Masks In Native American Culture

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Register to read the introduction… There are three kinds of masks, the single face mask, the mechanical mask, and the transformation mask. The single face mask is a single piece of wood. A mechanical mask is built with strings or hinges (after Europeans), which might allow a mask to open and close it~s mouth or eyes. The transformation mask is the most complex kind of mask. It consists of an outer mask that opens up to reveal an inner mask form, which might also open up to reveal a third mask form! Transformations masks are difficult to make and difficult to wear, for the different layers make the mask extremely heavy. Only a strong member of the tribe could wear the transformation mask. The Native Americans formed animal masks to communicate a certain symbolism, myth, or status. In addition, all members of a tribe belonged to a clan, or group of people who supposedly were descended from a specific animal. Therefore, animal masks held special meaning for certain clans.

The Raven is considered to be a trickster. He has magical powers and can often create things just by imagining them. The Raven is also considered to be a hero, for it was supposedly the Raven who discovered the first human beings hiding inside a clamshell! Certain masks depict cannibal Ravens which feast on human flesh, which I shall talk about
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However, Europeans also brought diseases to the tribes of the northwest which decimated the population. As natives were converted to Christianity, less importance was given to traditional ceremonies. Native tribal culture has disappeared almost totally. However, contemporary artists of Northwest Native American origin have continued the ancient craft of mask making and in turn introduced a new art form. These artists combine traditional techniques and traditional forms with contemporary artistry. Contemporary masks grace the walls of many art galleries today. And so, not only are Northwest Coast masks artifacts which can be seen in natural history museums and appreciated for the vital role they played in tribal ceremonies, but they are now considered by many to be art objects of high worth.

1. Northwest Coast Indians Coloring Book 2. Edward Malin, A World of Faces, p. 50


Malin, Edward, A World of Faces: Masks of the Northwest Coast Indians. Timber Press, Portland Oregon,

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