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BUDDHIST COLUMBIA

Had you been standing near the Air Terminal across from the Art Gallery on Georgia Street, Vancouver, on May 2nd, 1972, you may have witnessed a curious sight. Had you asked any of the young, long-haired, baby-toting, smiling, headgarlanded men and women who those Japanese were in the long orange and purple robes, they would have said "They're not Japanese, they're Tibetan, monks, lamas, and a nun, and they're on their way back to Northern India via Samye-Ling monastery in Scotland."

It is a long way in time and space for those Tibetans from preinvasion Tibet where cars, electricity and running water were unknown, to the world of jet travel. Tibetans, Indians, and Japanese have been travelling to modern North America in increasing numbers in the past few years, spreading the word of the Buddha and other spiritual teachers to the open-eared young of the West.

When several groups of businessmen, teachers, artists and writers working for the Tibetan Relief Fund attempted to obtain permission for the displaced Tibetans to establish in the B.C. Rockies, Welfare Minister Gagliardi gave one of his familiar gruff replies. "We've already got too many deadbeats in this province." He would be surprised to know that the spiritual forefathers of these same "deadbeats" had preceded his countryman Chris Columbus to North America by at least ten centuries.

That, at any rate, is the speculation surrounding one of the greatest adventure stories of this coast. Little is known of this story, however, and its validity has yet to be established, but with a few concrete facts and a bit of imagination, we can probably fill it in.

In the early nineteenth century the discovery of some early Chinese texts stimulated a raging controversy among European scholars. The writings, in a work by Ma-Twan-lin, record the travel story of Huei Shan, a Buddhist priest who returned to China from a land far to the east in 499 A.D.

He told of a land named Fusang, and. of two lands before it, named Wan Shan (the country of marked bodies) and Ta Han (Great China). In Fusang, which derived its name from a tree which produced food and clothing for the inhabitants, houses were made of planks, people wrote on treebark, bartered for goods, and had a very clear system of rank, being led by a king treated with much pomp and ceremony. Of Wan Shan, it was said that the inhabitants marked their bodies to indicate tribal rank and lived in houses surrounded by moats filled with "yin shui", a term difficult to translate but suggesting silver-water, now considered to have been oelachen in process of having their oil extracted.

In an exhaustive study, the nineteenth century scholar Edward P. Vining draws strong arguments to place Ta Han in the Aleutian chain, Wan Shan on the North Pacific coast, and Fusang in Mexico. His deductions are simple and mechanical. The distances stated in the Chinese texts, though a point of contention, place the countries in the areas he suggests. The argument for a water crossing through the Bering Strait is highly possible. The greatest water distance on that crossing is under two hundred miles. Even simple seal-skin craft could have weathered it. Well into the last century, Japanese junks were blown off course to appear adrift off the coast of Washington and British Columbia.
Next, Vining compared the texts with known anthropological data, finding, for example, the use of caste tatooing by the Point Barrow esquimaux and body painting by the Haida and Kwakiutl. In Mexico, he found many parallels with Fusang. People did have written script, ate a fruit resembling the pear (from cactus), made cream from deer's milk, did not have iron, though copper in abundance, all of which are stated in the Chinese.

Also he cites many cultural and religious parallels between Asia and Mexico. In Pre-Columbian Central America, many priests lived in monasteries said to have been established by "the Revered Visitor" Quetzalcoatl. Tiamacazque, or more simply Tlama, the name of those priests is suspiciously like the Tibetan Lama. At Uxmal, above the entrance to the House of Priests is a seated cross-legged figure bearing striking resemblances to a meditating Buddha. Representations of various gods correspond to those of China and Japan and there are parallels of dress, bridge construction, calendars, armour and anchors.

Of Fusang, the Chinese texts said "In olden times, they knew nothing of Buddhist religion, but in the reign of Tming, of the Emperor Haio Wu Tu of the Sung Dynasty (A.D. 458), from Ki-Ping five beggar priests went there. They travelled over that kingdom, everywhere making known the laws, canons and images of that faith. Priests of regular ordination were set apart from the natives, and the customs of the country became reformed."

One of the most interesting, if not vitally important studies of history is of such movements of cultural traditions and ideas. British Columbia's position in relation to Asia made it a possible main highway for Hwei Shan and his fellow monks. Buddhists in particular had a tradition of widespread travels, spreading the Dharma (or Way), meeting with other practitioners, and seeking instruction. Buddhism was originally carried by such wandering mendicants from its home in India, to China, Japan, South-east Asia, Tibet and Mongolia. There are records of Buddhist monks reaching as far west as the Black Sea area sometime before the first century A.D.

It is interesting to imagine these early Buddhists making their way past the islands of British Columbia in small boats, stopping here and there to propagate the word of Buddha, having become conversant with the Indians' tongue. Lending credence to these conjectures are a number of finds at various sites in B.C. In 1882, the October 25th issue of the Weekly Colonist in Victoria ran a story on the discovery of a string of bronze coins which were up to 3,000 years old. They had just been found by some miners working a creek bank

near Telegraph Creek. When they were hauled up from their resting place several feet below the surface the wire holding them together disintegrated. The newspaper suggested "whether the Chinese miners who went to the Cassiar seven or eight years ago deposited the collection where it was found for the purpose of establishing a prior claim to the land - may never be known." Some years later, while prospecting in the same area, the Chinese court interpreter from Victoria met Indians who showed him several ancient Buddhist silver ceremonial dishes and a number of brass charms. Though they were reluctant to part with any of it, the Indians did give him one of the charms, which was estimated to be at least 1,500 years old. It had been found, along with the other objects, buried in the roots of a large tree.

Also discovered in the roots of a tree, when the townsite of Powell River was being cleared, was a small statuary Buddha. At the Planetarium Museum in Vancouver, there is a stone ceremonial figure closely resembling a seated Buddha. It was taken from a Fraser midden. In Nanaimo, layout workers found an ancient Japanese sword in a copper-bound wooden scabbard. It was lying eleven feet beneath the earth's surface.

Though there is a possibility that such items made their way to the coast via Russian or Spanish trade routes, the evidence for a Chinese origin are equally strong. Marius Barbeau, long time curator of the National Museum of Canada and noted ethnomusicologist, entertained theories that the Northwest Coast tribal music was strongly flavoured by Buddhist temple chanting, which would certainly not have been introduced as a trade good.

It is doubtful if Huei Shan would care too much about being the "discoverer" of a land which he felt to be "illusory". One place is much the same as any other to a person who rinds his reality centered in the workings of the mind rather than in his history. Doubtless, the North America through which Huei Shan and his monks wandered was less foreign, economically and culturally, than today's North America is to the refugee Buddhists of Tibet. Similarily, Shigetsu Sasaki, later known as Zen Master Sokei-An, would have found himself in a more familiar environment hiking the backwoods country of Puget Sound in the early 1910's while he was living around Lummi Island with Indians for neighbours. Patterns repeat themselves and echo. The mind of man plays infinite variations on countless themes, but here on the Northwest coast, Buddhist wandering monks inject an element of continuity, one more thread in the tapestry of our history.
-Scott Lawrance


LIKE A WAR by Peter Trower

No bombs explode, no khaki regiments tramp
to battle in a coastal logging-camp.
Yet blood can spill upon the forest floor
and logging can be very like a war.

We sat aboard a crummy, tension -creased.
The fog rose surely from the vanished east.
The hooker said - 'I've felt this way before
in Italy. It's something like a war.'

The hill was dark and filmed with icy slush.
We stumbled through the morning-clammy brush.
The sky was grey and vague. The air was raw
with winter and the game was like a war.

The savage cables rattled through the mist.
The boxing chokers cursed the men they missed.
We wrestled with their steel ropes and swore
and grumbled. It was very like a war.

Then far above us, shifting timber groaned.
The loader's lonely warning-whistle moaned.
Six logs came crashing down the foggy draw.
The guns had sounded. We were in a war.

Our names might well be written on the butts
of that blind downfall. Terror gripped our guts.
We shrank behind our stumps beneath the roar.
Like hapless soldiers, we were in a war.

And ever down the wooden missiles rushed,
an avalanche that battered, slammed and crushed
and passed us. And you couldn't ask for more
if you'd been spared by bullets in a war.

Foolhardy veterans, we resumed our work
and snared the timber in the swirling murk.
We'd tasted action now. We knew the score.
They paid us for engaging in a war.

The logging-slash rears weary in the sun.
No truce is called. No victory ever won.
We bear no weapons, yet the fact is sure
that what we wage is very like a war.


They Don't Make 'Em Anymore: Captain Herb Clifton
Captain Herbert Clifton, a Tsimshian Indian, was born in the village of Metlakatla, a few miles to the west of the city of Prince Rupert, in the late 1870's or early 1880's. It is very difficult for me to determine, with any accuracy, his exact age as I saw no change in his appearance in the fifteen years we were closely associated.

My first meeting with him was in 1906 when I was going to school at the Inverness Cannery on the Skeena River. He was then Master of the steam tog Florence owned by the J.H. Todd interests of Victoria and used as a tender for Inverness. I have been unable to trace her builder but think it safe to assume that it was Orvig at Port Essington. She very much resembled the design that he was known for.

A couple of years after this the North Coast Towing Company associated with Georgetown Sawmills at Georgetown, which is 17 miles north of Prince Rupert and 9 miles south of Port Simpson, bought the steam twin screw steel tug Topaz in Vancouver and brought her north to take care of the expanding delivery of lumber to the new city of Prince Rupert as well as the canneries along the coast. Captain Clifton was hired to take command.

Captain Clifton's certificate was an unusual one in that it was a certificate of Service rather than a certificate of Competency which was usually granted. Certificates such as this were granted in those days by the Department of Marine and Fisheries and it would seem that they had bent their rules to some extent to accommodate Captain Clifton on the advice of the Anglican Church.

Much of my time served at sea before getting my Master's Certificate was served under Herb and I can say, without doubt, I learned more of handling a tug from him than from any other source. He was also a sterling example of a man.

As a young man growing up in Metlakatla Herb married an Indian girl and, being restless to get away from the village where there was no employment except in the fishing season, he and his bride went to Hazelton and signed on with the Hudson's Bay Company to pack on the Babine Trail.

They were a husky pair. Herb stood well over six feet, while his wife was a well built woman taller and huskier than the average of her people. He told me that he carried on his back as a regular load, three fifty-pound sacks of flour while his wife carried a regular load of seventyfive pounds. This, for a distance of nearly eighty miles.

When the packing season closed the couple returned to Metlakatla where they built one of the nicest homes in the village overlooking the sea. Later Herb joined Bishop Ridley's mission boat and finally got command. In addition to his duties in connection with navigation he was also called upon, to play the organ. Herb was the cleverest musician I have ever had the good fortune to meet. His favorite instrument was the violin but he could get music out of any instrument placed in his hands. I remember his first experience with a saxophone. A "wise guy", thinking that at last he had come up with an instrument that would stump Herb, handed him the sax and sat back with a smug grin, waiting for Herb to fall flat on his face. But after doodling around a bit he came out with some of the hits of the day.

Herb was always a welcome guest at our home in Georgetown and often when he was held over waiting for a tide he would stroll into our living room and sit down at the piano and play enchanting music for hours on end. These visits were greatly enjoyed by my mother because although she played she also enjoyed hearing someone else. There was not much opportunity for Mother to enjoy someone else's playing as we lived in a very isolated area.

When the first pipe organ in northern British Columbia was installed in the Anglican Church in Metlakatla, Herb took over as organist. On one memorable occasion when I had called him to Vancouver to take one of the tugs north after refit I learned that one of the world's renowned violinists was conducting a show at the old arena building. I bought two tickets for the recital and took Herb to his first such entertainment. When I glanced over to see his reaction to the violin solo I was not surprised to see the tears rolling down his cheeks. He was that kind of person.

One of Herb's more astonishing accomplishments was the ability to write "calling cards" freehand in old English script. His ability got to be well known with the result that he did the cards for a good many of the fashionable ladies of the time.

Although his hands were large and he was as strong as a bull he could, after making a few samples, go on and write fifty or a hundred cards which could not be distinguished from the original. His log books were also written in this beautiful manner and were a sight to behold. How I regret not keeping one!

Herb was not without wit. One time he was assisting a surveyor who was mapping several islands in Venn Passage not far from the boundaries of Metlakatla. He and the surveyor had taken time out to eat their lunch and before they resumed work the surveyor heard a call from nature and went into the bush. Shortly after, he asked Herb for the Indian name of the island as he was anxious to preserve the native names as much as possible. Herb answered "Clianchi", which sounded alright and was carefully noted on the map. It turned out that the word meant "The island that was s--- on." The name still appears on charts of the area.

As I moved away from the north in 1919 and did not return until the Second World War days, after Herb had gone to the happy hunting ground, I was robbed of the opportunity to continue my association with this fine friend and superb gentleman.
-Donale Peck


BOOK REVIEW: MIST ON THE RIVER

To start with, this is a biased review, so much so that I suppose you could call it an adver. tisement. Being a latterday academic drop-out, I don't have to get into the vagaries and niceties of whether or not Hubert Evans is a major or minor novelist, a proponent of regionalism in Canadian literature or any other time/space/or culture slot I could fit him into.

Let's flash first to a scene along the beach at Roberts Creek, where the salmon are crowding forward in their autumnal trip home. The stream in front of Hubert's had been dammed by some high seas the winter before and Mister and Missus Salmon were having a hard time making it past the jam. Hubert, though pressing on in years, when he found the creek was blocked, hauled out his pick and shovel and cleared the way, a matter of course.

Hubert's also written a number of novels, as well as trucked, sailed, hiked, rowed, and swam over most of the coast and a good chunk of the interior. One of his books sprang from some years teaching with his wife up in the Hazelton area. The Gitkasan people there became their close friends - the warmth and understanding that flowed between them becomes evident in the book Mist on the River.

Just reissued as a number in McClelland and Stewart's New Canadian Library, the novel brings a neglected but central problem of B.C.'s history to light. Life in a country will change with technology and communication but some of the old ways and patterns are inevitably im. printed onto the new. When two races meet, or collide, the waves of impact will travel wide and echo far.

The young native protagonist is caught in a unique web, spun by the racial intrigue, but whose patterns have been felt in all our lives. The family and tribe with the old, timehonoured ways, the dreams of the ancestors on the starless nights, pull in one direction. In the other pull the voices of the New, the Unknown, the promise of better things ahead, Progress, which for the native of this coast from roughly 1800 on has worn a white mask.

The voice of the old is Paul, hereditary chief, who is the craftsman, canoe-maker for his people and keeper of those ways, and for the whites at the cannery, the boss in the boat shed. He tests the allegiances of young Matt who must struggle with the self-contempt arising from being a member of such a "backward" race. The people from upriver go to the coast seasonly each summer, to work in the canneries around Prince Rupert and Rivers In let. The novel contains some fine descriptions of that migrant existence at both ends, coastal and headwater, from the tar paper shacks on pilings where the fresh and salt water mingle, to the fine stands of maple in the sun-lit valleys.

Where once the economic life of the people was tied to barter with the coastal tribes and the great run of oolachan, now it is hinged not to a natural pulse but to the economics of the market. No longer is the take-home pay measured in fish oil for food and fuel but rather in dollars to be spent in company stores and white supermarkets.

But there are the good whites too. The school teachers and the truly humanitarian doctors whose modern ways, though distrusted, save lives. Moral questions are held in abeyance, in half-light, riddled with the contradictions that reality entails. The company, the doctors, the teachers, the old natives and the young all striving as best they can to make sense out of the whirling currents of the mingling of the racial streams, all make the mistakes compounded by the nature of their desires.

A review of this book fits into this magazine in a very crucial way, pinpointing as it does one of the underlying dynamics of any story of the coast. This coast, in which we face these ghosts.
-Scott Lawrance