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Friday, November 16, 2012

The Quileute: Life Before Twilight

Excited Twilight fans will be hitting the movie theaters in droves for Breaking Dawn - Part 2, the last installment of the vampire/werewolf series. In the thrilling conclusion, Bella and Edward, the undead teen couple, deal with unplanned parenthood and a werewolf (aka former love triangle member) imprinting on their daughter, all while Bella adjusts to her post-pregnancy body. Throw in some Volturi, and you've got some serious problems. Whether you're Team Edward, Team Jacob, or Team I Don't Care, no one can deny that since the first Twilight movie was released in 2008, the series has become a pop culture sensation.

So what are fans to do once they've read all the Twilight books and watched all the movies? While you won't be able to find field notes on vampire kinship patterns at the National Anthropological Archives, you can find linguistic and ethnographic materials relating to the Quileute, the tribe portrayed as werewolves in the Twilight series. 

Quileute woman with her two daughters
SPC Nwc Quileute BAE 1-25 00092700
As our savvy readers can guess, the legends and history of the tribe described in Twilight were largely fabricated by series creator Stephanie Myers. While wolves figure prominently in Quileute mythology, werewolves do not. According to the Quiluete creation myth, the first Quileute people were wolves changed into humans by the Transformer Kwati, but that is the only time. Nowhere in Quileute folklore are there stories of humans turning into wolves.

Due to the soaring popularity of the Twilight franchise, the Quileute Nation of La Push, Washington has received quite a bit of attention, and its reservation has become a popular tourist destination. To help dispel much of the misinformation spread by the Twilight series, the Seattle Art Museum worked closely with the Quileute to mount the exhibit Behind the Scenes: The Real Story of the Quileute Wolves (August 2010 to August 2011, later on view at the National Museum of American Indians - January 2012 to May 2012).

For the exhibit, the National Anthropological Archives loaned a selection of drawings by students from the Quileute Day School in Mora, near La Push, Washington. These drawings, collected by their teacher Albert B. Reagan in 1905 to 1909, depict traditional Quileute ceremonies and objects, as well as scenes from everyday life. With an eye for detail, the students captured rituals and a way of life no longer practiced today.

Wolf Ritual Dance by F.L Bennet
Inv 08655200, Manuscript 1802

Acording to anthropologist Leo J. Frachtenberg ("The Ceremonial Societies of the Quileute Indians," 1921), the Quileute had five ceremonial societies.  Along with the wolf society for warriors, there were societies for fishermen, hunters, whale hunters, and weather prediction. The ceremonies, consisting of ritual dances, songs, and potlatches, were held during the winter months to honor guardian spirits and to initiate new members to the societies.

One of the ceremonies depicted in the drawings is the Wolf Ritual, which takes place over 6 days. On the first day of the ceremony, men wearing wolf masks and blankets are followed by other members of the wolf society carrying salal bushes on their shoulders.

Wolf Ritual dance by Jimmie C. Hobucket
Inv 08656600, Manuscript 1802

In this scene, dancers in the society for hunters hold sticks, which are always carried on hunts, and imitate the actions of hunters and game animals. 

Ka-Kla-Kwal dance, artist unknown
Inv 08656100, Manuscript 1802

Whaling, once an important part of Quileute culture, ceased in 1904 due to government regulations. The whale hunters society consequently ended as well, but the Quileute continue to this day to hold ceremonies honoring whales.

Quileute whaling scene by Frank L. Bennett
Inv 08655400, Manuscript 1802

In addition to the ceremonies of the five societies, the Quileute also practiced the rituals of the Shaker religion. The Indian Shaker Church, not to be confused with the New England religion, was founded by John Slocum in 1881. Containing a mix of Native American, Catholic, and Protestant influences, the religion was established in La Push in 1895. Characteristic of their services was the shaking or trembling of members to heal the sick.

Shaker Dance, artist unknown Inv 08655000, Manuscript 1802

These drawings provide just a snippet of traditional Quileute culture. It may be too late to catch Behind the Scenes: The Real Story of the Quileute Wolves, but you can still view these and other drawings by Quileute school children online. You can also visit Truth Versus Twilight, created by the Burke Museum of University of Washington in collaboration with the Quileute Nation.

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