Exhibitions: Living Legacies: The Arts of the Americas

Dzunukwa (Cannibal Woman) Mask

Dzunukwa (Cannibal Woman) Mask. Kwakwaka'wakw artist, 19th century. Knight Inlet, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. Cedar wood, fur (black bear?), hide, pigment, iron nails. Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Herman Stutzer, 15.513.1

In the mythology of the Kwakwaka'wakw people, the Dzunukwa, or Cannibal Woman, is a dangerous monster. Twice the normal height, with a black, hairy body and sagging breasts, she lurks in the forest and eats children. The Cannibal Woman is represented by a mask such as the one shown here, worn by a dancer during a Winter Ceremony. The dancer moves clumsily to represent the monster's confusion outside the forest environment. This frightening character is also associated with riches, and, according to legend, men who could tame her would bring back great treasure. A chief may also wear a Dzunukwa mask when distributing wealth at a potlatch, a gift-giving ceremony.