Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw Ceremonial Masks

Part of Northwest Coast Hall.


The masks of the Kwakwaka’wakw were owned by certain individuals who alone had the right to wear them. Some masks were inherited and represented a mythological ancestor of the family of clan who, as a  supernatural being, came from the sea or sky and assumed human form. The grotesqueness of the masks is partially due to the original supernatural aspects of the ancestor. These masks were worn when dancing during feasts at any time of the year.

Other masks were acquired by initiation into a secret society whose members danced during the ceremonies of the winter. These masks represented supernatural beings believed to exist at the present time.

All these masks are striking even when motionless. When worn by actors dancing by firelight in the huge, shadowy Kwakwaka’wakw houses, the masks created startling and powerful dramatic effects.