mask (dance & live theatre)


This mask comes from Diomede Island in the Bering Strait, Alaska and is made from whale bone. Although it appears human, it actually depicts a spirit and would have had feathers and wooden attachments inserted into the holes. These would waggle and flex as the wearer danced at a ceremony. These ceremonies were held at regular intervals, usually at high summer or deep winter, and called on aid from the spirits in the coming year. By wearing the mask, the shaman is calling the spirit forth to listen to the requests for help from those assembled.

After the ceremony, the masks were usually burnt or thrown away, although, this example, made of relatively rare whale bone, might have been reused with new attachments. As missionaries became more common, these dances disappeared, the last being performed in the 1940s, and it is likely that this mask was sent for sale in Seattle by an owner newly converted to Christianity. It was purchased there for the Horniman Museum by Alfred C. Haddon.

Collection Information

These objects are only a part of our collections, of which there are more than 350,000 objects. This information comes from our collections database. Some of this is incomplete and there may be errors. This part of the website is also still under construction, so there may be some fields repeated or incorrectly formatted information.

The database sometimes uses language taken from historical documents to help research, which may now appear outdated and even offensive. The database also includes information on objects that are considered secret or sacred by some communities.

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