Updated: Apr 7
A legend of many cultures.
"The Rescue of Two American Captives at Nootka Sound, Vancouver Island"
Artist: Unknown (1849)
On July 16, 1805, the ship Lydia sailed undetected into Nootka Sound off Vancouver Island and successfully rescued two crewmen of the American ship Boston. Both men had survived the massacre of their ship's crew by the Nootka Indians and were subsequently enslaved by the tribe's Chief Maquinna. Over their two-and-a-half years in captivity, the men adapted to the ways of the Nootka tribe and befriended the great chief and his people. One of the men, a blacksmith by the name of John Jewitt, kept a journal which was later published. Within the journal's pages is an intimate glimpse into the world of the tribes of Vancouver Island and the Pacific Northwest.
"On the 15th of January 1805, about midnight, I was thrown into considerable alarm in consequence of an eclipse of the moon, being awakened from my sleep by a great outcry of the inhabitants. On going to discover the cause of this tumult, I found them all out of their houses, bearing lighted torches, singing and beating upon pieces of plank; and when I asked them the reason of this proceeding, they pointed to the moon, and said that a great cod-fish was endeavouring to swallow her, and that they were driving him away. The origin of this superstition I could not discover." - John Jewitt, Narrative of the Adventures and Sufferings of John R. Jewitt (1849)
"A Rare Astronomical Event"
Clip: Daily News Advertiser (1910)
Vancouver, British Columbia
Just over a hundred years later, on May 24, 1910, people of the Pacific Northwest witnessed a rare sight when during the darkening moments of a lunar eclipse, Halley's Comet was observed sailing across the western sky. Scientists and hobbyists had prepared their equipment in advance of the event and opened their garden gates to anyone wishing to observe the rare phenomenon through their telescopes. As thousands looked up in wonder, a different kind of phenomenon was being observed at the north end of Vancouver Island.
"Dancing to Restore an Eclipsed Moon"
Photo: Library of Congress (2003652796)
Photographer: Edward Curtis
On the night of a rare astronomical event, several members of the Kwakiutl tribe at the north end of Vancouver Island were observed and photographed dancing and hollering under the shadow of a lunar eclipse. As they circled around their fire, the smoke ascended to the heavens and caused the great sky creature above to sneeze and disgorge the moon it had swallowed.
Photographer Edward Curtis, who had been studying and photographing the Indians of North America, was researching the tribes of Vancouver Island for his ninth volume of work when the rare astronomical event of 1910 occurred. It was he who snapped the shot of the Kwakiutl dance under the lunar eclipse and identified the cultural connections with their neighbouring Nootka tribe. His project was funded by billionaire financier J.P. Morgan on the agreement that Morgan would receive several copies of his books when complete. Curtis, eager to launch his project, also agreed that Morgan's money was for research expenses only and consequently received no salary. As he made his way along British Columbia's coast, Curtis found that his reputation preceded him, and he was welcomed by the tribes he visited. He was saddened to discover that so many tribal customs and languages of the coast were all but forgotten. He placed an ad in the local papers hoping to find Indians between the ages of 75 to 100 years old who remembered both their people's language and customs without having been tainted or influenced by the white man's ways. It is unknown whether he received any response.
Clip: The Cheltenham Chronicle and Gloucestershire Advertiser (1847)
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England
In 1921, it was reported that people throughout India had been anxiously awaiting a lunar eclipse in their night sky. When the moment finally arrived, dense crowds gathered on the Howrah Bridge in West Bengal and prayed for the moon's release from the jaws of the mythical demon Rahu. "Isako Chhorado!" (drop it!) they cried at the first glimpse of the veiled moon caused by Rahu, who swallowed the moon but was then forced to disgorge it upon hearing the cries of the people.
"China's Heavenly Dog"
Clip: The Province (1935)
Vancouver, British Columbia
In 1876, it was reported that the people of China believed the lunar eclipse was caused by the attempt of an enormous monster to swallow the moon and that the only way to prevent it was to make loud noises until the monster released it from its mouth. By the turn of the century, the story had been clarified (or modified). China's moon-swallowing monster was a heavenly dog who released the moon from its mouth and backed away from the sound of the people's firecrackers.