Alaska Native Collections – Sharing Knowledge

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níijaangw “mask”
Language: Haida

“Then úlala [Walala] came out still singing, wearing elk-skin leggings with puffin beak rattlers, an elk-skin dancing shirt, and cedar-bark head-band and neck-ring.”

—A spirit possession ceremony described to Edward S. Curtis, "The North American Indian," 1916

The exact meaning of this mask – depicting a man’s face with painted facial designs – has not been determined. Some Haida masks represent supernatural beings that were believed to possess chiefs and noble dancers during winter secret society performances. One of these was Walala, the Cannibal Spirit. Walala dancers bit onlookers and pretended to eat human flesh; those possessed by Bear, Wild Man, Beggar, and other spirits enacted the behaviors of those beings.

Culture: Haida
Region: British Columbia, Canada
Village: Masset
Object Category: Ceremony
Dimensions: Length 27.2cm
Accession Date: 1883
Source: James G. Swan (collector)
Museum: National Museum of Natural History
Museum ID Number: E088936