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The Steven Michaan Collection of North American Tribal Art : The Art of the Spirit World : Northwest Coast
Coast Salish
Bone Club

Whalebone, 20 ½” Length. Pre-contact, before 1575.
Coast Salish Bone Club

This very old war club is similar in general appearance to the whalebone clubs collected from the Nuu-chah-nulth and Makah peoples since the late Eighteenth Century.

Like many of the Nuu-chah-nulth examples, the pommel is decorated with a composite design of two faces, one above the other, produced by incising grooves and small hollows into the bone surface. The carved imagery in this club has an archaic appearance, suggesting a very long history. This one differs from most Nuu-chah-nulth clubs in the form and width of the blade. They are generally wider at the business end, tapering from the bluntly pointed tip to become narrower toward the handle. Nuu-chah-nulth examples are also frequently decorated along he blade with incised patterns of various types in shallow relief, where the surface of this blade is uncarved.

This club is comparable to one recovered on Hartstene Island in Southern Puget Sound and once housed in the Burke Museum in Seattle. The two clubs feature an untapered blade and similar pommel images, though the carved decorations differ in individual style. On these and other early examples from the southern coast, the pommel design consists of a humanlike face that appears to be wearing a headdress, an evidently enduring war club image.

The upper face in this club is shown with no lower jaw where it overlaps the forehead of the main figure and the two faces are intertwined by the pattern of grooves and hollows that curve around the back of the head. A small hole is pierced through behind the face for a leather or fiber handle loop.

War Clubs of this type are apparently the oldest weapons from the Northwest Coast. A similar archeological example has been dated to c.500 BC.

Passed from generation to generation for centuries, the clubs were used in the defense of the tribes as resources against outside aggressors, as well as during offensive attacks to acquire territorial influence or slaves.