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Wooden club in form of seal or sea-lion with ringed handle perforated at the end. [CAK 23/06/2009]

Display History

PRM Display Label (1991 - 1995) - NORTH AMERICA, CANADA, BRITISH COLUMBIA, QUEEN CHARLOTTE ISLAND; NORTH WEST COAST, HAIDA. Club in the form of a seal used for killing seals. Donated by the Four Counties Scout Training Station. (Major R. C. Lowndes.) 1940.7.0412. [SM 08/08/2007]

Longer Description

Wooden club in form of seal sea-lion with ringed handle perforated at the end. The club has been carved from a single piece of wood. The handle is rounded with a knob at its end. The knob has been perforated, probably so the club could be suspended. The handle has been carved as a series of rings. The body of the club is carved in the form of a sea or sea-lion. Its upward turned tail and rear flippers meet with the handle. The body extends forward and is decorated with ovoid designs, front flippers on each side of the body, what appears to be a blowhole on the top of the body, large eyes, large rounded snout, and mouth. On the underside of the mouth are six squares carved along the length of the head. [CAK 23/06/2009]

Research Notes

The following notes are drawn from research compiled by Andy Mills as part of the DCF Cutting Edge project in 2006-2007.
Although this seal- or sea-lion-formed wooden club of the Haida Gwai of the Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia is described in our documentation as a ‘seal club' – i.e. intended for the slaughter of seals – an article by the great early anthropologist Franz Boas (Boas, F. (1896) The Decorative Art of the Indians of the North Pacific Coast. Science, 4/82, pp. 101-3) seems to invalidate this assertion of the quarry being represented in the weapon's form. Boas writes: “the fish club…is used for despatching halibut and other fish before they are hauled into the canoe. Almost all of the clubs that I have seen represent the sea lion or the killer whale, the two sea animals which are most feared by the Indians, and which kill those animals that are to be killed by means of the club. The idea of giving the club the design of the sea lion or killer whale is therefore rather to give it a form appropriate to its function and perhaps secondarily to give it by means of its form great efficiency” (Boas 1896, p. 101).
Boas goes on to describe events in Haida mythology where a hero throws his fish-club overboard, and the club swims away to assist him by killing seals and fish independently, cutting holes and channels in the sea-ice, and so on. Mackenzie (1891, p. 51) also recorded that “The Haida firmly believe, if overtaken by night at sea and reduced to sleep in their canoes, that by allowing such a club to float beside the canoe attached to a line it has the property of scaring away whales and other monsters of the deep which might otherwise harm them”. In this way, we can see the sea-lion-form fish-club as an animate ally of the Haida hunter, and that its efficiency derived from the zoomorph can be seen to shade into the metaphysical realm. Boas (1896, p. 102) remarks that many Haida ‘helmets' (what later sources might call ‘whaling hats') were modelled on the form of the sea-lion, and here we might consequently view the sea-lion as both a protector, as well as an enhancer of predatory success. [El.B 27/02/2008]

The information above requires some qualification: the researcher seems to have conflated seal with sea lion, and thus does not think the club could be used for hunting seals if it looks like a seal. However, the club is identified as a sea lion (an eared seal rather than an earless, or 'true' seal), and as Boas himself suggested, sea lions were major predators in the waters around Haida Gwaii (hence he posits why their depiction on hunting/fishing tools was considered to be very effective with added protective qualities). The club may have served a dual purpose of clubbing seals as well as halibut or other large fish. [CAK 05/06/2009]

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 club was viewed alongside other fishing implements on Monday Sept 14, 2009. Delegates proposed the wood could be yew or crab apple. Christian White identified the figure as a harbour seal. It was thought the hole in the end of the handle was present so that a leather strap could be looped through and help the user to grasp the club in his hand. Jaalen Edenshaw took tracings of the club. [CAK 19/05/2010]

Primary Documentation

Accession Book Entry - FOUR COUNTIES SCOUT TRAINING STATION, MAJOR R. C. LOWNDES, ... Oxford. - Club in form of sea-lion, used only for killing seals in accordance with custom of carving each weapon to represent its particular quarry. HAIDA, QUEEN CHARLOTTE IS., B.C. Ref. Niblack, A.P., "Coast Indians of Southern Alaska and Northern British Columbia". U.S. Nat. Mus. Ann. Rept. 1888, pp.282-3, Pl. XXVIII.

There is no further information on the catalogue card. [CW 9 6 98]

Related Documents File - Letter from Richard C. Lowndes dated 19 July, 1940, with agreement for loan of 'Crow and Haida clubs': 'I suggest you hold them on loan from the 'Four Counties Scout Training station'. [GI 17/12/2001]

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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