Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required

Fantastic Photographs Of North American Indians In Ceremonial Masks (1905-1915)

Share this:

Edward Curtis’ epic portraits of North American indians are a joy. And so too are his pictures of North America’s indigenous peoples dressed in ceremonial masks. Curtis began his quest to record what he feared was a vanishing world in 1901. He said:

The passing of every old man or woman means the passing of some tradition, some knowledge of sacred rites possessed by no other… consequently the information that is to be gathered, for the benefit of future generations, respecting the mode of life of one of the great races of mankind, must be collected at once or the opportunity will be lost for all time.

We’d argue that stories last; passed on orally, they take lives of their own, growing and changing in harmony with the people who tell them and listen. The visual portrait is not the be all and end all of a culture. The North Americans Indians were not stuck in an ancient style that would never change. Their culture has roots, branches, dead wood and new shoots. It needed then, as it does now, to breathe in the light or else it dies.

The pictures are wonderful – but as snapshots in time they are only a small and valuable part from the story of a great race.

 

indian 9

Kwakiutl and Navajo tribes. Edward S. Curtis circa 1914.

Kwakiutl and Navajo tribes. Edward S. Curtis circa 1914.

Title: Kwahwumhl--Koskimo Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer Date Created/Published: c1914 November 13. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Dancer wearing raven mask with coat of cormorant skins during the numhlin ceremony.

Title: Kwahwumhl–Koskimo
c1914 November 13.
Summary: Dancer wearing raven mask with coat of cormorant skins during the numhlin ceremony.

 

Title: Paqusilahl--Qagyuhl Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer Date Created/Published: c1914 November 13. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Dancer representing Paqusilahl ("man of the ground embodiment"), wearing a mask and shirt covered with hemlock boughs, representing paqus, a wild man of the woods.

Title: Paqusilahl–Qagyuhl
Date Created/Published: c1914 November 13.
Summary: Dancer representing Paqusilahl (“man of the ground embodiment”), wearing a mask and shirt covered with hemlock boughs, representing paqus, a wild man of the woods.

 

Title: Sisiutl--Qagyuhl Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer Date Created/Published: c1914 November 13. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Sisiutl, one of the main dancers in the Winter Dance ceremonies, wearing a double-headed serpent mask and shirt made of hemlock boughs.

Title: Sisiutl–Qagyuhl
Date Created/Published: c1914 November 13.
Summary: Sisiutl, one of the main dancers in the Winter Dance ceremonies, wearing a double-headed serpent mask and shirt made of hemlock boughs.

 

Title: Nuhlimahla--Qagyuhl Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer Date Created/Published: c1914 November 13. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Person wearing ceremonial mask of the Nuhlimahla during the during the Winter Dance ceremony. These characters impersonated fools and were noted for their devotion to filth and disorder.

Title: Nuhlimahla–Qagyuhl
Date Created/Published: c1914 November 13.
Summary: Person wearing ceremonial mask of the Nuhlimahla during the during the Winter Dance ceremony. These characters impersonated fools and were noted for their devotion to filth and disorder.

 

Title: Hami--Koskimo Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer Date Created/Published: c1914 November 13. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Koskimo person wearing full-body fur garment, oversized gloves and mask of Hami ("dangerous thing") during the numhlim ceremony.

Title: Hami–Koskimo
Date Created/Published: c1914 November 13.
Summary: Koskimo person wearing full-body fur garment, oversized gloves and mask of Hami (“dangerous thing”) during the numhlim ceremony.

 

Title: Nuhlimkilaka--Koskimo Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer Date Created/Published: c1914 November 13. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Kwakiutl person wearing an oversize mask and hands representing a forest spirit, Nuhlimkilaka, ("bringer of confusion").

Title: Nuhlimkilaka–Koskimo
Date Created/Published: c1914 November 13.
Summary: Kwakiutl person wearing an oversize mask and hands representing a forest spirit, Nuhlimkilaka, (“bringer of confusion”).

 

Dancer of the Kwaguʼł nation of British Colombia portray Qunhulahl, The Thunderbird

Dancer of the Kwaguʼł nation of British Colombia portray Qunhulahl, The Thunderbird

 

Title: Tsunukwalahl--Qagyuhl Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer Date Created/Published: c1914 November 13. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Person wearing Mask of Tsunukwalahl, a mythical being, used during the Winter Dance.

Title: Tsunukwalahl–Qagyuhl
Date Created/Published: c1914 November 13.
Summary: Person wearing Mask of Tsunukwalahl, a mythical being, used during the Winter Dance.

 

Title: Hamasilahl--Qagyuhl Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer Date Created/Published: c1914 November 13. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Ceremonial dancer, full-length portrait, standing, wearing mask and a fur garments during the Winter Dance ceremony.

Title: Hamasilahl–Qagyuhl
Date Created/Published: c1914 November 13.
Summary: Ceremonial dancer, full-length portrait, standing, wearing mask and a fur garments during the Winter Dance ceremony.

 

Title: Masked dancer--Cowichan Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer Date Created/Published: c1913 June 16. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Dancer wearing oversize mask, three rings of feathers in front of clothing, holding a rattle.

Title: Masked dancer–Cowichan
Date Created/Published: c1913 June 16.
Summary: Dancer wearing oversize mask, three rings of feathers in front of clothing, holding a rattle.

 

Navajo-Tobadzischini [Yeibichai war god] 1904 by E.S.Curtis

Navajo-Tobadzischini [Yeibichai war god] 1904 by E.S.Curtis

A Navajo man wearing a mask of Haschebaad, a benevolent female deity. Photograph by Edward Curtis, c1905.

A Navajo man wearing a mask of Haschebaad, a benevolent female deity. 1905.

 

indian 2

Title: Gaaskidi [i.e. Ganaskidi]--Navaho Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer Date Created/Published: c1905 January. Medium: 1 photographic print ; 20.4 x 15.4 cm (photo) Summary: Photo shows a Navajo man wearing mask of Ganaskidi, god of harvests, plenty, and of mists.

Title: Gaaskidi [i.e. Ganaskidi]–Navaho
Date Created/Published: c1905 January.
Summary: Photo shows a Navajo man wearing mask of Ganaskidi, god of harvests, plenty, and of mists.

An Edward Curtis photograph from 1928, showing an Inuit hunter/fisherman wearing a bird mask.

An Edward Curtis photograph from 1928, showing an Inuit hunter/fisherman wearing a bird mask.

 

Title: Zahadolzhá--Navaho Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer Date Created/Published: c1904. Medium: 1 photographic print : gelatin silver. Summary: A Navajo man, full-length, in ceremonial dress including mask and body paint.

Title: Zahadolzhá–Navaho
Date Created/Published: c1904.
Summary: A Navajo man, full-length, in ceremonial dress including mask and body paint.

 

Title: Tonenili--Navaho Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer Date Created/Published: c1905 January 6. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Navajo man bedecked in hemlock boughs and mask of a clown associated with the mischievous rain god Tonenili, "Water Sprinkler".

Title: Tonenili–Navaho
Date Created/Published: c1905 January 6.
Summary: Navajo man bedecked in hemlock boughs and mask of a clown associated with the mischievous rain god Tonenili, “Water Sprinkler”.

 

Title: Haschogan (House God) - The Yebichai Hunchback Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer Date Created/Published: [1904] Medium: 1 photograph : gelatin silver ; photo 20.8 x 15.8 cm. Summary: Photograph shows a Navajo man, half-length, seated, facing front, wearing a ceremonial mask with feathers and with fir or spruce branches forming a wreath around the shoulders.

Title: Haschogan (House God) – The Yebichai Hunchback
Date Created/Published: [1904]
Summary: Photograph shows a Navajo man, half-length, seated, facing front, wearing a ceremonial mask with feathers and with fir or spruce branches forming a wreath around the shoulders.

Title: [Atlumhl-- Koskimo] Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer Date Created/Published: c1914. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: North American Indian man, in costume with ceremonial mask, on hands and knees.

Title: [Atlumhl– Koskimo]
Date Created/Published: c1914.
Summary: North American Indian man, in costume with ceremonial mask, on hands and knees.

Title: [Zahadolzha--Navaho] Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer Date Created/Published: 1904, c1905. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Indian, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front, wearing leather mask with basket cap, fur ruff, nude torso painted with white lines.

Title: [Zahadolzha–Navaho]
Date Created/Published: 1904, c1905.
Summary: Indian, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front, wearing leather mask with basket cap, fur ruff, nude torso painted with white lines.

Title: [Nayenezgani--Navaho] Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer Date Created/Published: 1904, c1905. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Indian, half-length portrait, facing front, wearing dark mask, fur ruff, paint on torso.

Title: [Nayenezgani–Navaho]
Date Created/Published: 1904, c1905.
Summary: Indian, half-length portrait, facing front, wearing dark mask, fur ruff, paint on torso.

Date Created/Published: c1914 November 13. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Ceremonial mask worn by a dancer portraying the hunter in Bella Bella mythology who killed the giant man-eating octopus. The dance was performed during Tluwulahu, a four day ceremony prior to the Winter Dance.

Date Created/Published: c1914 November 13.
Summary: Ceremonial mask worn by a dancer portraying the hunter in Bella Bella mythology who killed the giant man-eating octopus. The dance was performed during Tluwulahu, a four day ceremony prior to the Winter Dance.

 

Nane-Qagyuhl from The North American Indian by Edward S. Curtis, c1914

Nane-Qagyuhl, c1914

 

Edward C. Curtis from the Library of Congress. CEREMONIAL DRESS OF THE KWAKIUTL AND NOOTKA TRIBES OF BRITISH COLUMBIA, 1914. Woman wearing a fringed Chilkat blanket, a hamatsa neckring and mask representing deceased relative who had been a shaman 3y

EREMONIAL DRESS OF THE KWAKIUTL AND NOOTKA TRIBES OF BRITISH COLUMBIA, 1914. Woman wearing a fringed Chilkat blanket, a hamatsa neckring and mask representing deceased relative who had been a shaman

 

Nootka mask (west coast of Vancouver Island, Canada), by Edward S. Curtis,1915.

Nootka mask (west coast of Vancouver Island, Canada), 1915.

 

Kwakiutl and Navajo tribes. Edward S. Curtis circa 1914.

Kwakiutl and Navajo tribes, circa 1914.

 

Kwakiutl and Navajo tribes. Edward S. Curtis circa 1914.