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The U'mista Collections

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Bella Coola Kwikw

Bella Coola Kwikw "Eagle" Mask of Johnny Drabble

Kwikw "Eagle" / Kwigwis "Sea Eagle"

In Kwakwa̱ka̱'wakw mythology, there are four realms, the sky, land, sea and the underworld. In our culture the animals we see in our world have counterparts in the undersea. Whereas the land animals and birds have feathers and fur, their counterparts from the ocean bare fins and scales like that of fish and other attributes of sea creatures. Often these types of supernatural creatures appeared to certain Ancestors who were blessed by the experience with a supernatural gift that often included an accompanying song. To record the event, the Ancestor would reenact through dance and song to commemorate the encounter, becoming a part of the family’s history and treasures.

The Kwigwis often has fish like scales replacing feathers, fins and a fish tail instead of the usual, eagle type. The artist would also incorporate fish-like faces to add to the ocean theme of this supernatural creature. Kwigwis can appear in both the T̕seka "Red Cedar Bark" ceremonies and Tła’sala "Peace dance" ceremonies.

Mask UCC-88.06.011 is probably an eagle and is carved in the Bella Coola style. It has a large yellow beak and no present additions to the top of the mask to identify it as a Thunderbird. It may have come through marriage as many northern masks and dances have come to the Kwakwa̱ka̱'wakw; or possibly taken as bounty through an intertribal war or raid.

Costume 80.01.003 is not identified as this is the only part of the costume that has been returned. The wings are that of a bird and the lack of green or ocean colors possibly places this piece in the natural birds and not from the sea. There are also "raven-like" heads with yellow beaks at the ends of the wings; this could also support this costume being not from the sea.

The leggings UCC-80.01.161a and b are from the sea. The green "scale-like" leg coverings along with the "fish-like" face feet coverings place these artifacts as coming from under the sea. It is hard to acknowledge the true identify of pieces when the objects have come back in fragments.

The Eagle Mask in the Potlatch Collection is listed as belonging to: K̕wamx’udi UCC-88.06.011

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