A Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw Village

Part of Northwest Coast Hall.


This model illustrates the late 19th-century Kwakwaka’wakw village. Typically, the village plan has a row of decorated and plain split-plank houses and carved poles facing the water. Carvings on house posts, like those seen inside the house at right, represent the crests of the owners. According to tradition, the totem pole in front of the village was given to the ancestor of the clan by the spirit of the sea.

Notched tree trunks provide steps down the steep bank to the beach, dominated by canoes and driftwood stored for fuel. Along the bank are summer seats where people conduct many activities in good weather. In the scene depicted here, women at left prepare berries for cakes that will be dried for winter. At right a chief hosting a potlatch is making a speech while demonstrating his wealth by giving away blankets.

Using information based on his experiences while visiting Kwakwaka’wakw territory, the anthropologist Franz Boas supervised construction of this model made by William Orchard, probably between 1901 and 1905. Boas borrowed the house designs from a village on Hope Island, off the northern tip of Vancouver Island.