fish club (club (hunting, fishing & trapping))


Seals do not often appear in the design works from the Northwest Coast. Unlike the more popular bears, eagles, killer whales and supernatural creatures, seals were prey to be hunted and eaten, and they are comparatively rare in Northwest Coast art. The exception is on fish-clubs, such as this example. There has been much speculation about why seals, in particular, were considered so important for clubs with the consensus being that seals are among the most effective fish-hunters in the region and that these small clubs, used to kill a fish once it has been hauled out of the water, are taking on some of the seal's strength and skill by bearing its likeness.

In the mid-twentieth century, a fish-club, much like this one, was demonstrated by an anthropologist to be a critical piece of evidence that debunked long-held ideas about decoration among Native American peoples and by extension among all non-European peoples. The long-standing belief was that these decorations were arbitrary, created by whimsy as a sort of casual art practice. What the anthropologist, Claude Lévi-Strauss, demonstrated was that these designs were in face critical in the minds of the people who made and used the club. To people who were not educated in a European scientific framework, the design on a tool, such as this, was not simply meant to be attractive to the eye but was designed to actively make the tool more efficient as a club. By carving a seal onto the club, the carvers were intended to make the club more like the seal and, thus, better at killing fish. This realisation, in company with the work of other anthropologist working at the same time, fundamentally changed the way in which anthropologists studied and interpreted non-European peoples and their material culture.


Collection Information

These objects are only a part of our collections, of which there are more than 350,000 objects. This information comes from our collections database. Some of this is incomplete and there may be errors. This part of the website is also still under construction, so there may be some fields repeated or incorrectly formatted information.

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