The First Cat In The Northwest
people's first contact with Europeans was the merchant marines
that traveled around the world. They told the people about the sights they had seen
in far off exotic locations. These stories must have been unbelievable to the first
people of British Columbia that had no previous knowledge of places like Africa.
The merchant marines often had pets with them. The early native people saw parrots,
monkeys and other animals for the first time from this contact. There is a story that
tells of the first cat on the northwest coast.
A ship arrived at Fort Rupert on northern Vancouver island with goods to trade
for furs. The captain of the vessel had a pet cat. When the chiefs saw the cat they
told the captain that they wouldn't do any trading unless he sold them the cat.
The captain was reluctant to loss his pet but agreed to sell it.
The chiefs arranged a potlatch and invited representatives from villages to the
north and south to witness their strange animal from across the ocean. Unsure
of how to care for the cat, they kept it in a box until all were gathered in the
bighouse. They had erected a log pole in the bighouse and after much preliminary
ceremony and speeches they opened the box and removed the cat and tossed it
towards the pole. The cat climbed up the pole and jumped off the top and ran
out of the bighouse and was never seen again.
This event only instilled more mystery towards
the feline animals of the world.
There are a few examples of cat (or lion) masks in museums. They have been
associated with Nuthimal (Fool) Masks possibly because of the elongated
nose but I can't help but wonder if that cat and the Mariner's stories of
Africa didn't have something to do with these pieces.