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Wooden mask carved with round red eyes, red and black face, snowy owl legs on the sides, and wooden frame in rear. [CAK 09/04/2010]

Display History

Display label current at 11/2007 'CANADA, BRITISH COLUMBIA, HAIDA GWAII; HAIDA. Mask representing a kidnapper or scarer of naughty children. It is thought that the eyes were made to glow when the mask was worn. Collected by the Reverend Charles Harrison in the 1880s and purchased from him in 1891; 1891.49.7 ' [MdeA 3/9/2007]

Longer Description

Wooden mask carved with round red eyes, red and black face, snowy owl legs on the sides, and wooden frame in rear. The face of the mask is carved with an open mouth showing teeth, nose, and large sunken eyes. It is painted with black and two tones of red pigment, although some areas are unpainted. The chin is painted a deep red and a moustache and goatee are painted in black around the mouth. The lips and inside of the mouth are painted red, while the teeth are unpainted and carved in relief. The central portion of the face is painted in two shades of red with black dashes. There appears to be a particular pattern on the proper right cheek. The eyes are outlined in black and are dominated by two large round pupils covered in a textile that has been painted red. There are thick black eyebrows and a black design painted on the forehead. White bird feathers have been affixed around the face and a snowy owl leg is attached on each side of the face. A thickly woven textile is visible under the feathers, wrapped around the edge of the mask. Long, whittled sticks extend out from the the back of the mask, and some have been bent and reattached on the opposite side, creating a frame. At various points, the sticks have been bound with string. The inside of the mask suggests special properties of this mask. The round red eyes have been hollowed out and metal disks have been attached on the reverse. The metal disks can sway back and forth, and they also have extra metal soldered in the bottom centre, presumably to encourage the metal disks to return to their original location. It is thought that coals could have been placed in the hollowed out eyes to create a red glow. The reverse also shows two thin strips of wood, one nailed above and one below the mouth, with a section of material contained between the wood strips. Presumably, this also allowed light to pass through and enable the mouth to glow red when the mask was being danced. [CAK 09/04/2010]

Publications History

Discussed by Charles Harrison on p. 86 of his Ancient Warriors of the North Pacific (London: H.F. and G. Witherby, 1925): ‘The Lithwo-gi-ge or Ste-whul mask was adorned with swan's feathers and was used in what is often termed the ghost dance. It was supposed to represent an evil mythological monster which swooped down and carried off young people who then became like their captor. The ceremonial at which this was used took place in a dark hut and its big red eyes were made visible by a torch held in front of each. Strings were manipulated so as to impart a movement to the mask, and a low chant went on the while.' [NM 25 2 1997]

Reproduced in black and white as figure 4 on page 6 of 'Haida Art in the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, and the Rev. Charles Harrison', by June Bedford, in European Review of Native American Studies, Vol. XII, no. 2 (1998), pp. 1-10. Caption reads: 'Lithwo-gi-ge mask'. [JC 16 4 1999]

Research Notes

The following information comes from Haida delegates who worked with the museum's collection in September 2009 as part of the project “Haida Material Culture in British Museums: Generating New Forms of Knowledge”:
This mask was viewed alongside other masks on Thursday Sept 10, 2009. Delegates were very curious about it. Some delegates were uncomfortable identifying it as Haida without doubt. They thought it could have been carved by a non-Haida on Haida Gwaii, or alternatively, that it was a Haida carver who was deviating from standard Haida designs. Christian White observed that the designs did not keep with conventional Haida styles. Jaalen Edenshaw thought the mask shared general characteristics with gaagiid (wild man) masks. It could have been used similarly to clear the floor before dances, for example by frightening children away from the space. Christian White thought the design painted over the nose was a canoe stern. Billy Yovanovich thought the design painted on the forehead could be a raven's tail.
It was the eyes of the mask that received most attention. Jaalen Edenshaw thought glowing coals would have been used behind the eyes to shine through the red cover. The metal plates might have kept the coals in place. Kwiaahwah Jones wondered if the mask would be snapped from side to side quickly so that the metal plates would move abruptly. Nika Collison thought you could use a lantern behind the mask to light up the eyes because there is so much space. People thought it possible that the eyes used to bulge out or inflate somehow to scare children. Jaalen Edenshaw and Gwaai Edenshaw proposed that the mask could be held away from the face if there was some way of illuminating the eyes to make them look like they were blinking. This was tried with a flash light in the session and sort of worked; the light could be seen through the eyes. Jaalen requested that this be tried again in a darker light.
Jaalen Edenshaw recalled a story told by Naanii Nora and Naanii Adelia in Old Massett. As children, they would skip school and go to the Prairie [an meadow area on the edge of the village]. They were warned by a sister that a lady with red shiny eyes lived in the Prairie. They saw this lady one day, only to discover that it was a stump of wood in the sunshine with diapers caught on the stump and blowing in the wind! A full account of the story as well as a discussion of the mask can be viewed on Tape 3 at time 15:00, which can be found in the Haida Project Related Documents File.
Some delegates thought the mask was made to be danced. Though another delegate suggested it was made quickly, for one use only, perhaps to be danced at a house potlatch. The frame around the mask may be cedar according to Jaalen Edenshaw.
The Haida word “Tliia” was given in regards to female masks. [CAK 08/04/2010]

Personal communication Professor Christopher Perrins [University of Oxford, Department of Zoology] September 2005. "Have done a quick check and am sure that the feet belong to Snowy Owl. Since the light coloured feathers are also, I think it is a fair bet that the all-white ones are too." [HR 30/9/2005].

Conversations with Haida carver and musician Vernon Williams and other members of Haida Nation, December 2005, suggest that the owl is known in Haida traditions as a bringer of death, and that this being is one of several used to frighten people in performance. The mask was not specifically remembered, however, nor were Haida people sure how it was lit from within during performance to make the eyes glow [Laura Peers, 07/04/2006].

Primary Documentation

Accession book entry: 'From Rev. Ch. Harrison, 80 Halton Rd, Canonbury Sq. N. Collection of Haida objects collected by him.... - Large Mask = Lthwogie the kidnapper of wicked children. £45. [Purchase price includes 1891.49.1-110]

No additional information on catalogue cards. [JC 4 9 1996]

Written on object - Mask used in ghost dance of 1885. Represents Lthwogie or Stl Whul, the kidnapper of naughty children. Haida. C. Harrison Coll. (MS No. 10) Purch 1891. [DCF Court Team 14/4/2003]

Related Documents File - Discussion of the mask as well as a retelling of a story by Jaalen Edenshaw can be viewed on Tape 3, time 15:00 within the Haida Project Related Documents File, as well as a series of e-mails from Haida delegates continuing to discuss the uses of this mask. The Haida Project Related Documents File contains video of research sessions and interviews with Haida delegates from September 2009 as part of the project ‘Haida Material Culture in British Museums: Generating New Forms of Knowledge'. It also includes post-visit communications that discuss object provenance. For extensive photographic, video, and textual records documenting the Haida research visit as a whole, including but not limited to preparations of objects for handling, travel logistics, British Museum participation, transcribed notes from research sessions and associated public events held at PRM, see the Haida Project Digital Archive, stored with the Accessions Registers. Original hand-written notes taken during research sessions have been accessioned into the Manuscripts collection, in addition to select other materials. [CAK 02/06/2010]

PLEASE NOTE - This object requires specific handling very fragile please see conservation before handling [KJ 27/10/2009]

Item History

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