Among the Haida people from the Pacific Northwest of North America existed secret religious societies that performed dances in which they wore wooden masks or carried wooden puppets that represented gagid, or the spirits of the forest.
A gagid mask can be either male or female and usually has a wrinkled face and a gaping mouth. The masks tend to be painted bluish-green but sometimes earrings were added to the mask.
Masks were also worn at potlatches, (ceremonial banquets where a family observed a wedding or a funeral with feasting, dancing and speeches). The culmination of a potlatch came when the host distributed gifts of food and blankets to its guests.
- Once Christian missionaries made inroads among the Haida, the secret societies died out and so did the Haida mask-making.
The Haida had a very long tradition of wood-carving. Beginning about 2000 years ago, they made canoes and rattles; carved and painted boxes and chests; and fashioned the equipment and furnishings necessary for a potlatch and they traded these items with neighbouring tribes for food, furs and other necessities.
- When the visiting sailors, explorers, traders and settlers arrived in the Pacific Northwest in the 1840s, they were astonished by the high level of craftsmanship of Haida woodcarving.
- In response, recognizing that they had a new market, Haida artists began creating pieces for Americans, Canadians and Europeans. One of the most popular items were Haida masks, which to meet the demand, the woodcarvers turned out by the thousands.
- Today, most Haida masks found in private and museum collections were made in the 19th C, not for religious rituals but for the tourist trade.
No need to feel ripped off, just be aware, because, the Haida the Mask; the Harder the Task – for full authentication.
“Is It Art?”