The story symbolized by the beavers is etiological, explaining how the people of a certain village learned to make a new type of bow and spearhead that was detachable from the shaft. Long ago a stranger appeared in the village in Basket Bay. He was treated like a slave. Every day he disappeared but could be heard singing near the village. The people paid no attention to him.Every morning large quantities of fish were found outside the doors of the houses. The people noticed that there were neat holes through the sides of each one, so uniform that they wondered who could have shaped the spear points on which they were caught.Later, someone found a bow and arrow in the hills back of the village and brought them in. The bow was so strong that no one could bend it, and the arrow was skillfully made. While the men were gathered round trying the bow, the small stranger came in and said that he would like to try it. They scoffed that anyone as small as he could bend it and threw it disdainfully at his feet.The man, who was really a beaver, picked up the bow and without any effort bent and strung it, sending the arrow swift and sure through the heart of their chief. Then they knew who had killed the fish. Beaver slapped the water with his tail as he ran off, overturning the whole village and killing most of the people, then disappeared.
The survivors kept his bow and arrow and spear and took the beaver as their crest, in memory of both the invention and the disaster that befell their village. This story belongs to the Basket Bay Tlingit, now living at Angoon. A woman from the old village married a Haida, therefore giving her children the right to the story and the right to carve the beaver.
Born in 1949, Gerry Marks grew up in Vancouver, largely unaware of his Haida artistic traditions. Subsequent to meeting Haida master-artist, Bill Reid and discovering, at the young age of twenty, the fine metalwork of his grandfather, John Marks, he began to focus his energy on understanding this tradition.
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