TITLE: Iroquois Corn Husk Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: North American
COUNTRY: Canada
SUBREGION: Québec
ETHNICITY: Iroquois (Mohawk)
DESCRIPTION: Corn Husk (Bushy Head) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Agriculture; Healing; Secret Society; Spirit Invocation
AGE: 1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: braided corn husks
OTHER MATERIALS: brass bells

The Mohawk people (Kanien’kehá-ka) belong to the Iroquois League (Haudenosaunee) and historically inhabited western New York state, as well as parts of Quebec and Ontario, before being displaced by Dutch and British settlers.  They maintain tribal lands in Ontario and Quebec today, reserved by treaty.

Most Iroquois nations, including the Mohawk, had three medicine societies, one of which was the Society of Husk Faces.  Among the important rituals of the Society are celebration of the Midwinter Festival using the “Bushy Heads” or corn husk masks. They represent earthbound spirits from the other side of the world, where the seasons are reversed (which, in fact, they are south of the Equator). The beings taught the Iroquois the skills of hunting and agriculture. They perform predominantly two dances, known as the Fish Dance and the Women’s Dance. Unlike the False Face dancers, Husk Face dancers are mute. Like the False Face dancers, they can cure the ill by blowing hot ash or sprinkling water on their patients.

The Bushy Heads can be male or female, young or old.  Either men or women may dance in the Husk Face Society, and sometimes they choose masks of the opposite gender to the amusement of the audience. This specific mask adds brass bells to symbolize the tears and runny nose of an old woman spirit.

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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TITLE: Iroquois False Face Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: North American
COUNTRY: Canada
SUBREGION: Québec
ETHNICITY: Iroquois (Mohawk)
DESCRIPTION: Square Mouth Blower Mask
MAKER: John Elliott, Turtle Tribe (1955- )
CEREMONY: Divination; Healing; Purification; Secret Society
AGE: 2011
MAIN MATERIAL: cedar wood
OTHER MATERIALS: copper sheet; horse hair; paint

The Mohawk people (Kanien’kehá-ka) belong to the Iroquois League (Haudenosaunee) and historically inhabited western New York state, as well as parts of Quebec and Ontario, before being displaced by Dutch and British settlers.  They maintain tribal lands in Ontario and Quebec today, reserved by treaty.

Most Iroquois nations, including the Mohawk, had three medicine societies, one of which was the False Face Society.  It is probably no longer a secret society, because although its membership is limited to initiates who have been cured by the Society or had an important dream, most persons in modern Iroquois communities are apparently aware of the Society’s membership.

Among the important rituals of the False Face Society are village purification of diseases, the healing of sick persons, and facilitation of dream fulfillment during the midwinter festival. The masks worn by the Society take a variety of forms, mostly with blowing lips to blow healing ashes on a sick patient.  The copper eyes convey the spirituality of the mask.

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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