Figureheads have been used on ships for centuries. Each culture uses figureheads for different reasons. Early Vikings were one of the earliest seamen besides the Polynesians who sailed the open seas. Many Viking ships had a dragon or other fearsome creature at the head of their ships. This was meant to fool the serpents of the deep into not attacking them. Others used a figurehead to give life to their ship by giving the vessel a name and a face for easier identification. The northwestern Native Americans also adapted the tradition of using figureheads on their canoes. Carve Me A Bear! Chainsaw Carvings is here to share the fascinating discovery of The Great Canoe and the wooden carving found with it.
Wolf Canoe Ship Figurehead
One of the longest surviving dugout style canoes that were made by Northwest Native Americans is still in existence. This extremely well preserved canoe was carved in 1878, most likely painted and carved by the Haida. However some also believes it holds more Heiltsuk manufacturing traits. A Heiltsuk man may have been the principal carver. History records that a man known as Captain Carpenter who lived from 1841 to 1931 was a prominent Heiltsuk canoe maker of that era. However one thing stands out above all else is the wolf like carving in the front of the canoe. This comes as a surprise to many, because early Native Americans never used figureheads on their canoes.
The Great Canoe Made from a Redwood Tree
The canoe was made from a single western redwood tree. The canoe itself is 63 feet long and got the nickname of The Great Canoe. The canoe originally did not have the wolf like carving at the head. At first the canoe was built most likely as a dowry for a marriage. Both the Haida and Heiltsuk tribes used canoes as a form of transportation, hunting, fishing; and if the canoe was large enough, even in raiding parties. However due to the canoe size and the elaborate painting on the front, researchers believe this was part of a dowry. The paint that adorns the canoe was the tribal crest of the killer whale. The figurehead sculpture of the wolf was added later. However it is the wolf figurehead that makes researchers believe it is most likely owned by the Haida tribe. The Haida people used animal figures as a form of family crest. Where the wolf was added later, the canoe changed hands and the new owner added the wolf to establish ownership of the grand canoe.
Native American Orca Legends
However this canoe itself may even be the embodiment of an old tribal legend. The killer whale is a popular symbol of romance as killer whales will mate for life. The killer whale, much like the wolf, stays with his or her family, and travels in large pods or packs. An old legend says that a killer whale once was the great white wolf that leaped into the sea and then transformed itself into a killer whale. Was this canoe meant as dowry for a marriage with the man promising eternal love, and would strengthen the family by their marriage? Who’s to say for sure? Regardless of history, the canoe itself is a treasure as once upon a time, a redwood tree was carved into the raft, adorned with a beautiful painting and eventually received an extremely well carved wolf at the head.
Wood Chainsaw Carvings Made in Las Vegas, Nevada and Helena, Montana
Carve Me A Bear! Chainsaw Carvings hopes you enjoyed this little discovery that adds to human history and the early wood carvers that came before us. The history of wood carving is as long as time. For your next gift to a loved one consider the legends of everlasting love according to the Northwestern Native Americans. A killer whale or wolf carving may speak louder then words. Contact Clark the Carver to place your custom order.