Photo: Hydaburg's new longhouse. Raven pole on the left; eagle pole on the right.
"I need more ravens!" called the burly man standing in the doorway to the longhouse. "I've got enough eagles but I need more ravens."
He wasn't talking about birds. We were waiting to see the raising of two poles, one to represent the raven moiety, the other to represent the eagle moiety, the two halves of Haida society. Each moiety was to raise the other moiety's pole.
Several men stepped forward, then turned into the longhouse. Minutes later two groups of men carried the two poles out of the longhouse, the eagle pole for the right corner of the longhouse, the raven pole for the left corner. The man who had asked for more ravens stepped forward with a cedar bough in his hand, which he passed on to an elderly man, who said, "We're here to bless this longhouse and these two poles. This cedar represents regeneration and we thank the cedar for giving us these poles." The audience cheered as a group of women began drumming and chanting."
For the next hour we watched as the men raised the two poles, first attempting to raise the two at once, then when it became obvious that raising one at a time was challenging enough, they first raised the raven pole, then the eagle pole. They used frames of lumber to hold the pole in place as they raised it by hands and rope. They raised the second pole in about a quarter of a time that took them to raise the first.
Photos: The process of raising a pole
When both poles were raised, the organizer gave a short speech. "We did it! And we learned a lot. First, we tried to do both at the same time but that didn't work so we did one at a time. Now it's time to dance! Ravens dance for the eagle pole and eagles dance for the raven pole." The audience cheered, the drummers drummed and chanted and everyone danced, celebrating their poles. There was a feeling of accomplishment in the group, as if the longhouse and the poles represented turning point. They now had their own longhouse: a place for ceremonies, for weddings and for celebrations.
That evening we attended a celebration of the poles and longhouse in the Hydaburg High School Gym. We feasted on salmon, halibut and other food and watched dancers from Hydaburg and Klawock.
To see where we were, search for Hydaburg on Google Maps