AN ACCOUNT OF A VOYAGE TO THE NORTH WEST COAST OF AMERICA IN 1785 & 1786
Volume 11 Number 2.
What do you look for in a history-illustrations, maps, scholarly notes, index, bibliography and appendix material, careful editing? Alexander Walker's "Account" gives us more: selected language vocabularies of the Nootka and Southern Alaskan people in the late eighteenth century, chapters on voyages of other traders and explorers, and even the second-hand recollections of an intrepid Irishman, who spent over a year with the natives at Nootka. The book is elegantly printed, and one can criticize only its relative shortness. Many chapters are brief, and Walker is maddeningly vague about the exact path taken by the ships of the Bombay fur-trading expedition commanded by C. J. S. Strange.
The happy discovery of Walker's hitherto unpublished manuscript in a Scottish library gives us this new interpretation of life on the North West Coast of America in 1785 and 1786. Walker was an ambitious, curious, and shrewd recorder of "savage" customs; the editors have faithfully kept the penetrating, rather ironic flavour of the original. The young Scot noted many inconsistencies, e.g., on native behaviour: "they had little hospitality" and "they showed us where we might cut the best trees."
Altogether, the book shows us the original inhabitants of the North West Coast as well adapted to the harsh climate, fearless in their hunt of the whale, and skilled in handling their hand-wrought craft through daunting seas. The Indians behaved with benevolence and affection to infants and the elderly and took pleasure in giving their wives a life of "indolence." Much new information is given, including refreshing details on the life of "Mokquilla" (Maquinna?). This notable chief is said to have been, Macbeth-like, under the domination of his "handsome wife."
The trading voyage and the opening of the North West Coast to European influences from Cook's time on changed for ever the old Indian ways of hunting/fish-ing/gathering for a life of simple self-sufficiency. Walker is quite aware of the possibility of "damage" as a result of newly acquired tastes. He hints at the importance of structure, tradition, and veneration for old fetishes that was quickly broken down by the natives' desire for copper and iron (and other less useful importations). Robin Fisher and J.M. Bumstead (Canadian historians, both) are to be commended for the notes. Though set in smaller print, this section takes over fifty pages; it must thus be considered as an essential complement to the Walker history.
Adele Case, Britannia S. S., Vancouver, BC.
1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995
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