Collections: Arts of the Americas: Ladle with Skull

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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 those seen here are sometimes used during the final stages of the ceremony: ritual feeding of the skull, possibly using special ceremonial spoons, precedes a ceremonial meal for the initiates, and the officiating medicine man might wear a skull headdress.


La imaginería de calaveras está usualmente relacionada con la ceremonia Tanis (Hamatsa) practicada por la gente Heiltsuk y Kwakwaka’wakw. Los hombres jóvenes son iniciados a la comunidad durante un ritual de cuatro etapas en el cual son transformados simbólicamente de caníbales devoradores de carne, a miembros con buen comportamiento dentro de la sociedad. La calavera simboliza el renacimiento de los iniciados cuando regresan de entre los muertos. Artículos de calaveras como los que se ven aquí son a veces usados durante las últimas etapas de la ceremonia: antes de la comida ceremonial para los iniciados, se alimenta ritualmente a la calavera, posiblemente con cucharas ceremoniales, y el hombre medicina que oficia dicha ceremonia puede llevar un tocado de calavera.

This text refers to these objects: ' 05.588.7297a-b; 05.588.7366

  • Culture: Heiltsuk (Bella Bella), Native American
  • Medium: Cedar wood, bear fur, cord, pigment
  • Geographical Locations:
  • Dates: 19th century
  • Dimensions: 29 x 8 3/4 x 9 5/16 in. (73.7 x 22.2 x 23.6 cm)  (show scale)
  • Collections:Arts of the Americas
  • Museum Location: This item is on view in Arts of the Americas Galleries, 5th Floor
  • Exhibitions:
  • Accession Number: 05.588.7297a-b
  • Credit Line: Museum Expedition 1905, Museum Collection Fund
  • Rights Statement: Creative Commons-BY
  • Caption: Heiltsuk (Bella Bella) (Native American). Ladle with Skull, 19th century. Cedar wood, bear fur, cord, pigment, 29 x 8 3/4 x 9 5/16 in. (73.7 x 22.2 x 23.6 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Museum Expedition 1905, Museum Collection Fund, 05.588.7297a-b. Creative Commons-BY
  • Image: overall, 05.588.7297_SL1.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
  • Catalogue Description: The object is a large carved wooden ladle (a), decorated in black and red paint, with a separately carved wooden skull (b) nesting in its bowl. At the end of the ladle's handle is an animal head. Both skull and animal head have pieces of fur attached.
  • Record Completeness: Best (83%)
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