Monday, June 30, 2014

Dorset Palaeoeskimo Shaman's Mask is Sad

Back in May, when I visited the Canadian Museum of History, I had the privilege to view a pair of life size wooden Dorset shaman's masks from Button Point on Bylot Island, off the north end of Baffin Island, Nunavut.  This is the same site that the small Dorset drums were found at and its very possible that the shaman or shamans who played those drums wore these masks.  The masks are incredibly expressive.  This one looks sad to me.

Photo Credits:  Tim Rast
Courtesy of the Canadian Museum of History


  1. I've always wondered about the two faces, one sad and the other angry. Those two are carved on so much of their art it must have been a very important part of their culture. Can you tell if they were painted?

    1. There is red ochre staining on the masks, but I'm not sure if it was a applied in a pattern or not. They would have also been embellished with fur eyebrows and mustaches. It occured to me yesterday that maybe the two masks show agreement and disagreement rather than emotional states. If the Inuit culture on Baffin Island today can be used as an analogy for these masks then perhaps the faces are saying yes and no. Inuit can say yes by raising their eyebrows and no by scrunching their faces. Maybe the shaman would don this mask to communicate agreement or a positive answer and the other angry mask to say no. Just another guess.


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