Indian Masks

Native Americans have a long tradition of using Indian masks. These masks are used during dances and ceremonies for healing, entertainment, and spiritual purposes. Most tribes believed that the wearer of the mask was actually filled with the spirit of the person or animal the mask depicted. Some masks appear frightening while others are almost humorous looking.

The tribes of the Northwest coast were well-known for their Indian masks. This consisted of three types: the mechanical mask, the single face mask, and the transformation mask. A single piece of red cedar was used to carve the single face mask, while there were moveable parts on the mechanical mask. The transformation mask was often made up of two or three separate masks. When closed, the mask might depict a bird or animal, but when opened, it revealed the mask of a man's face.

The Hopis made kachina masks from leather or wood. These masks and costumes were worn by the Hopi to invoke the kachina spirits in hopes of renewing land and guaranteeing water for the season. When not in use, the kachina masks were treated as living beings, even being fed corn pollen.

False Face Society masks are usually made of basswood with long hair and painted black and red. These wooden masks were used by the Iroquois in religious and healing ceremonies to invoke spirits and the dream world. These masks are very sacred to the Iroquois and although some have been sold to individuals and museums, the Iroquois tries to retrieve them whenever possible as they too are viewed as living spirits.

The Cherokee made Indian masks from both hard and soft woods, but before they had modern tools, they used tree bark. Knives were used to shape the eyes, nose, and mouth. Feathers or animal fur was often attached to the mask to help represent the animal it was representing. These masks were used during dances to imitate both people and animals.

Native Americans still make masks for sale to the public today, but these masks are not the type used in their ceremonies, as they see these as very sacred.

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