Lituya Bay Pipe

A carved wooden pipe with a design of a frog and wolf with symbolic representations of Lituya Bay.

This pipe has numerous figures representing forces that operate within the bay.

The frog is depicted holding the tide and the wolf is sitting on its haunches with the entrance between them. It is believed that the spirit could shake the bay like a person pulling on a sheet. The sheet copper covered ridges represent the tidal waves that can be raised when the spirit is disturbed. Underneath these symbolic waves is a copper cutout of a canoe with two occupants that have succumbed to the waves.

There is abalone inlay in the eyes of both creatures, the smoking bowl is made of sheet copper and there is a hole at the wolf end of the pipe to draw smoke through.

Tragedies were not only recorded by the Tlingits but also by the French. In 1786 La Pérouse’s men capsized two row boats at the mouth of Lituya Bay and 21 sailors lost their lives.

A tsunami occurred in Lituya Bay on July 8, at 10:15pm from a 7.8-8.3 earthquake that generated a tsunami 1,720 feet tall killing 5 people, and this is only one of the tsunamis that Tlingits have experienced through the centuries.

This pipe was collected in 1888 from a T’akdeintaan leader by G.T. Emmons and it honors the T’akdeintaan and Kaagwaantaan of Xunáa Kaawu.

Cultural Narrative: 

Lituya Bay is the ancestral home of the T’akdeintaan clan, one of four clans of Xunaa Káawu. The mouth of Lituya Bay is infamous for a tidal bore that causes huge waves to form on the change of tides. These waves have claimed the lives of people who have tried to enter the bay without this knowledge.

Lituya Bay is also known for several tsunamis that have been caused by the mountain at the head of the bay sloughing off huge sections of itself into the bay, and unlike the mouth of the of the bay these tsunamis were caused by earthquakes.

Traditional Knowledge: 

Tlingits believed that the events that happened in Lituya Bay were caused by spiritual forces that manifested themselves into these geological events. With Mt. Fairweather right behind Lituya Bay make this makes this place a center of spiritual power. A powerful íxt’ (shaman) lived in the mountain itself and was surrounded by mountain goats which are considered powerful spiritual beings. So, this is sacred territory with many songs, dances, and actual events that sets this place apart from the area around it.

Tidal forces that occur here are believed to be caused by a spirit who lives in a cave under the bay and becomes disturbed when humans enter Lituya Bay, and the name of that spirit is Kaa Lituya meaning “The man of Lituya.”


Carved wooden pipe bowl with design of a frog and bear, inlaid with brass and abalone, circa 1820-1860;  25 x 7.5 x 13 cm.

Formerly owned by the chief of the T'akdeintaan (Sea Pigeon) clan of Hoonah; collected in 1888 by Lieutenant George T. Emmons (1852-1945, US Navy 1881-1899) from an abandoned house owned by the chief; purchased by George Heye from George T. Emmons in 1906.