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    CHIEF SKÁWAAL      
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KASAAN HISTORY
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Náay I’waans/Whale House
 

Chief Skáwaal was the head of the of the Táas Láanas (Raven) clan in Old Kasaan for at least 20 years before he died in 1882-83. Skáwaal is the most well-known chief from Kasaan and appears to have been a powerful leader during his time.

Ensign Albert P. Niblack, U.S. Navy, conducted surveys of southern Alaska and northern British Columbia from 1885-1887. Niblack arrived in Old Kasaan about two years after Chief Skáwaal had died. He reported that according to the custom of the region, Skáwaal’s body was first displayed in state dressed in the ceremonial robes of a chief. Later it was enclosed in a casket and deposited on a pile of boxes containing his clothing and ceremonial dance paraphernalia. The pile of boxes, all full of valuables, the row of coppers, the bronze howitzer, etc., all indicate the rank and wealth of the deceased.Chief Skawaal lying in state.Above: Chief Skáwaal lying in state at Kasaan village. The casket is surrounded by emblems of his wealth and prowess. Taken in 1885 by Ensign A. P. Niblack, USN. Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution National Anthropological Archives Neg. #3867.

From interviews with Kasaan villagers, Ensign Niblack learned that Chief Skáwaal was a strong, aggressive, even tyrannical chief. According to Niblack's reports, "Skáwaal was always an enemy to the missionaries and resisted their encroachments to the last. He did much to keep his people to the old faith and to preserve among them the customs and manners of his forefathers."

According to Walter B. Young (Memories of Kasaan), Skáwaal married the sister of the Yáadaas (Eagle) chief, Kagwanshingá. Young could not recall the wife’s name. Skáwaal later married a second wife, Wáthlajád. Skáwaal had no children of his own, but adopted a daughter, Úlljueth (Mary). Úlljueth married Charles Vincent Baronovich (generally referred to as Slav or Austrian), who she met while visiting Victoria with Skáwaal. Úlljueth and Charles eventually moved to Kasaan and lived in a European design house next to Skáwaal’s houses, where Baronovich set up a trading post. They had at least nine children and maybe as many as fourteen. The oldest child was Caroline who married Paul Young. Walter Young is the son of Caroline and Paul.

Nahíwaq
Chief Skáwaal owned two houses: Nahalás (“house climbing up” or “More Back House”) and Nahíwaq. Nahalás was the older house, but as Skáwaal gained more power and prestige, he needed a bigger, more befitting home and built one of the largest homes in the village, Nahíwaq. Informants have given conflicting interpretations of the name Nahíwaq. Walter Burgess (Memories of Kasaan) claimed that it was named "Southeaster," after the wind, because Skáwaal held so many celebrations that the house was never quiet. A more prevalent translation is "Rib House," referring to two tall totems standing in front of the house. Southeaster may have been an earlier name and Rib House a later explanation as one of the poles was not erected until 1889, seven years after Skáwaal’s death.Nahíwaq 1885.Above: Nahíwaq, 1885. The first known photograph of the house taken by Ensign Niblack. The house retains most of its traditional architectural features. Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution National Anthropological Archives, A.P. Niblack, Neg. #SI-3874.

Everyone agrees that Skáwaal’s successor erected the second pole, but disagreement exists as to the identity of this person. Some sources indicate that Skáwaal’s nephew, Paul Jones, succeeded him. Other informants say Skáwaal’s brother, K’ítchskwa’as, or Skáwaal’s brother in conjunction with another man, G´ú, became chief of the clan.

In either case, Nahíwaq remained in Skáwaal’s family and his descendants continued to live in the house until the entire village moved to New Kasaan between 1902 and 1904. U.S. Forest Service personnel became interested in making Old Kasaan a national monument and restoring Nahíwaq. However, in 1915, a fire of undetermined origin swept Old Kasaan, destroying numerous house and poles in the village. Nahíwaq was burned to the ground and Skáwaal’s pole damaged beyond repair. The other pole was untouched and eventually moved to New Kasaan and restored. The damaged pole withstood the battering of high tides, devastating fire and 100 years of rainfall before it finally toppled in 1980. The only evidence of Nahíwaq is three charred house posts standing along what was once the back wall.

 

CHIEF SKÁWAAL'S MASK
Chief Skawaal's mask.Chief Skáwaal’s mask, currently a part of the Fowler Museum of Cultural History. Made of wood, paint and cloth, it was a gift to the Museum from the Wellcome Trust. Photograph used with permission of the Fowler Museum, University of California Los Angeles.

NAHÍWAQ 1902
Nahíwaq 1902.By 1902, the house has undergone a transformation. The traditional facade has been replaced with milled lumber and five windows - more windows than any house in the neighborhood. There is the addition of a giang pole to the right, erected by Skáwaal’s successor. On the top of each giang pole is the figure of an eagle, the clan symbol of Chief Skáwaal’s wife, sister of the chief of the Yáadaas clan in Kasaan. Photo courtesy of the Ketchikan Museum #91-1-8-158-Paul-Youngs-Pole.

CHIEF SKÁWAAL'S POLE
Chief Skáwaal’s poleChief Skáwaal’s pole (left) originally stood in front of his first house, Nahalás. It is currently housed at Totem Heritage Center in Ketchikan, Alaska. Ensign Niblack described the totem pictured here. "The feast house column is surmounted by Skáwaal’s crest, the eagle. Just below it is a carved figure of a man with right hand uplifted and index finger pointing to the sky. It signifies that in the heavens God dwells – the God of the white man. Below this is the representation of an angel as conceived by the Indians from the description of the whites, and then comes a large figure intended to picture a Russian missionary with hands piously folded across the breast. This group of the figure with uplifted hand, the angel and the missionary, commemorates the failure of the Russian priests to convert Skáwaal’s people to their faith and was erected in ridicule and derision of the religion of the white man." Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution National Anthropological Archives Neg. #84-17974.

 
         
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