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Halibut hook cheemaine

Halibut hook cheemaine

Place: Nootka
Category: Fishing & hunting

wood, bone, spruce root splints, Nootka Sound, northern Pacific, l. 12.7 cm, w. 6.1 cm, Inv. Am 618

Cook: Cheemaine, Sproat: Chimmin

Humphrey No. 246: ‘another [fish-hook] made of a bent piece of a strong Sinew of a Whale or other large fish and barbed with bone, neatly tied to the hook with Withs; when they have done using it, they tye two Sides to preserve it’s bent Form. King George’s Sound.’

U-shaped wooden hook with a cross-section almost approximating that of an isosceles triangle. There is an inward-pointing bone spike at the thicker end, affixed by lashing with spruce root splints. The thinner (broken-off) end is similarly lashed. A Z-twisted sinew fibre over a metre long is wrapped around the middle of the hook. This was intended to keep the hook in form when not in use, and otherwise for holding the bait. Missing however is the cord which is usually affixed to the hook opposite the tip of the spike, for fastening to the device used when catching the halibut. The piece was described and illustrated by Haberland (1979: 210, J-12) and was also mentioned by Kaeppler (1978a: 276).

The description in the Humphrey catalogue, which states that the hook consists of the bent sinew of a whale or other large fish, is incorrect.

Cook and his companions described the fishing devices of the Nootka only very briefly, and otherwise as ‘mediocre’ or ‘unartistic’ in fabrication. Samwell admitted that the travellers had never seen these devices in use, so that they could not judge the skill of the Nootka regarding their use (Beaglehole 1967, Illa: 320 f.; Illb: 1410; cf Ledyard 1963: 76). Philip Drucker’s Nootka informants described the application of the wooden hooks for the halibut catch (although smaller examples were evidently also used to catch other fish). The old method probably used in Cook’s time was to fix the floating hook to a stick using a sinew cord, the lower end of which was attached to a line with a stone ‘sinker’, the line being lowered into the water from the boat and towed along behind. In 1868, the Indian agent Sproat described how hundreds of boats, each with two to three men, would set off at midnight to arrive the next morning at the fishing grounds (Drucker 1951: 22f.; Sproat 1987: 151).

Today, similar halibut hooks collected on the third voyage can be found in Vienna (Feest 1995: 138 40), Herrnhut (Augustin 1993: 79f., Fig. 16), and Wellington, New Zealand (one or two examples: Kaeppler 1978a: 277; King 1981: 87, No. 105, 107, PI. 80). Sarah Stone drew such a hook, collected by Cook, in the collection of the Leverian Museum (Force and Force 1968: 161). Other examples from the eighteenth century were collected from the Nootka by Vancouver (King 1981: 87, No. 106, PI. 80) and Malaspina, and possibly by other Spanish expeditions (Sanchez Garrido 1991: 113-15, No. 84-87; cf. also Gunther 1972: 216-18, Fig. 49). Christian F. Feest


Augustin, Stephan, Kunstsachen von Cooks Reisen - Die Sammlung und ihre Geschichte im Völkerkundemuseum Herrnhut, Museum für Völkerkunde, Dresden,1993.

Beaglehole, John Cawte, The Journals of Captain James Cook on his Voyages of Discovery The Voyage of the Resolution and Discovery 1776-1780, Hakluyt Society, Extra Series, 36, 1 u. 2. vol. 3, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1955-1967 IIIa and IIIb.

Drucker, Philip, The Northern and Central Nootka Tribes, Bulletin 144, Bureau of American Ethnology, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, 1951.

Feest, Christian F, ‘Cook voyage material from North America: The Vienna Collection’, Archiv für Völkerkunde, Vienna, 1995, vol. 49, pp. 111-186.

Force, Roland and Force, Maryanne, Art and Artifacts of the Eighteenth Century, Honolulu, 1968.

Gunther, Erna, Indian Life on the Northwest Coast of North America as seen by the Early Explorers and Fur Traders During the Last Decade of the Eighteenth Century, Chicago and London, 1972.

Haberland, Wolfgang, Donnervogel und Raubwal. Indianische Kunst der Nordwestküste Nordamerikas, Hamburg, 1979.

Kaeppler, Adrienne L, ‘Artificial Curiosities’ Being An Exposition of Native Manufactures Collected on the Three Pacific Voyages of Captain James Cook RN [Exhibition catalogue], Bishop Museum Press, Honolulu, 1978a.

King, JCH, Artificial Curiosities from the Northwest Coast of North America, London, 1981.

Ledyard, John, John Ledyard’s Journal of Captain Cook’s Last Voyage [1783], JK Munford (trans.), Corvallis, 1963.

Sanchez Garrido, Araceli, Indios de América del Norte (Otras culturas de América), Museo de América, Madrid, 1991.

Sproat, Gilbert Malcolm, The Nootka. Scenes and Studies of Savage Life (1868), Vancouver, 1987.

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