banner

The Long House at Klemtu

THE PASSAGE NORTH

----The Passage north from Washington through coastal British Columbia to Southeast Alaska is one of the finest wilderness voyages possible in a small boat. These tales record a few experiences to give a flavor of this marvelous trip to the north.

 

TOMBSTONE FEAST

------Serendipity is a marvelous word. The importance to cruising boaters is obvious in the fact that many boats share this name. One of our most important decisions when we began cruising was to 'kick back' and take the time to enjoy experiences.

------We were heading into Klemtu, a small First Nation community along the North Coast of British Columbia. We needed fuel after an extensive cruise into the Fiordland Recreation area. We tied off at the town dock. A local fisherman told us the docks had been virtually destroyed by a strong wind the former winter and there was no power. We walked up to the Kitasoo Band Store to buy some provisions.

------As El was leaving she read a notice that the store would be closed the next day because of the Tombstone Feast. She asked the lady at the checkout about the feast.

------"When one of ours dies, one year later, to mark the end of the mourning period, the family celebrates the life with a great feast. This year we will have dances and drumming in the Long House. Would you care to come to the ceremony," she added.

------"Oh, no," El said. "We didn't know the person who died and it wouldn't be right to intrude."

------"You must come," the lady said emphatically without hesitation. "In our belief, it is very important to have witnesses to our ceremonies. You show yourselves to be respectful people and we need your witness."

------The feast was a great meal, served to virtually everyone in town. There were singers, drummers, and dancers as well as some nice talks by family and friends.

-

------After the feast, all were invited to the longhouse for ceremony, dance and drumming. We walked slowly down the hill toward the longhouse, when a voice came from beside us. "You aren't city folks, I can tell. You walk too gracefully and slowly to be from the city." An elder was walking beside us - Frances, a town 'greeter.' On the way to the ceremony, Frances told us about how the town was 'rescued' by the elders declaring alcohol illegal and strictly enforcing their rule (a retired RCMP officer was the town policeman). The elders took control of their traditional lands through legal proceedings, hired a forester to advise sustained logging, let contracts (under strict rules) for mariculture 'farms,' and set up a fish processing plant in town to process the farmed fish. "Our people are smiling again," he said with a proud grin.

------Frances told us about the longhouse and the importance the building has in restoration of their culture.
"You will see, tonight," he quietly said. "But first, let me explain to you about the welcome totems."

----

Longhouse Door with Clan Symbols, Frances at the Longhouse, Wolf Clan

-----We took our seats for the ceremony. A woman seated near us came over to talk. "Do you know the history of the longhouse?", she asked.

-----"No," El answered. "It is a most impressive building."

--

-----"My mother was instrumental in the concept of building a tradional loonghouse. 'It will hold our people,' she said. She helped to choose the site and find the funding. But," the woman added sadly, "She died shortly before the dedication of the building. We were all so saddened both by her death and the fact that she was unable to be at the dedication of the longhouse she worked so hard to convince the people they needed. The night before the dedication some of our people were at the site and, in amazement, they saw a Spirit Bear, the white Komodi bear, swim across the channel, land at the building site, look up at the structure, and disappear into the woods. It was my mother's spirit."

-----The open fire blazed in the middle of the gravel floor. Smoke filtered upward to the roof vents. The sound of drumming filled the dimly lit interior. Time froze - past or present? Elders and chiefs sat in seats before the people. A guard stood blocking the door.

--

-----Then the dancing began, accompanied by the melodic drumming of a log drum and the singing of the people. Dancing continued late into the night.

- -

The Spirit Bear; Raven; Blackfish

-----The next day we were going to fuel and head out of town when we were invited to visit the fish farm by some local folks. That evening back on the dock, we were invited to remain in town since the following night they were having another feast to celebrate the successful spring operation of the fish processing plant. "You must stay," said one of our new friends, "The children will be dancing and its important to them to have you there." Of course, we stayed.

-

--Dinner and Nanaimo for Dessert---

The Dancers

---

Twilight and Moonlight in Klemtu

(05 - 06)

Top | Home