Friday, August 20, 2010

Mask Burning Ceremony

The people of Kodiak had a mask burning tradition which like most things native was at one time suppressed in an effort to force the native populations into becoming more like Americans with a European background. However, the people of Kodiak are now trying to reclaim some of their suppressed and lost traditions, the mask burning ceremony among them.

Andrew Abyo, pictured above left with myself at the right invited us, attendees of the Aleut culture camp, to come and view his dance group perform at the mask burning ceremony.

Here is the dance troupe, about half of which is Andrew and his family which would be a key part of the mask burning ceremony.

The man who had made the mask, pictured here in the red shirt, explained to us the background of the ceremony. The ceremony is essentially a memorial service. Details of how the ceremony was practiced in the past are vague. Likewise, information about what the burned masks looked like are scarce since they were burned. But one or two masks survived in museums. Apparently they were incomplete and not used in the ceremony. The mask for this ceremony was based on the ones in the museum.

And now it gets more complicated. In addition to the friends of the dancers there was a group of young people, immigrants into this country who were part of some sort of reality show that the Discovery Channel was doing. The show follows these young people as they travel all over America, trying to find their own identity. The man holding the mask and the woman to the right were both part of the Discovery cast. The woman is handing out goose feathers which people tied to the mask. Each feather represented a prayer or offering that would be released when the mask was burned. While this was going on, two camera crews each composed of a camera man and a sound man zoomed about the area taking pictures of everything that was going on. Surprisingly, the ceremony was powerful enough in its own right that the camera crews didn't detract from it substantially.

Once everyone who wanted to had attached their feather to the mask, one of the dancers donned the mask and the group danced.

When the dance was over, the mask went into the fire.

And here it burns, still recognizable as a face.

And finally, it fell apart.


Lee said...

Wonderful post. thanks for sharing! how did the locals feel aout the discovery channel? Was it viewed as an intrusio or a dissemination of the proud culture?

Wolfgang Brinck said...

The guy who made the mask is also the one who invited the Discovery channel to the event.
Surprisingly, the ceremony was not impacted by the camera people. Speaks of the power of the ceremony.