170626-04 Kwakiutl Mask Raven Mask with Skull signed J. David '90
11" x 14" x 8 1/2"
Hamatsa is the name of a Kwakwaka'wakw secret society. During the winter months the Kwakwaka'wakw of British Columbia have many ceremonies practiced by different secret societies. According to the German-American anthropologist Franz Boas, who studied the Kwakwaka'wakw tribe during the late 1880s, there were four main societies: The war society (Winalagalis), the magical society (Matem), the society of the afterlife (Bakwas) and the "cannibal" society (Hamatsa).
The Hamatsa society is the most prestigious of all. It is often called a "cannibal" ritual, and some debate has arisen as to whether the Kwakwaka'wakw do or do not practice ritual cannibalism, whether their "cannibalism" is purely symbolic, or literal. Because of the secret nature of the society the answer is not forthcoming.
The myth of Baxbaxwalanuksiwe
Central to the Hamatsa ceremonies is the story of some brothers who got lost on a hunting trip and found a strange house with red smoke emanating from its roof. When they visited the house they found its owner gone, but one of the house posts was a living woman with her legs rooted into the floor, and she warned them about the frightful owner of the house, who was named
Baxbaxwalanuksiwe, a man-eating giant with four terrible man-eating birds for his companions (including Gwaxwgwakwalanuksiwe'/man-eating raven; Galuxwadzuwus/ Crooked-Beak of Heaven; and Huxhukw/supernatural crane who cracks skulls of men to suck out their brains). One version of the story describes the giant with mouths all over his body.
According to another version, the brothers lured Baxbaxwalanuksiwe into a pit and threw hot stones on top of him until he died.
With the death of the giant, the men gained mystical power and supernatural treasures from him. These included wooden whistles, a bear mask, bird masks, costumes, and a Hamatsa pole, all used in later actual rituals. Variations of the myth abound within the Kwakwaka'wakw culture, but this man-eating giant was aided by an old hag, Qominoqa (possibly Dzunukwa), who gathered bodies for him to consume.
The ritual practice
In practice the Hamatsa initiate, almost always a young man at approximately age 25, is abducted by members of the Hamatsa society and kept in the forest in a secret location where he is instructed in the mysteries of the society. Then at a winter dance festival to which many clans and neighboring tribes are invited the spirit of the man-eating giant is evoked and the initiate is brought in wearing spruce bows and gnashing his teeth and even biting members of the audience. Many dances ensue, as the tale of Baxbaxwalanuksiwe is recounted, and all of the giant man-eating birds dance around the fire.
Finally the society members succeed in taming the new "cannibal" initiate. In the process of the ceremonies what seems to be human flesh is eaten by the initiates. Boas describes the hamatsa initiate as eating actual human flesh without chewing. After the ceremony, the initiate is forced to drink large amounts of sea water to induce vomiting, thereby voiding the body of potentially harmful toxins. All persons who were bitten during the proceedings are given expensive presents, and many gifts are given to all of the witnesses who are required to recall through their gifts the honors bestowed on the new initiate and recognize his station within the spiritual community of the clan and tribe.
Joe David was born in 1946 at Opitsaht, a Clayoquot village on Meares Island, on the western shore of Vancouver Island. The family resettled to Seattle, Washington, in 1958—and they moved frequently during his teen years. His father, Hyacinth David, was a respected chief and elder of the Clayoquot nation, and even though he had removed his family from Nuu-chah-nulth territory, he remained connected to the village and practiced the traditional values and ceremonies.
Joe vividly recalls watching the ceremonies he attended as a child. His grandmother was a medicine-woman who predicted that Joe would become an artist while he was still an infant. Both his father and mother had been initiated in the (Klukwana) Wolf ritual. In 1969, he received from his father’s family the name “Ka-Ka-Win- Chealth” (Supernatural White Wolf transforming into Killerwhale), in recognition of his commitment to carving and cultural participation. Joe expanded the cultural teachings started by his father by visiting museums and libraries and studying Nuu-chah-nulth art and culture. He studied art in Seattle and San Marcos, Texas, but his interest in his own heritage and tradition led him to Bill Holm, the Northwest Coast scholar at the University of Washington, and also to Duane Pasco, an early artist of the contemporary generation of Northwest Coast art, to begin an intensive study of traditional Northwest Coast objects. His later investigations concentrated on only Nuu-chah-nulth style. He was drawn to the spiritual essence within the art and culture—and this later directed his path in art-making. Joe began a spiritual quest starting with his own cultural beliefs, which later led him to the practices of other nations across North America and internationally. He has had a long-term relationship with the Maori of New Zealand and has attended and participated in many events there. In 1988, he participated in the Sundance ceremonies at Camp Anna Mae, Big Mountain, Arizona, and has continued to attended each year —and, with rare exception, has often been one of the participants.
Joe David today is among the most respected master-artists of the Northwest Coast. Museums, private collectors, and corporations collect his graphics, wood sculpture, silver, and bronze internationally. He is also dedicated to participating and contributing to contemporary ceremonies as well as lecturing on Northwest Coast art. In 2000, he was the first artist chosen for the Aboriginal Artist in Residence program at the Pilchuck Glass School.