Exhibitions: Life, Death, and Transformation in the Americas

Ladle with Skull

Skull imagery is usually associated with the Tánis (Hamatsa) ceremony practiced by the Heiltsuk and Kwakwawa’wakw people. Young males are initiated into the community during a four-part ritual in which they are symbolically transformed from flesh-eating cannibals, a state equated with death, into well-behaved members of society. The skull thus symbolizes the rebirth of initiates as they come back from the dead. Skull items such as this one are sometimes used during the final stages of the ceremony: ritual feeding of the skull possibly by special ceremonial spoons such as this precede a ceremonial meal for the initiates.