The Origin of the Wolf Ritual: The Whaling Indians West Coast Legends and Stories, Part 12 of the Sapir—Thomas Nootka Texts.


278 pages
Contains Photos, Maps, Bibliography
ISBN 978-0-660-19705-0
DDC 398.208997'95507112




Edited by Eugene Arima, Terry Klokeid, and Katherine Robinson
Reviewed by Joan A. Lovisek

Joan A. Lovisek, Ph.D., is a consulting anthropologist and
ethnohistorian in British Columbia.


The Wolf Ritual is a secret initiation rite in which the initiated, mostly children of highly ranked Nuu-chah-nulth (Nootka) members, were captured by “wolves,” who were actually individuals (commoners) dressed as wolves. The initiates were taken to a secret location in the forest, which was believed to be the ancestral lineage house of the wolves. From this location the initiates were taught various ceremonial rituals and prerogatives, which, upon their return to society, they could display to demonstrate their new status. While the Wolf Ritual is presented in the ethnographic literature as a principal ceremony practised during the winter months, its origin is not the subject of inquiry of this book, despite the title.


This volume is the last in a series of Mercury publications of the field notes of Edward Sapir, known as the Sapir-Nootka Texts. The texts were recorded between 1910 and about 1923. Much of the material is taken from notes prepared by Sapir, which had been obtained from his Tseshaht informants, as well as Sapir’s fieldwork. The book is divided into two parts of which the first recites the four native accounts of the Wolf Ritual. The accounts are provided in a Nuu-chah-nulth dialect followed by an English translation. The editors have provided keys to the practical orthography and maps which show various locations and place names cited in the accounts.


The second part of the book contains Sapir’s observations of a Wolf Ritual in November 1910 at Alberni, which had occurred over eight days, and a set of appendices that includes numerous copies of letters between Sapir and his informants. These letters contain additional ethnographic data, but more strikingly exhibit the method then employed by ethnographers of obtaining ethnographic data, namely through the mail. The letters also provide valuable information concerning the motivations underlying Sapir’s ethnographic interests, particularly his interest and effort obtaining information that was secret or sacred.


This publication, like others in the Mercury series, provides an important contribution to the ethnography of the west coast of Vancouver Island, and the history of ethnographic method.


“The Origin of the Wolf Ritual: The Whaling Indians West Coast Legends and Stories, Part 12 of the Sapir—Thomas Nootka Texts.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 25, 2024,