Great Raven Mask

About this object

History of use

The Hi'hamsiwe' mask would be worn by a Hamatsa during a performance. The mask wearer was assisted by four other Hamatsa with blankened faces. The handles on the sides of the mouth were for them to help the dancer sit and rise during the performance. The Hamatsa continues to be the most important secret society during the Tseka, or "Red Cedar Bark Ceremonies".


From our research with present-day Kwakwaka’wakw people, we know that this Great Raven – ’Walas Gwaxwiwe’ – was made and danced during the years that Native potlatching and ceremonials were declared illegal by federal law.

Iconographic meaning

Hi'hamsiwe' mask. Represents one of the supernatural man-eating birds that were the servants of the Man-Eater from the North End of the World, Baxwbakwalanuksiwe'. In many legends, Baxwbakwalanuksiwe' was killed by certain heroic ancestors, and his songs, dances and names then became their property. Amongst those privileges were the Hi'hamsiwe'--the masks representing the supernatural birds--which are treasured and held in the highest regard by the select Kwakwaka'wakw families who inherited the right to the Hamatsa ceremonies today. All of the Hi'hamsiwe' are decorated with red cedar bark (pounded cedar bark dyed red), indicating their importance in the Hamat'sa. The privilege of the Hamatsa and Hi'hamsiwe' came to the Kwakwaka'wakw from their nothern neighbours, through marriage and warfare--mainly with the Wuikinuxv and Heiltsuk peoples, where these dance societies originated.

Physical description

Great Raven Hamsiwe’ mask. The large, carved, wooden mask has a long beak with large red, coil-shaped nostrils, with a red and white split u-form behind it. The mouth is red with two braided cedar handles on each side. The beak is black with large u-forms outlined in white along the edge of the mouth. The bottom part of the beak is hinged with large diamond shaped pieces of metal. The face has white split u-forms behind the eyes along with a white wing-like shape. The bulging eyes are black, outlined in white and red on a white ovoid shaped ground; brow is black. The underside of the beak is black with an ovoid shaped pink face with black brow, moustache and eyes along with red nostrils and mouth. Emerging from the top of the head is an elongated, protruding rounded section painted with white u-forms. The face is decorated with small cedar bundles; large cedar handles on bottom of beak. The inside of the mask is hollow with the exception of a piece of fibre twine that articulates the beak and two leather straps with metal buckles to hold the mask to the wearer. Attached at the top ridge is a dyed cedar rope and a rubber crest of u-shaped pieces painted red. The left side has a thick braid of cedar. The mask is painted black, white and red.