Mask frontlet of the Wolf Dance

Nuu-Chah-Nulth, 18th century AD
From North America

The Klukwana, Shamans' or Wolf Dance was the central winter ceremonial of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth. It was a ritual for high-ranking male initiates, and consisted of the performed possession of young men by the wolf spirit, their reclamation by relatives, and afterwards, their ritual purification. During their capture, the novice might be shown the place of origin of the lineage and given details of a family privilege, such as a dance. He might be given a new name or title. The ceremonial was therefore an occasion for passing on inherited privileges. The initiates did not wear masks, but other participants may have worn forehead frontlets of this type.

This mask frontlet was made of red cedar. It has mica eyes, and an elk-skin (?) strap with nettle fibre ties. The teeth are made of dentalium shells, which were used as currency and widely traded, south to California and into the interior.

Sarah Guy, a Nuu-Chah-Nulth elder, recorded the words of a wolf song in the twentieth century: 'The wolves are howling, let this be a pleasant day'; the howling being a good omen for the ceremony.

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More information

Bibliography

J.C.H. King, First peoples, first contacts: (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)

Dimensions

Length: 20.000 cm

Museum number

AOA NWC 71

ENA177

Location

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