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5297747
transformation mask

Artifact NumberVII-B-20
Current Cultural AffiliationsHeiltsuk
Haida
All AffiliationsHaida (type/style)
Heiltsuk (type/style)
Bella Coola (type/style)
Northwest Coast (culture)
Category08: communication artifacts
Sub-categoryH060: ceremonial artifact
Place of OriginCountry - Canada, Province - British Columbia
MeasurementsHeight 86.0 cm, Width 101.0 cm, Thickness 33.0 cm
Earliest Possible Date1860/01/01
Latest Possible Date1870/12/31
CaptionTransformation Mask, Heiltsuk (Bella Bella) type, circa 1879
imgAboriginal01
imgAboriginal02
imgAboriginal03
Additional InformationOne of Canada's great national treasures, this North-west Coast mask can be transformed from the outer image of an eagle to the inner image of a supernatural being in human form. This is accomplished by pulling an elaborate set of cords attached to hinged panels that extend to form a corona. At the moment of transformation, the performer turned his back to the audience to conceal the action and heighten the mystery. The flickering light of the fire around which he danced further enhanced the dramatic effect. The ghostlike faces painted on the corona probably represent the souls of the owner's family in the underworld awaiting rebirth. Their incarnation was controlled by the supernatural being, whose face was revealed only during these secret winter ceremonies. The human hair surrounding the inner face probably came from an enemy, thus increasing the power of the mask. Israel Wood Powell, the first deputy commissioner of Indian Affairs for British Columbia, collected the mask in the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii) in 1879. It shows the stylistic features of the Bella Bella (Heiltsuk) people, who live on the coast midway between the Haida and the Bella Coola (Nuxalk). It may have come into the hands of a northern Haida chief via intertribal trading of ceremonial treasures, which was common among the most powerful chiefs of the coastal tribes.

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