Artist: Sam Charlie of the Mamalilikala Returned From: National Museum of the American Indian, NMAI 11/5256
Killer whales abound in the waters of the Kwakwaka’wakw. They are most impressive when seen from a canoe and are a forceful element within Kwakwaka’wakw mythology and art. The Kwakwaka’wakw word for killer whale, maxinuxw, means “side by side tribe” which refers to the way in which killer whales travel together in groups. Killer whale masks usually appear in the Tüa’sala Peace Dances as a treasure, but they can also appear in the T’seka Red Cedar Bark Dances. The dancer moves slowly around the dance floor diving, breaching and imitating the actions of a killer whale. This killer whale mask features a face blowhole and the tip of the tail has a face design on both sides. The mask is comprised of 18 pieces of wood, mostly articulated. When the string is pulled, the fin is erected and pieced together.
Chief Udzistalis, Henry Speck told George Hunt that the, “Kwakwaka’wakw believe that killer whales live in a great house, a four-day journey out towards the open sea. Killer whale is an important Chief in the undersea world. This powerful being uses porpoises and sea lions as servants and messengers. People who are lucky enough to see its house will receive supernatural power and the right to use the killer whale as their crest. They will also receive the privilege of using the killer whale’s songs and dances.”