The Halibut Hook reborn
The Tlingit people of the Pacific Northwest have been inhabiting their lands and their waters for about 14,000 years and finding and refining their understanding and relationship with their home. And surely they forgot along the way sometimes, I would imagine, but their longevity their points to their deep connection to the rhythms of that part of the world and remembering more than they forgot. Part of their approach to sustenance was fishing and specifically fishing for that grey flat giant of the cold deep – the halibut.
While halibut do have teeth they sort of vacuum up their food and the Tlingit devised hand carved wooden hooks with a barb made of bear bone that sinks the hook when the halibut tries to spit it out sensing that something isn’t right. These wooden hooks are full of artistic figures etched into the body and are meant to communicate respect towards the halibut, water spirits, and possibly ancestors to make for a more successful hunt.
It seems also that these hooks were carved to different dimensions to target fishes of particular sizes so that the younger and more prolific breeding fish would be spared, thus sustaining the species for future generations. This is a beautiful example of a traditional ecological knowledge being shared in and as an object.
Of course these traditional hooks fell by the wayside for industrially produced hooks that work on similar principles that the Tlingit understood but went for maximum catch rather than the more sustainable and labor intensive method. Imagine if you had to hand carve each of your hooks how many fish would be left in the sea and how much you would value that one fish?
While plenty of wooden halibut hooks sit on mantle pieces as art there are some people like Jon Rowan in Alaska who are still carving wooden hooks and claim they do a better job at catching halibut than the modern hooks. But now he is teaching the carving skills to his family and some of these old ways and millennia long chains of knowledge that connect humans and the non-human world can go on a bit longer.
Here at Primal Derma we celebrate the old ways of culture and venerate those who are trying to remember them and keep them alive. Humans rely on the non-human world for our health and sustenance and are glad that people like Jon are out there in the world. We are trying to do the very same with Primal Derma.
If you are little low, we’d love if you picked up a jar to help you remember a little bit about remembering these ancient paths.