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 Museum Explorer

Birds and beasts in
the Americas

Gull mask

Length: 37.000 cm


Alderwood gull mask

From: Vancouver Island, British Columbia (Nuu-Chah-Nulth)
Date: 18th century AD

On Vancouver Island Native leaders have crests, animals which represent their families. Each family would tell legends about their ancestors meeting the animal shown in the crest. In the winter families would travel round to different villages and go to feasts. There they would dance with masks to explain the stories of their ancestors.

Gulls were important birds to the Nuu-Cha-Nulth people. When gulls started flying in circles and screeching, it meant that one of their favourite spring foods, herring, were returning. A dancer in a gull mask would explain why that bird was important. He would also pay his respects to the herring. This mask has a rattle of limpet shells inside, which would make a sound when the wearer danced.