Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Táx’ Hít (Snail House, Hoonah)

This is a picture of the Snail House in Hoonah, Alaska. This house is from the T'akdeintaan, or Raven-Sea Tern clan of the Tlingit. The painted house front is much like a flat, two dimensional entrance totem pole and serves the same purpose: to inform arriving guests and fellow Tlingits what crests and privileges belong to the house members , and how they are to be addressed. The Tlingit house serves as much (possibly more) as a component of identity as it does a place of residence, and your clan determines how other people will address you in kinship terms. Even just the mentioning of the snail and raven together will let a Tlingit person know that this house is being referenced.

This house front was one of the most complex, intricate, and abstract of all house fronts on the Pacific Northwest Coast. Like totem poles, painted house fronts always face the water to greet guests from afar, and also like totem poles, house fronts carry a lot of information about the owner. The formline system that governs Tlingit two-dimensional art depicts animals, spirits and forces of nature as if you are viewing them with an X-ray. Visible on this house front are Raven, Sea Tern, Sockeye, Marten, Snail, and Human. This front is unusual because it is vertically, rather than horizontally, oriented which makes it all the more totem-like.

Hoonah Fire of 1944

In 1944 a fire destroyed the Snail house and most of downtown Hoonah. In a disaster such as a fire or death, it was the job of the opposite clan to replace the lost objects or make funeral arrangements. Upon completion, the opposite clan would be repayed one year later at a Koo.eex', or potlatch. David Williams and Willie Marks, artists from the Chookaneidi (the T'akdeintaan's ideal opposites, the Eagle Brown Bear Clan) created many of the replacement pieces of at.oow, or sacred (literally "paid for") objects destroyed in the fire. See below for two specific examples.

Snail House (Dancing Ermine Head Frontlet)

This is a picture of a frontlet, or, that belongs to the Snail House of Hoonah. A is a type of headdress that is carved of wood and displays a crest of the clan it is from. The frontlet is attatched to head gear made primarily of ermine skins, and is meant to be danced and seen in motion. The top of the frontlet is adorned with flicker (a species of bird) feathers and sea lion whiskers; the sea lion whiskers disperse eagle down that is hidden in the top of the headdress, a formal way of greeting guests in the house.

This frontlet directly references the Snail House front, and was collected in 1925 by Louis Shotridge. There is a very similar one that was made by David Williams as a replacement after the 1944 fire. The second piece is even more loyal to the house front, right down to the white background and eve of the house top. Both stand as two of the most important and impressive Tlingit masterpieces of the 20th Century.

Prominent T'akdeintaan Members and Works Cited

Amos Wallace: Tlingit Master Carver, 1921-2004

Vivian Mork: Tlingit Language Teacher, Artist, and Actress

Lily Hudson: Tlingit Actress and Storyteller

Diane Benson: Tlingit Politician, Actress, and Author

Clarissa Hudson: Tlingit Chilkat Weaver and Artist

Emmons, Gorge T. 1991 The Tlingit Indians. Seattle and London: University of Washington Press. New York: American Museum Of Natural History.
George Emmons lived among the Tlingit people in the late 19th Century and removed hundreds of thousands of artifacts that he sent to New York and Chicago. Emmons was deemed a grave robber because he would dig up Tlingit shaman graves and send the artifacts and bodies to the highest bidder. Despite all that, he did seem to have a love for the Tlingit people, and helped fight for native rights while maintaining close friendships with several Tlingit chiefs. Emmons was going to write the most comprehensive and sympathetic history of the Tlingit to date, though he was unable to finish it before his death. Another anthropologist, Frederica de Laguna, would later return to Emmons' notes and publish his work posthumously as an editor.

Dauenhauer, Nora M. 1990 Haa Tuwunaaga Yis: For Healing Our Spirit. Seattle and London: University of Washington Press. Juneau: Sealaska Heritage Foundation.
This book is all about a Hoonah potlatch for Jim Marks, written by Nora Marks Daunehauer, who is a child of the Chookaneidi. Her father, Willie marks, created the replacement at.oow after the fire, as mentioned above. The replacements were treated as the originals pieces of the Snail House after it had burned down. This book has become a "how-to" manual for having potlatches and can be seen in the hands of many culture bearers at a Koo.eex'. This book also talks extensively on the role of Tlingit houses, and the deeper meaning behind them.

Hope, Andrew III, Thorton, Thomas f. 2000 Will The Time Ever Come? Fairbanks Alaska: Alaska Native Knowledge Network, Center for Cross-Cultural Studies, University of Alaska Fairbanks.
This book covers an important event in the modern history of the Tlingit people. In 1993, a clan conference was held in Klukwan, and all "Tlingit style" people from all over Alaska and Canada gathered together and discussed the future of the Tlingit people. Included are discussions on the need of a Tlingit clan atlas, the Sitka walk of 1804, and the need for language revitalization.

Polly and Leon Gordon Miller. 1967. Lost Heritage Of Alaska. Cleveland Ohio, The world publishing company.
This book is exactly what the title implies. It is a historical account of the effect that Euro contact had on the culture of the indigenous peoples of Alaska leading in to the 1960’s. This book, unlike many others from the same time period, does not say Native culture is dead, but that it is alive and in a powerful revitalization due to the forming of organizations like the ANB and legislation like ANCSA.

Smith, Christopher. Nov. 2007. Personal Communication.
Chris helped me out on the Tlingit names of many of the objects and places discussed, as well as the protocols, interpretations, and relationships of the Tlingit people named here.