Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Cedar Tree

"Cedar is a significant book that inspires awe not only for the versatility of the tree but also for the resourcefulness of the people." —Rotunda magazine, Royal Ontario Museum

From the giant cedar of the rainforest came a wealth of raw materials vital to the way of life, art and culture of the early First Nations people of the Northwest Coast.

All parts of the cedar tree had many uses. From the wood, skilled men made ocean-going canoes, massive post-and-beam houses, monumental carved poles that declared history, rights and lineage, and powerful dance masks. Women dextrously wove the inner bark into mats and baskets, plied it into cordage and netting or processed it into soft, warm, water-repellent clothing. They also made the strong withes into heavy-duty rope and wove the roots into watertight baskets.

Hilary Stewart explains, through her vivid descriptions, 550 detailed drawings and 50 photographs, the tools and techniques used, as well as the superbly crafted objects and their uses—all in the context of daily and ceremonial life. Anecdotes, oral history and the accounts of early explorers, traders, missionaries and native elders highlight the text.

Published in Canada by Douglas & McIntyre
Published in USA by University of Washington Press
B&W photographs and illustrations

Google Books Preview read here.
Cedar: Tree of Life to the Northwest Coast Indians

Picture examples of a Culturally Modified Tree or CMT

Origin of Yellow Cedar

Long ago, when the world was not as it is now, Raven, the great creator and trickster, came across three young woman drying salmon on the beach. Ever hungry, the wily bird approached the women and asked: "Are you not afraid to be here alone?"

"No," they said.

"Are you not afraid of bears?"

And again they replied, "No."

Persistent, Raven asked if they were not afraid of wolves, marten, and various other creatures. Each time they answered no, until he mentioned owls, at which the three women confessed to their terrible fear of owls.

Raven went off quickly and hid himself in some nearby bushes, where he began making owl calls. Terrified, the women fled, running and running until they were half-way up a mountain. They stopped, finally, out of breath. Standing together on the mountain side, the three of them turned into yellow cedar trees. That is why yellow cedars are always found on high slopes of the west coast and why they are so beautiful; their long graceful branches and silky inner bark resembles the woman's hair, and their young trunks are smooth to the touch.

Adapted by Hilary Stewart from the original told by Alice Paul in Ethnobotany of the Hesquiat Nation of Vancouver Island by Nancy J. Turner and Barbara S. Efrat.

Cedar Root Baskets

"It happened when the Raven still walked among men.

A woman who lived in a cloud village had a beautiful daughter of marriageable age. The Sun saw her and after his day's travel across the sky, he took the form of a man and sought her for his wife.

Many years they lived together in the Sky-Land and had many children, but the children were of the earth world like their mother.

One day as the mother was watching the children play, worrying about their future, she plucked some cedar roots and began idly to plait them together in the shape of a basket.

Her husband, the Sun, knowing her fears, increased the size of the basket until it would hold her and the children, then he lowered them to Earth.

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