House raisings, marriages, funerals, and the cutting of apertures for labrets earrings and nose ornaments offered the Haida opportunities for ceremonial celebrations. On these occasions, the members of secret societies danced wearing masks, ornaments, and ceremonial paraphernalia such as dancing skirts leggings, land cedarbark rings. Displayed here is some of the ceremonial equipment of the Haida as well as many ornaments which had no ceremonial significance and could therefore be worn at any time.
An important feature of all Northwest Coast ceremonials was the potlatch, central to which was a distribution of property. One of the most valuable objects a man could give away was a “copper,” a large, shield-like object hammered out of the rare native copper. A copper like the one displayed here was equal in value to from six to ten slaves. A man who found enough raw copper to make four “coppers” was rich enough to become a chief. (See case No. 30).
Shamans were individuals who possessed power obtained from supernatural beings. A shaman was qualified to call upon his supernatural power to cause or cure disease, to bring good weather, and to capture souls. The Haida believed that diseases were caused either by the intrusion of some supernatural object into a person or by a person’s losing his soul. In his curing rites, a shaman danced, sang special songs, captured the patient’s wandering soul with a hollow tube called a “soul catcher” and returned his soul to him. Sometimes the shaman used the “soul catcher” to blow diseases away. It was also the prerogative of the shaman to accompany war parties so that he could kill the souls of the enemy thereby assuring the death of their natural bodies. Some of the implements used by shamans in their rites are shown here.