TITLE: Iroquois False Face Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: North American
ETHNICITY: Iroquois (Onandaga)
DESCRIPTION: Broken Nose False Face Mask
MAKER: Gene Thomas, Wolf Clan, Six Nations Reserve, Ontario (1958- )
CEREMONY: Divination; Healing; Purification; Secret Society
MAIN MATERIAL: white pine 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 Onandaga, 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).