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Gallery of Gwa'wina Hamsiwe' Masks of the Hamatsa Society
1. The Gwa'wina Hamsiwe' are the "assistants" of Baxwbakwalanuxwsiwe (Cannibal Woman). There's quite a flock of them, including a fearsome manifestation of Raven, who is said to have recruited the rest of the flock. On the one hand, they all have cannibalistic natures and fearsome names and reputations. But on the other, they are also the ones who bind Cannibal Woman, placing her power at the disposal of humans through the Hamatsa Society and the lineages of powerful chiefs.
This group of Hamsiwe' masks was acquired by the Heye Foundation for display in its Museum of the American Indian. Most of these masks date from about 1890 to 1910.
Huxhugwaxtawe, the Splitter of Skulls
2. Raven (left) and Huxhugwaxtawe, "Huxwhukw of Heaven" (also known as Hohokw, Hok Hok or Huk Huk), who is one of the cannibal birds that are associated with Baxw- bakwalanuxwsiwe (also spelled Bakba- kwasnooksiwae), the Man-Eater-of-the-North-End-of-the-World. Hohokw was said to break the skulls of humans and eat their brains.
Hohokw, along with Raven and Crooked-Beak, appear just before the last appearance of the tamed Cannibal Woman (hamatsa). Care must be taken by the dancer to not hit anything with the mask's long beak. It is the job of the attendant to guide the dancer around the room, warning him of any dangers.
The top masks date from between 1890 and 1910; the lower two are modern, by Henry Speck, Jr., and Ralph Wilson and Rupert Scow, respectively. Notice the skull in the in the close-up of the Rupert & Scow mask.Home
B. Hamatsa Raven mask by Tom Hunt, modern.
Gwaxwgwakwalanuksiwe, Plucker of Eyes
3. Raven is the prime mover and shaker among those who live above the clouds. He appears in numerous manifestations. As U'melth, he brought the Kwakiutl the moon, fire, salmon, the sun and tides. He is trickster and the subject of numerous stories in which he tricks others or, occasionally, outsmarts himself. You can read some Raven tales at Eldrbarry's web site.
Hamsiwe', the Smallest of the Servents
4. Galugadza'yi (Galuxwadzuwus) is the "greater" Crooked Beak of Heaven, a fearsome man-eating bird. He works together with Hamsiwe', which literally means "the smallest of servents," but is customarily referred to as "eater of foreheads" and the "stripper of meat from bones." The masks representing these cannibal birds are very similar, particularly in their modern representations. Traditionally, the greater Crooked Beak is a larger mask and has a longer, narrower bill and a smaller nostril atop the bill (on the left in the 1914 photo by Curtis, above). The lesser Crooked Beak is smaller, with a wider, shorter bill and a wide, prominent airway atop his beak (on the right in the photo above).
Revival period masks are much more elaborate. This elaborated form developed from a style first cultivated by the carvers from Blunden Harbor. Nowadays the more traditional masks occupy the ends of a continuum of size and style, with most Crooked-Beak masks falling somewhere in the middle.
There are also composite Crooked-Beak masks, in which Crooked Beak is surrounded by the heads of other cannibal ravens. It is unclear just how far back in time this version of the mask goes (the lower image on the left).
Text & layout © 2010 by Charles M. Nelson