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Transcript of Transformation Mask
Kwakwaka'wakw, Northwest coast of Canada. Late 19th century C.E. Wood, paint, and string.
By Ellee McMeans and Kareem Mohamed
Kwakiutl Ceremonial Dance:
Materials- Cedar wood, feathers, sinew, cord, bird skin, hide, plant fibers, cotton, iron, pigments
Color- Uses vibrant colors like red and yellow
Balance- Bilateral symmetry
Pattern- Bold designs
Scale- The exterior eagle head of the mask is significantly bulkier and longer than the human face.
The mask was worn during a ceremony called a “potlatch” which represented a mythical transformation from animal to human.
The animal exterior of the mask was often represented as a bird, in this case an eagle, which may have represented an intercessor.
Focus- The focus seems to be on the eagle head because it is larger than and covers the human head.
Duality- The Eagle Transformation Mask shows duality in the contrast between the face of the human ancestor and the eagle.
The Kwakwaka'wakw people are made up of four major clans by animal: the killer whale, eagle, raven, and wolf clans.
Historians believe that the transformation masks are representative of the Kwakwaka'wakw belief that the animal skin is shed during death, rendering the clan member completely human.
Kwakwaka'wakw people also believed that humans and animals were unified, so animals could take on human form. According to this belief, the dancers who wore these masks were transformed into the spirit of the mask.
The masks serve to fulfill spiritual rituals of death or induction.
In addition to the display of wealth during the potlatch ceremonies, the masks are also an important part of the heritage of the Kwakwaka'wakws.
The transformation masks are used to demonstrate the peoples' connection to the afterlife, even in the earthly world.
Theme: Animal Imagery
Kwakwaka'wakw creation stories tell that there was once a time when when all animals and humans differed only by the skin covering them.
The Kwakwaka'wakw people had an important relationship with animals, believing that they could transform from either form in the past and that the transformation masks transformed the wearer into the spirit of the animal.
The animals on the transformation masks, an eagle in this case, are represented with large and distinctive features, which convey their importance to their ceremony.
The Buk Mask
Both the Transformation Mask and the Buk Mask have a ceremonial function which is sometimes associated with death.
Both masks utilize duality, depicting both human and animal form.
Unlike the Kwakwaka'wakw Transformation Mask, the Buk Mask was used in rituals to incite a bountiful harvest and hunt.