with red and green
24 x 22.5 x 18.2 cm.
CMC Catalogue No.
of Civilization, Gatineau, Canada
EMu user since 1997
This stone mask has a twin residing in Paris in the
Musée de l'Homme. Separated over one hundred years ago, the two masks were
not reunited until 1975, when the Paris mask travelled to Canada to appear
in the exhibition Images Stone: BC. It was then that the relationship
between the two masks, expressions of the same face, was discovered.
Museum's mask, without apertures for eyes, fits snugly over the Paris mask,
with its round eyeholes. It is thought that the pair was worn in a naxnox
performance, where an individual's personal power was displayed in dance. To
present the illusion of the eyes actually opening and closing, the dancer
must have turned quickly while removing the "blind" mask to reveal the one
with eyeholes. The dancer would have needed considerable strength to hold
the four-kilogram inner "sighted" mask in place with the wooden mouthpiece,
although a harness attached through holes in the mask's rim might have
helped support it. The "unsighted" mask may have been held in the hand,
concealed by the dancer's costume. Since naxnox masks and other dance
paraphernalia were kept hidden away when not in use, the audience would have
thought that there was only one stone mask, and that it had the ability to
open and close its eyes as some of the wooden transformation masks could do.
William Duncan, the missionary who established Metlakatla, British Columbia,
offered the sighted stone mask for sale in 1878, noting that it represented
the "Thief"; he also referred to a stone mask that was the "fellow" to the
one he had for sale. In Northwest Coast mythology, "Thief " refers to Raven,
who is a culture hero of the Tsimshian Indians. One of the Raven stories
recounts how he stole the sun and then released it on the Nass River to
illuminate what had been a totally dark world. The theatre of the mask may
have emphasized the dramatic moment for humanity in the transition from
unseeing to seeing. The association of a missionary with the collection of
the masks may indicate that the Native owner found that their power was not
compatible with Christianity. The Paris mask was collected from the
missionary by the explorer Alphonse Pinart and donated to the Musée de
l'Homme in 1881. The Ottawa mask was collected in 1879 by Israel Wood
Powell, deputy commissioner of Indian Affairs for British Columbia. Although
he recorded acquiring the mask at Kitkatla, Powell did not visit the village
that year. In view of the confusion in his records, it is probable that he
acquired it in another community. One possibility is that both masks
originated in Port Simpson.