Paper Example. The North Coast Masks

Published: 2023-04-10
Paper Example. The North Coast Masks
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Culture Community American history
Pages: 5
Wordcount: 1218 words
11 min read

The NW Coast mask, according to the custodian of the art museum of Vancouver (British Columbia) Bruce Grenville, the masks are objects that are used to display the strong spirits of the ancestry and are also used to bring out the paranormal or the supernatural world. The NW Coast masks were cultural objects that were mostly used in the northern and central parts of the North West coast and mainly were used for ceremonies. They were referred to as ceremonial masks. The area that practiced the culture is along the ocean, the Cascade Mountains, and also along the Pacific Ocean while it also expanded to Alaska and California. Indians primarily coved this area, and they used the sea coast as the base for their economy.

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The ceremonial masks were explicitly made from wood. Two types of wood were used to make the mask with the primary being cedarwood, but they occasionally used maple. After the masks were made, they were painted in three different colors, which were red and white, and either blue or black. There are several Indian nations along the west coast, mostly in the central region. The nations' exaggerated inherited dramatized, or staged rituals were they embodied the ancestors in the form of masks. According to the culture of the Indians, the masks were objects of art and were also used for the importance of spirituality. The curator of the art museum of Vancouver (British Columbia) Bruce Grenville further explains that the masks are a demonstration of the powerful spirits of the ancestors (Corbin). The mask's purpose is to bring that spiritual feeling into the light, to help the people reconnect with their ancestors, or to feel their presence.

The Beliefs and the Culture of the North, Coast People

The North West masks represent the creatures and the animals of the cosmos four dimensions, and they are the Undersea World, the Mortal World, the Sky World, and the Spirit World. Roy Carlson, who is an archeologist, warns that the culture of the Northwest art cannot be well understood if one doesn't have the essential comprehension of the spirituality system of the North West coast. The people of the northwest coast have three fundamental beliefs that are primary to their system, which is (a) transformation, which is mainly human and animal transformation. (b) Rebirth of life force that is generated from the bone and (c) the belief in spirits (Corbin). The masks have diverse purposes among the people across the Northwest coast and the significant role played by the masks in the spiritual lifestyle of the people is the transformation

Dancers wear masks while dancing in a room in front of a large bonfire, in a transformational Mask. After the mask is removed, the dancer has assumed the spiritual role of the animal depicted by the mask. The residents believed that every time a particular time of dance, the spirits of the ancestors would come in the form of special animals such as the eagle, the whale, a particular snake called the lightning snake, and the thunderbird. The thunderbird in the myths was believed to live in the cosmic skies and caused thunder by the flapping wings, and the lightning came from his eyes. The thunderbird would assume its humanoid form if it wanted to (Ewing 124). The Vancouver museum has kept the transformational masks. There is a description of the eagle mask with a frame of wood and a net that holds the mask to the head of the dancer. It has cords which, when pulled, splits the beak of the eagle and creates an impression of a flying bird. The whale masks created an idea of swimming whales, with the mouth opening, flippers moving up and down in coordinated movements using unique strings.

The masks were a sign of social status. Certain masks could only be worn by a group of chiefdom lineage during a ceremony. A North West indigenous group of people named Kwakwaka'waks had a tradition of the host of a ceremony giving out prices to every tribesman in any community ceremony. The host's masks were distinct, made from the bark of a red cedar tree (Ewing). In ceremonies called potlatches, tribesmen had different masks according to the family genealogy, particular positions in the leadership, and the crest symbols of clans.

The dancers wear masks that are a representation of the ancestral costumes when reenacting the methodology theme, which is very popular. The ancestors descend from the sky's, and they are supposed to remove their birds and animal costumes. When the dancers wear masks, the lives of the spirits that are being represented take over according to the tradition, and the culture of the people of the North West coast the masks are supposed to be hidden, guarded, and protected (Roy). They are not supposed to be seen at any given time apart from the ceremonial day. It is also never known to the dancers which masks they will use during the dances because the event to take place is only revealed on the day it happens. It comes to the people as a surprise on the event day, and it has been that for a long time.


In conclusion, the masks of the north coast people are different and unique due to the diversity of their beliefs and ancestry (Tu). Although they hold almost a similar belief, that the ancestors roamed at the face of the world as animals before undergoing a transformation to reveal their humanoid selves. The masks reveal their clans' system and their genealogy. For instance, the masks of the Kwakwaka'wakw symbolized the four clans, namely killer whale, Raven, Wolf, and Eagle clans (Morris). The masks reveal the rites of passage among the northwest coast people as the masks were worn during the male circumcision ceremonies which were held during winter, the essence of the collapsing mask to reveal the human face was a way of allowing the spirits of the ancestors enter the person, wearing the mask. The daily life of the people of the Northwest is revealed by the taste of the colors used to paint the masks. The use of form line styles, which depicts red, blue-green, and blackish colors (Ellmann). The styles are used in the calligraphic lines, which seem hoven. The masks are bilaterally symmetrical and display a masterful craft of the people.

Works Cited

Corbin, George A. Native arts of North America, Africa, and the South Pacific: an introduction. Routledge, 2018.

Ellmann, Richard. Yeats, The Man And The Masks. Pickle Partners Publishing, 2016.

Ewing, Michael C. "The Encoded Cirebon Mask: Materiality, Flow, and Meaning Along Java's Islamic Northwest Coast, by Laurie Margot Ross." Bijdragen tot de Taal-, land-en volkenkunde/Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences of Southeast Asia 175.1 (2019): 124-126.

Morris, Rosalind. New worlds from fragments: Film, ethnography, and the Representation of Northwest Coast Cultures. Routledge, 2019.

Roy, David. Masks and Education. Diss. The University of Newcastle, 2019.

Tu, Hanbing. "The Cultural Connotation and Symbolic Meaning of Chinese Opera Mask Color." 2016 3rd International Conference on Education, Language, Art, and Inter-cultural Communication (ICELAIC 2016). Atlantis Press, 2016.

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