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The Hamatsa Ceremony

Some useful links:

   An Overview of the Potlatch

   Modern Keakwaka'wakw Potlatch

   Potlatch Objects with names & descriptions


FOREST
 

  Initiates to the Hamatsa Society were taken into the forests, whence they returned fully possessed by Cannibal Woman.


KWAKIUTL SHAMAN
 

Commonly there were two ways in which to become an initiate. (1) A person could be diagnosed by a shaman as being in the early stages of possession by Cannibal Woman. (2) The initiate could inherit his position in the Hamatsa Society. In either case, a prolonged trip into the woods was in order.



HAMATSA DANCER, CURTIS, 1914.
 

  The initiate becomes the central focus of the Hamatsa Ceremony, which is the center of the Winter Ceremonies. This is the initiate in one of his manifestations, as staged by Curtis in 1914.

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TLINGIT WHALE HOUSE.
WHALE HOUSE VISUALIZATION
 

THE GREAT HOUSE

  This is a model of the Great Whale House of the Tlingit. The overall interior width is 49 feet, which makes the sunken dance floor nearly 30 feet wide. This is the arena in which the Hamatsa Ceremony occurs.

  Below, is a painting visualizing the interior of the Great Whale House with a dance in progress.

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WINTER CEREMONIES GILFORD ISLAND 1946.
 

Gilford Island, 1946.

  During the period from 1885 to 1953, in which potlatches and winter ceremonials were outlawed, they nevertheless still occurred, as in this example photographed by a tolorant policeman in 1946. The figures in the foreground are Hamatsa Society dancers.

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HAIDA CHIEF ARRIVES ALERT BAY.
 

A Haida Chief and his Speaker arrive at Alert Bay. The Chief wares a forehead mask so that his face remains visible, but his speaker wares a face mask since it is not his face that is important. Rather, his staff marks him as the Chief's speaker.

 

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ALERT BAY DANCE.
 

The Great House at Alert Bay.

 

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ALERT BAY DANCE.
 

The Great House at Alert Bay.

 

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ALERT BAY DANCE.
 

The Great House at Alert Bay.

 

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ALERT BAY DANCE.
 

The Great House at Alert Bay.

 

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NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC AT ALERT BAY.
 

National Geographic Films at Alert Bay.

 

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HAMATSA SOCIETY MEMBER.
 

A member of the Hamatsa Society in formal regalia, which is made mainly of red cedar.

 

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RAVEN AND HOK HOK.
 

The central dancers are the Cannibal Birds, including Raven and Hok Hok, who surround the novice who is being initiated into the Cannibal Woman Society.

 

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GRIZZLY BEAR DANCER.

Grissly Bear dancer in full consume emerging woods. Curtis, 1910-14.

 

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GRIZZLY BEAR DANCER.

Grissly Bear on the dance floor. Curtis, 1910-14.

 

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GRIZZLY BEAR MASK, KWAKIUTL, FIELD MUSEUM, ca 1880-1900

Hiligaxste' Grissly Bear forehead mask who attend the novice in the final stages of the dance. Kwakiutl, Field Museum, ca 1880-1900

 

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WOLF DANCER.

Wolf Dancer with large articulated forehead mask. Curtis, 1910-14.

 

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WOLF FOREHEAD MASK

Wolf Dancer with large articulated forehead mask. Curtis, 1910-14.

 

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FOOL MASK

Fool Society mask. Fools help keep the peace with sticks and stones, but were also armed with more serious weapons. They might also run amok breaking property, which they had to replace after the winter ceremonies concluded. Their noses produced vast amounts of snot that they would spread on those around them.

 

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FOOL SOCIETY

Boas (1885) As the members of a Fool Society, with the Hamatsa novice sitting in the center. Left to right: Charles Wilson, Mungo Martin, a halfbreed Frenchman, Spruce Martin (Mungo's elder brother), and either George or David Hunt. The first husbond of Mrs. Mungo Martin's first husbond was David Hunt. The halfbreed Frenchman looks remarkably like Franz Boas.

 

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THE DANGEROUS THING

A "Dangerous Thing" in the guise of Cannibal Woman. Curtis, 1914.

 

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FOREST SPIRIT

A Forest Spirit, Curtis, 1914. Anything with a white face and white hands is not of the living and potentially very dangerous.

 

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HAMATSA INITIATE GARB AFTER FIRST ROUND OF DANCING.

 

 

Hamatsa initiate garb after first round of dancing. Curtin 1914.

 

 

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Hamatsa Initiate regalia used in various stages of the ceremony.

 

SPEAKERS STAFF DECORATED WITH COPPERS

Speaker's Staff decorated with coppers.

 

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VISUALIZATION OF HAMATSA DANCERS IN KWAKIUTL GREAT HOUSE

Visualization of Hamatsa dancers.

 

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MASTER OF CEREMONIES AND HIS SPEAKER

Master of Ceremonies and his Speaker (right). From Boas, 1885.

 

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FRANZ BOAS ILLUSTRATING CORRECT DANCE POSTURE.
 

Franz Boas illustrating correct dance posture during the making of the displays at the American Museum of Natural History.

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THE HILIGAXSTE' DRAWS OUT THE HAMATSA INITIATE.
 

The Hiligaxste' draw out the Hamatsa Initiate.

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RETURN OF THE NOVICE.

The protocol for one stage in a rather unusual Potlatch, described at length by Boas (1885).




COPPER, HAIDA, COLLECTED IN 1911 BY NEWCOMBE.
 

Haida Copper collected by Newcombe in 1911.

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COPPER-BREAKER, COLLECTED BY NEWCOMBE, 1905.
 

Copper Breaker collected by Newcombe in 1905.

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KWAKIUTL COPPER, BANK OF BELGIUM COLLECTION
 

Broken Copper.

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CHIEF DISPLAYING A COPPER
 

Chief displaying a broken copper.

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ON THE VALUE OF A COPPER
 

A Chief boasts.

 

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CANNIBAL WOMAN GATHERING CHILDREN, BY NOREEN HUNT
 

Cannibal Woman gathering up children. Modern print by Noreen Hunt.

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Text & layout © 2010 by Charles M. Nelson
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