Carving whale bone into a Nuu-chah-nulth war club

Melissa Renwick, August 7, 2020

Joe Martin cuts up the lower jaw bone of a grey whale outside his workshop in Tofino, on August 6. (Melissa Renwick photos)

Tofino, BC — 

During a hike down to Radar Beach, Tsimka Martin stumbled upon the bones of an adult grey whale. Upon her return, she informed her father, Joe, of what she had found. He immediately began to dream up a way that he could make use of them.

Over a month ago, Martin brought her father back to the site where she found the bones. Caked in sand and weighed down by water and oil that was trapped in the pores of the bones, the pair loaded their findings into Joe’s boat.

For weeks, oil seeped from the skeletal pieces onto the floor inside Joe’s workshop garage in Tofino, until he was ready to transform them into a Nuu-chah-nulth war club.

Cutting into the thickest part of the lower right jawbone with a chainsaw, he pondered, “how the heck did they do this without metal?”

What would have taken his ancestors an entire day, took him mere seconds.

The outer layer of bone is harder than wood, he remarked.

It was the master carver’s first attempt at making a war club, which Nuu-chah-nulth peoples used to fight in battle until the late 1800s, he said.

The final result is reminiscent of a sword, marked with carvings of family crests.

While it may not be perfect, it’s important for Joe to continue practicing the ways of his ancestors – with the help of a chainsaw.

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