While working on researching one of the objects in the upcoming Sailor Made exhibition I stumbled across some interesting history—but its discovery also presented a bit of a dilemma for us. The piece is a Pacific Northwest Coast Tlingit halibut hook. I don’t know if most of you have ever seen a fishhook like this, but it really is super cool (especially for those of us who are closet anthropologists!).
Most native-made fishhooks are a beautiful combination of form and function designed to attract a specific species of fish. While they might appear decorative because of the materials used, for the cultures that used them it was really all about functionality. This just isn’t the case with Tlingit halibut hooks. While their V-shaped hooks were perfectly designed to catch halibut, they also featured symbolism intended to secure supernatural assistance to ensure their catch, protect the fisherman at sea and guarantee his safe return to the village.