A chief’s death and burial

The corpse was put in a canoe, and [with] about 90 other canoes in attendance…moved off slowly from the shore…

William Edward Banfield was likely Barkley Sound’s first settler. He arrived on Vancouver Island as a Royal Navy seamancarpenter in 1844 and, upon taking his discharge, he began trading with the tribes inhabiting

the Island’s west coast. In 1855 he was commissioned to take a census of the native population and he wrote a series of articles on his experiences and observations for the Victoria Gazette. Among them is this verbatim account of a chieftain’s funeral…

Whilst living amongst the Clayoquot Indians, I had frequent opportunity of observing even individual customs…one of which I will describe.

On a morning in June 1855, I was awakened by a low wailing in my next neighbour’s lodge, and by listening a few moments soon discovered that something of sad importance had transpired during the night. After a while my Indian boy entered my hut with a very sorrowful face; I immediately inquired the cause of the wailing. After a short pause, he began- "Chechob is going to die; he was taken sick in the night."

"But," I said, "he is an old man." "Ah," said he, "Chechob was a great warrior, and ishshuck Clayoquot clebucktstay urhuck (all the Clayoquot hearts are breaking)."

I said no more. About 10 o’clock the same morning a messenger came to invite me to attend at Chechob’s lodge, (mattie). I did not hesitate, but followed the Indian messenger. On entering the door a glance told me that the major part of the tribe were assembled. I was shown to a seat usually allotted to me, and after a few minutes had elapsed, a near relative of Chechob’s, Clascannel, arose, and in a loud but very grave tone, announced that his relative was breathing his last. He then recapitulated his deeds of daring; the battles he had fought; the wild animals he had subdued; and the number

of heads of enemies he had cut off…and that it was now his last wish to bequeath all his personal effects to his tribe. The distributing then commenced, beginning with Zackwzep, the principal chief, who had a slave man given him, and so on down to the lowest, in proportion to their rank – each getting a trifle. The next morning Chechob died, and an hour after his funeral was announced by special messengers quietly sent around to each lodge. A heavy wailing then commenced, from one end of the village to the other, by the women. The corpse was put in a canoe, and [with] about 90 other canoes in attendance…moved off slowly from the shore, the nearest female relatives wailing frantically outside of the deceased’s lodge. The canoes proceeded to a small island, a Cheemety’s burial ground, and with much ceremony, triced the coffin to the tip of a tall pine tree, and a savage (sic) who had previously ascended by the branches, firmly tied it in that position. Clascannel then pronounced a funeral oration; suggesting that his death must be avenged on a tributary tribe named the Ishquats. A general affirmative Eho! told that a savage (sic) scene of butchery was decided on.

Four days afterwards a small expedition was secretly sent off, and in less than 24 hours, two heads were brought to Opetesep. They were not taken by force, but demanded by the Clayoquots from the Ishquats, to appease Chechob’s friend – this only occurs in case of the death of chief of great note, or that of their children. I have myself more than once trembled at the death of a chief’s child.

The savages (sic) imagine that occasionally the spirit of the dead visits his lodge, and it is quite usual to put a meal by the embers of a dying fire, on a family retiring to rest, to appease the hunger of the dead. A dog will probably eat it before morning, but the survivors’ feelings are gratified by observing the ceremony. -W.E.B.