. £45. [Purchase price includes 1891.49.1-110]

Catalogue cards have 'dagger handle with totemic figures'. [JC 4 9 1996]

Written on object - Handle of dagger, with man's totem (frog) and his wife's (bear). Haida. C. Harrison coll (MS No. 5) Purchased 1891. [NM 15 1 1997]

Related Documents File - A discussion of daggers can be viewed on Tape 9, time 5:27 within the Haida Project Related Documents File. The Haida Project Related Documents File contains video of research sessions and interviews with Haida delegates from September 2009 as part of the project ‘Haida Material Culture in British Museums: Generating New Forms of Knowledge'. It also includes post-visit communications that discuss object provenance. For extensive photographic, video, and textual records documenting the Haida research visit as a whole, including but not limited to preparations of objects for handling, travel logistics, British Museum participation, transcribed notes from research sessions and associated public events held at PRM, see the Haida Project Digital Archive, stored with the Accessions Registers. Original hand-written notes taken during research sessions have been accessioned into the Manuscripts collection, in addition to select other materials. [CAK 02/06/2010]

Item History

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