Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1885 Tsimshian chief 
Subject: chief / shaman
Culture: Tsimshian, Tlingit, other Northwest Coast tribes
Setting: Potlatch, Northwest Coast late 19th - early 20thc

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

*  von Aderkas/Hook 2005 p23
"Intertribal warfare died out in the 1850's and 1860's, and the competitive potlatch became a substitute for actual raiding and fighting.  It was an effective means of humbling an enemy tribe: two chiefs would see who could destroy, damage, or throw away the most possessions.  The chief who ruined the most property would prove himself the richer, and therefore the mightier.  [...]
    "The Canadian Indian Acts of 1885 and 1915 banned both the potlatch and the winter ceremonies."

* Power and gold 1988 p165-166
"In potlatches, rival chiefs competed for political supremacy over an area by calling great festivals where each attempted to prove himself the wealthiest and most generous participant.  House treasure was used as a central weapon in their efforts to best their rivals; the chief who could give away or destroy the largest amount of prestige goods won the contest and established himself as the paramount leader of the region.  Profligate gift-giving and the burial or even outright destruction of such ritual goods as precious-metal objects and fine textiles sometimes masked another important series of economic exchanges in which competing chiefs bestowed great amounts of food on their rivals, who were obligated to accept such largesse.  This type of exchange served to equalize food supplies in a region where some small polities may have had food surpluses while other groups suffered periodic famines."  [reference omitted]

* Jonaitis 2006 p156
"Tsimshian shamanic practices resembled those of the Tlingit.  Shamans, with exceptional powers to transform into animals, tended to come from lineages with histories of shamanism.  As was the case with the Tlingit, a person did not typically decide to become a shaman, but instead received a calling from spirits who had selected him specifically.  Shamans wore special costumes that signified their spiritual status; the Tsimshian shaman, for example, donned special robes and placed on his head a crown of grizzly-bear claws.  After he entered a house to heal a sick person, the shaman first needed to accrue power by entering an altered state consciousness, often by using percussive instruments that facilitated passage into a trance.  Once in that state, the shaman both interacted with his helping spirits, who appeared on his ceremonial objects, and confronted malevolent beings.  He sang songs to the accompaniment of rattles, manipulated carved puppets that represented his spirit helpers, and brandished supernaturally potent charms."


* Dubin 2003 p110 f199
"One of the most important and magnificent pieces of Northwest Coast ceremonial regalia is the dance headdress and frontlet.  The frontlet, depicting a crest figure and embodying the animal as guardian spirit, is a carved and inlaid panel worn above the forehead, recalling the earlier custom of wearing animal headdresses with skin attached.  When displayed with a Chilkat blanket, rattle, and dance apron, this impressive assemblage announced a chief's dual social and supernatural power.  Worn by women and men, frontlets continue to be made for ceremonials."

* Samuel 1982 p30
"To complete the ceremonial costume, a chief would wear a headdress and carry a raven rattle.  The headdress was composed of a small mask, painted and carved in hardwood and often inlaid with abalone.  The mask was worn above the forehead and was attached to a ring.  From this ring a trailing cloth adorned with ermine skins flowed down the back and sea lion whiskers extended upward.  Handfuls of eagle down were placed inside the ring of the whiskers."

* The Far North 1973 p211 f263
"Headdresses of this kind, called in Tlingit 'something on the head,' are worn by persons of rank on ceremonial occasions.  Some have the masklike frontal piece carved to represent the totemic crest of the clan...
    "The style of headdress is believe by the Tlingit to have been copied from the Indians of British Columbia, especially the Kwakiutl, who, the Tlingit said, used to flatten the heads of their children to fit these ornaments.  (The belief is obviously untrue, since the back of the headdress is of skin and fits the natural shape of the Tlingit head perfectly.)  These headdresses were also worn by chiefs, and also sometimes by young men while dancing at potlatches."

* Shearar 2000 p48
"The frontlet is a small mask worn over the forehead, attached to a headpiece that is sometime made of a piece of cedar bark mat but is often a framework made of baleen splints.  It displays the crests of a chief or high-ranking person and is adorned with materials such as abalone shell, operculum, copper, sea lion whiskers and ermine pelts to signify wealth and power.
    "At a ceremony, the top of the headdress may hold eagle or other down, which floats away as the wearer dances, and is a symbol of fortune and honour."

* Wardwell 1978 p38
"Miniature masks were also part of a shaman's paraphrenalia.  Often a performing shaman would wear a headdress made of down feathers, spruce roots, cedar bark and a variety of other materials to which the miniature mask was attached.  Such maskettes represented the aiding spirit."


* Samuel 1982 p8-9
"Of all the treasures born of this opulent society [Northwest Coast Indians], the Chilkat Blanket expresses most graphically ideas of nobility and prestigious display.
    "Yet this textile, as we know it, was not seen by the first European explorers who came to the Northwest Coast in the closing years of the eighteenth century.  It was just then being perfected, out of the joining of an ancient tradition of twining with mountain goat wool and cedar bark and the painting of awesome creature of mythology on wooden chests and screens.  By the early years of the nineteenth century, skillful, innovative weavers had solved the difficult problems of rendering broad black formline designs in woolen twining, producing the classic Chilkat Dancing Blanket as we know it."

* Paterek 1994 p332
"The true Chilkat blanket seems to have originated about 1825, possibly spurred on by the expansion of trade.  It was named for a northern division of the Tlingit, who are said to have learned the techniques from the Tsimshian to the north of them."

* Samuel 1982 p22
"Legend has told us that long ago women of the Tsimshian tribe were the first to produce the twined ceremonial garments.  The word in the Tsimshian dialect for these weavings is 'gus-hala'it' and is translated by Lieutenant Emmons in his 1907 monograph, The Chilkat Blanket, as 'dancing-blanket.'  Later, knowledge of this type of weaving traveled through intermarriage to the families of the Tlingit: the Tongass, the Stikine, and the Chilkat.  The Tlingit name of the garment is 'Nakheen' and is interpreted by Emmons as 'the fringe about the body.' [...]
    "The term 'blanket' is misleading, as it is actually a robe worn only on ceremonial occasions."

* Wardwell 1978 p78
"Chilkat blankets, so called from the name of a sub-group of the Tlingit people who specialized in their manufacture, are the best-known textiles of the Northwest Coast.  They were widely traded, and were used throughout the northern area, worn as a shawl over the shoulders during important social occasions.  Chilkat designs relate to family histories, but are extremely abstract.  Even with specific information from the owners themselves, conflicting interpretations about the meaning of the various design elements are often encountered."

* Samuel 1982 p27
"The Dancing Blanket itself was the focal point of the [ceremonial] costume.  Spread out flat, it is a five-sided garment with a long, curved fringe.  Most often it was worn high on the shoulders, the sides tied together at the front with leather ties.  Sometimes it was draped over one shoulder and under the opposite arm in the fashion of a cedar bark cape."

* Paterek 1994 p336
"The Chilkat blanket was the core of the costume; woven of cedar bark and mountain-goat wool, it displayed the traditional, striking Northwest Coast designs of crest animals.  Tsimshian blankets differed in having a straight edge instead of a curved one at the bottom and, often, braided tassels."


* Shearar 2000 p98-99
"Shamanic doctoring includes a great deal of symbolism.  The shaman sucks and blows, affecting movements and displacements of spirit and supernatural power.  A patient's soul was most likely to leave its body at dusk, and the shaman might then suck the infected soul into a tubular implement called a soulcatcher, cleanse the captured soul and return it in a healthy state to the patient.  The soulcatcher was often carved in the likeness of powerful beings such as Sisiyutl or Killer Whale."

* Wardwell 1978 p92
"A particular type of charm, known as a soul catcher, is a tube carved of bone or occasionally of wood that was originally fitted with a bark stopper at each end.  It was worn as a pendant by the shaman in curing ceremonies when it was believed that the soul of an ailing person had departed from his body.  Only the shaman was able to locate the soul.  He followed it, often chanting and repeating incantations until he was able to catch it in the charm.  The soul was then returned to the patient who was expected to recover from his illness."

* Jonaitis 2006 p158 f5.17
"Shamans are often charged with the task of retrieving lost souls of sick people.  The shaman who possessed this carving would have traveled into the world of supernaturals, located the soul, returned to the human world, and replaced the soul in its owner's body.  He is said to use the soul catcher to 'blow' the patient's soul back into his or her body.  The shaman could also use the soul catcher to suck out intrusions that cause disease, or to blow away evil forces from a patient. ...  These amulets were often worn around the shaman's neck."