In the old days the ˜se…a and the T‡a'sala were traditionally separate ceremonies and performed at different times in the Big House or Gukwdzi. Eventually these two ceremonies were combined but as separate portions of the modern potlatch. Today, the˜se…a, (Red Cedar Bark Ceremony) and the T‡a'sala or Peace Dance take place in a one full day from late morning to late evening ceremony. The most important is the ˜se…a, and is considered a sacred ceremony. Red cedar bark on a mask or costume identifies the ˜se…a.
The ˜se…a, a series of staged dramatic performances, describes the experience of our ancestors. The stories are the history that tells how the Kwakwaka'wakw met supernatural beings at the beginning of the world and how the world was transformed into the shape it is today. The stories are expressed in dance and are the proudest possessions of the Kwakwaka'wakw.
Each dancer must turn around to the left before each dance is presented and again upon completion of their dance as they leave the earthen Gukwdzi floor. This is to represent the connection to the spirit world of our ancestors. The hereditary rights and privileges to the dances and the masks that accompany them are a way of proving family histories and traditions. Dancing is an obligation, a way to carry out responsibilities of the Kwakwaka'wakw.
Potlatches formerly lasted four or more days and would have featured one, but not both, ceremonies during the potlatch.
The second ceremonial series, called the T‡a'sala
or Peace Dance Ceremony, is presented in the second
part of the Potlatch after the ˜se…a. The cedar bark
headbands are removed and the speaker announces "La'man's
lixalil" Which means, "lets roll over the house" (from
the t'se…a to the t‡a'sala); now the Chiefs'
dances start. It is not possible to translate the
word T‡a'sala into English most likely because
the word came originally from the northern tribes
from which the dance was obtained. The T‡a'sala
is widespread and is used among the Tsimshian, the
Tlingit and the Haida. It is said that when two Chiefs
have argued, their disagreement can be quickly resolved
by performing this dance.
Unlike the ˜se…a or Red Cedar Bark Ceremony, where
a dancer must always turn counter-clockwise upon entering
or leaving, the dancers in the T‡a'sala simply
walk off the dance floor. The T‡a'sala is less
solemn than the T'se…a. The most serious dance of
the T‡a'sala is the Hoyikalal, which is danced
by the younger brother of the Hamat'sa of the host
family. The Hoyikalal is a man who belongs to the
highest order of the T‡a'sala and has the same
status as the Hamat'sa. He may wear a Chilkat or button
blanket and carry a raven rattle.
During the T‡a'sala many dancers wear the same
button blankets that they wore in the ˜se…a ceremony.
At the beginning of the ˜se…a, one of the dancers
will go out the front door after being teased by the
attendants. An attendant will then be sent out to
look for him. Soon the attendant comes back with the
dancer's headdress and says that the dancer cannot
be found, instead there is a dlugwe' or treasure in
the form of a magic creature or supernatural being.
Eventually a dancer will enter the house wearing the
mask of the dlugwe'. Individuals have the rights to
particular dlugwe' masks, dances and songs. Eagles,
Thunderbirds, Dzunu…'was, Suns, Moons and others are
represented in the ˜se…a ceremony. A few, such as
the Dzunu…'wa and the Bak'was who are
creatures of the forest, are part of the ˜se…a as
well as the T‡a'sala.