TITLE: Seneca Hagondes
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: North American
COUNTRY: United States of America
SUBREGION: New York State
ETHNICITY: Iroquois (Seneca)
DESCRIPTION: Hagondes Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: social control; entertainment
AGE: mid to late twentieth century
MAIN MATERIAL: cotton cloth
OTHER MATERIALS: dyed felt; yarn; thread; shoe strings

The Seneca people belong to the Iroquois League (Haudenosaunee) and inhabited the New York state area before being displaced by Dutch and British settlers.  They maintain tribal lands in the New York area today, reserved by treaty.  Among the spirits familiar to the Seneca is the Hagondes, or “long nose” spirit.  The Hagondes is a trickster, clown, and cannibal who frightens misbehaving children. As such, they have no ritual use, but are instead used as need arises.

In the past, Hagondes masks were made of buckskin, but changes in the Seneca traditional ways of life, including the reduced prominence of deer hunting to tribal life, led the Seneca to adopt new materials in some cases.

For more on Iroquois masking traditions, see William N. Fenton, The False Faces of the Iroquois (University of Oklahoma Press, 1987).

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REGION: North America
COUNTRY: United States of America
YEAR PRINTED: 1980
VALUE: 15 cents x4

This stamp set was issued by the U.S. government in 1980 to celebrate the masks of the northwest coastal indigenous peoples. Oddly, these nations inhabited western Canada rather than the United States. Masks from first nations primarily resident in the United States, such as the Yupik peoples of Alaska; the Cherokee of the southeastern United States; or the Apache, Diné, Hopi or Zuñi peoples of the southwest, were never commemorated on stamps.

The masks represented include those of the Heiltsuk (also called Bella Bella), Nuxalk (also called Bella Coola), and Tlingit peoples.

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TITLE: Yei Bi Chei Ganaskidi
TYPE: helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: North American
COUNTRY: United States of America
SUBREGION: Arizona
ETHNICITY: Diné (Navajo)
DESCRIPTION: Ganaskidi Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Yei Bi Chei Dance
AGE: ca. 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: antelope leather
OTHER MATERIALS: wood; pigment; dyed wool

The Yei Bi Chei (also spelled Yébichai) is a sacred night dance of the Diné (commonly but improperly called Navajo) people of the southwestern United States. The ceremony lasts nine days and has a healing function for tribe members and is generally performed in the winter. The masked dancer personifies the god represented.

Yei Bi Chei masks are always made by skilled medicine men.  In a healing ritual, the patient is sweated, and then songs are sung.  During the singing, the Yei Bi Chei representing the gods treat the patient while calling “wu-hu-hu-hu-u.” The gods represented are speechless and live in sacred caves, mountains and canyons. The male gods wear full leather helmet masks like this one with a ruff of spruce twigs (formerly furs) around the neck.  Female Yei wear square half-masks. Both wear ceremonial regalia and paint their bodies white with clay. On the ninth night, a public dance including six men and six women dance as Yei Bi Chei. There is also a leader, Talking God, and a fourteenth Yei, the Water Sprinkler.  Talking God is distinguished by his white mask with eagle feathers.  The six male Yei carry gourd rattles and spruce twigs or feathers, and make the “hu” call periodically during the dance.

This specific mask represents Ganaskidi, a god of the abundant harvest.

For more on the Yei Bi Chei, see Berard Haile, Head and Face Masks in Navaho Ceremonialism (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1996).

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TITLE: Yup’ik Inua Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: North America
COUNTRY: United States of America
SUBREGION: Alaska
ETHNICITY: Yup’ik
DESCRIPTION: Inua Owl Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Entertainment; Healing; Spirit Invocation
AGE: 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: cedar wood
OTHER MATERIALS: pigment; snow goose feathers

The Yup’ik (or Yupik) people inhabit western and southern Alaska and the Chukotka region of Russia. They currently number some 24,000 individuals who survive in some of the harshest climates of the world. The Yup’ik survived by hunting caribou, rabbits, and marine mammals, especially walrus, seals, and whales. Their traditional religious beliefs are shamanistic, based on the belief that certain animals and birds are sacred. Their masked rituals are oriented toward ensuring a successful hunting and giving thanks for past hunts, storytelling, and healing ceremonies by shamans (angalkuq).

The masks are typically made of wood, decorated with feathers, and painted with only a few colors. They could be carved by men or women under the direction of a shaman. Masks were formerly destroyed after use. Christian proselytization has suppressed the use of masquerade in Yup’ik cultures today, but it continues in some segments of the population.

This mask depicts an inua, in the form of an owl. An inua is one of the natural spirits that inhabit humans or animals interchangeably. Appeasing the inua by showing respect and gratitude was considered essential to successful hunts.

For more on Yup’ik masking traditions, see the excellent monograph by Anne Fienup-Riordan, The Living Tradition of Yup’ik Masks (University of Washington Press 1996).

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TITLE: Yup’ik Transformation Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: North America
COUNTRY: United States of America
SUBREGION: Alaska
ETHNICITY: Cup’it Yup’ik
DESCRIPTION: Raven Transformation Mask
MAKER: Duwayne Price
CEREMONY: Entertainment; Healing; Spirit Invocation
AGE: 2011
MAIN MATERIAL: yellow cedar wood
OTHER MATERIALS: willow branches; paint

The Yup’ik (or Yupik) people inhabit western and southern Alaska and the Chukotka region of Russia. They currently number some 24,000 individuals who survive in some of the harshest climates of the world. The Yup’ik survived by hunting caribou, rabbits, and marine mammals, especially walrus, seals, and whales. Their traditional religious beliefs are shamanistic, based on the belief that certain animals and birds are sacred. Their masked rituals are oriented toward ensuring a successful hunting and giving thanks for past hunts, storytelling, and healing ceremonies by shamans (angalkuq).

The masks are typically made of wood, decorated with feathers, and painted with only a few colors. They could be carved by men or women under the direction of a shaman. Masks were formerly destroyed after use. Christian proselytization has suppressed the use of masquerade in Yup’ik cultures today, although some segments continue to practice.

This mask depicts raven, a culture hero among the Yup’ik and other northwest coast peoples. He is a trickster capable of transforming shape (here, into a human) and helps humans while typically getting himself into trouble.

For more on Yup’ik masking traditions, see the excellent monograph by Anne Fienup-Riordan, The Living Tradition of Yup’ik Masks (University of Washington Press 1996).

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