Alaska Native Collections – Sharing Knowledge

 
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Ear ornaments

ggamuu “earrings”
Language: Tsimshian

The women were dressed in beautiful garments, with earrings of costly abalone shells, and faces painted red and black, with eagle down on their heads…The women would move in swinging motions like the waves rolling on the sea.

—Henry W. Tate, in “Tsimshian Mythology,” 1916

Ear ornaments made of yarn and abalone shell were a symbol of nobility. Fathers or uncles hosted potlatches to pierce the ears of their high-born children, nephews, and nieces, and the full measure of prestige was to reach adulthood with four holes on each side. The wise, elderly figure of Mouse Woman appears in Tsimshian sacred histories to offer advice to people in their dealings with supernatural beings. In payment she always asks for the person’s wool earrings, which she burns and eats or takes away for lining her nest. Symbolically, ear perforations were connected with hearing, understanding, and wisdom of the kind that Mouse Woman offered.

Culture: Tsimshian
Region: British Columbia, Canada
Village: Port Simpson
Object Category: Ornaments, jewelry
Dimensions: Length 5.5cm
Accession Date: 1876
Source: James G. Swan (collector)
Museum: National Museum of Natural History
Museum ID Number: E020674