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Wooden Skull Headdress

Arts of the Americas

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.
CULTURE Tsimshian
MEDIUM Wood, metal
  • Place Collected: British Columbia, Canada
  • DATES late 19th century
    DIMENSIONS 7 x 6 x 7 in. (17.8 x 15.2 x 17.8 cm)  (show scale)
    COLLECTIONS Arts of the Americas
    ACCESSION NUMBER 05.588.7366
    CREDIT LINE Museum Expedition 1905, Museum Collection Fund
    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Headdress in the form of a carved wooden skull. It is carved from a single, hollowed out piece of wood. The lower jaw is missing and it is attached with four nails to a metal disk with a dome-shaped center. Condition: The work is in stable and fair condition. There is a repaired crack on the proper left side of the back of the skull as well as a repaired splinter at the proper right side of the lower edge. At the top of the skull on the proper right side, there is a large circular wooden plug.
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
    CAPTION Tsimshian. Wooden Skull Headdress, late 19th century. Wood, metal, 7 x 6 x 7 in. (17.8 x 15.2 x 17.8 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Museum Expedition 1905, Museum Collection Fund, 05.588.7366. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 05.588.7366_acetate_bw.jpg)
    IMAGE overall, 05.588.7366_acetate_bw.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
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    RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY
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