Mamalilaculla


The extraordinarily exotic looking white beach of Village Island gleams from a distance, and beckons the mariner to come and explore.IMG_1526_lg

But beware! Remember this is not white sand; it is a shell midden from the abandoned village of Mamalilaculla. A midden is by its very definition, a refuse pile of discarded clam and oyster shells. It’s brilliant and beautiful, but it hides sharp glass, shards of ceramic and metal, and deep, black sucking mud. Pulling the dinghy up this beach is not a quick shuffle.

However it is well worth the trudge through sticky mud.

shell midden beach at Mamalilaculla, Broughton Island, BCEven though a small tour boat has dropped a few other visitors off at the other end of the beach, silence envelops us all. We respect each other’s space and it seems none of us want to interrupt the blanket of silence that peacefully settles over us.

Sun warming our shoulders, we crunch up the beach, looking for an access trail to lead us up to the abandoned village site. Up we scramble through wild rose bushes, past an old apple tree, and delightfully, blackberry brambles dripping with juicy purple fruit. We pick our way slowly along, stuffing ourselves with sun-warmed sweet blackberries (hoping we don’t meet a bear), and soon come upon a small clearing.

Mamalilaculla post & Beam gatewayEnormous posts and a massive beam are all that’s visible now of what must have been an ancient and impressive gateway. Beyond the brambles and 2 meter high salal we see old buildings slowly sinking back into the earth, buried by ferns, moss, and yet more salal. Unlike the shards of glass and porcelain buried in the midden, these old remnants are already nursing new forest life, and will eventually return to back from whence they came.

Mamalilaculla was a vibrant Kwakwaka’wakw (Kwakiutl) village until Smallpox wiped it out about a 150 years ago. Some people continued to live there until the mid-twentieth century, but no one does now.IMG_1579_lg

The word means “bay with islands in front”, and I imagine it was a great place to live. There’s plenty of fish, and the bird life is rich; obviously shellfish were plentiful. Empty, like the burial boxes that were rumoured to have been hung in the trees across the bay and long ago fallen, this old village site has disintegrated and returned to the earth, just like all things of the natural world are meant to do. Not even any memories of former inhabitants remain.

Village-Is_IMG_1567_medBut our memories do, as does our respect for that beautiful beach, the serene bay, those impressive cedar posts and beams, and the people who made this place their home.

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