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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/649

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THE INDIANS OF BRITISH COLUMBIA.

own canoes or on board of a small steamer plying between the city and the settlements all along the coast as far as the boundary of Alaska. When in the fall of 1886 1 visited the Indian villages of that district to study the languages and customs of the natives, I joined a young Indian, who after a few years' absence was returning with his wife and children to his country. Soon the houses of Victoria disappeared from our view, and at the small miners' town of Nanaimo we had reached the terminus of European civilization. Dense woods, uninterrupted by fields or houses, cover the mountains and descend to the shore. No lighthouse warns the ship of the dangerous rocks and shoals which obstruct the narrow straits, and it seems almost incredible that it is only a few hours since we have left the busy town. The European population of the coast consists of a few traders, salmon-fishers, and missionaries, who lead a lonesome life among the Indians. Four days we had sailed through the narrow waters and approached the home of my Indian friend. He was unable to restrain his impatience any longer. By singing and dancing he expressed his joy at the return to his countrymen. At last the village appeared, which had been hidden from sight by a long island. It consisted of a row of well-built wooden houses, painted with gay figures, standing on a small opening. Canoes dug out of a single tree lay on the beach. As soon as the villagers heard the steam-whistle, they manned some boats and set out to meet the vessel. The luggage was thrown into the boats, and we sat down on top of it; the Indians paddled toward the land, while the steamer slowly disappeared from view. My friend had informed one of the chiefs of the village that I wished to stay with him. He came up to me in all his dignity and invited me to follow him into his house. Here I was at my leisure to look about among the people among whom I was so suddenly thrown.

The only garment of the natives consists of a cotton shirt, and a woolen blanket thrown over the shoulders like a toga; the women wear petticoats besides. Their hair is arranged in two braids, while the men tie a gay kerchief or a piece of skin round their heads to keep back the hair. Wondering, they surrounded the stranger, curious to know what might have induced him to visit their lonely village.

The house forms a square, the side of which is about fifty feet long. It is built of heavy planks which are tied to beams. The roof is also built of planks, and rests on a long timber which forms the ridge of the house. This timber rests on two pairs of uprights, one standing in the front and forming the door, the other one standing in the rear of the house. They are beautifully carved, and represent the crest of the house-owner. Around the walls an elevated platform, about four feet wide, is built, on which there are small sheds serving for bedrooms.

Each corner of the house is occupied by one family, their partition being divided from the rest by screens made of mats. An enormous