Canoes. Fishing was the major
source of food. Strong canoes made better fishing possible. Canoe
building quickly developed into an art form. Canoe carvers were
trained by their ancestors to be carvers. No one else was allowed to
carve a canoe. The art was handed down from father to son, from
uncle to nephew. These canoes were huge. They were carved from cedar
trees, of course.
For those of you who do not live in the Pacific
Northwest, cedar trees can grow over 80 feet tall quite easily.
Since the forests are so thick, there are few branches on the way
up. (This is still true today.) One way to describe a cedar tree is
that it is a tall, wide, strong pole of wood with a hat of green
leaves at the very top.
The natural shape of cedar trees make them
rather perfect for cutting into planks or for splitting into two
long sections. That's exactly what these early people did. They
built canoes that were 50 feet long and 8 feet wide. These were
workboats. Each canoe could hold 20 warriors and 10,000 pounds of
cargo, such as fish.
They also carved boats that were much smaller.
A single family, for family outings, to enjoy the water and the
sunshine or to visit other tribes along the coast, used these small
To make a canoe, first they had to cut down a
cedar tree. Then they had to split the log in half, without cracking
it. Then, they had to burn and scrape down the middle, to begin to
shape it. Once they got that far, they filled the hole they had
scraped down the middle with water. Just as the women used hot
stones to make water boil in cooking baskets, so did the ancient
canoe makers soften the cedar. They filled the hollow with water and
added hot rocks until the water boiled. This softened the cedar so
that they could begin to shape and carve their canoe.