Native American Masks


Masks were an important part in many Native American Cultures . They were used in hunting, healing, and other rituals . Masks were commonly carved from wood.
Other materials used in the creating of these masks included pigments, clay, bark, fur and hair, tortoise shell, rope, leather, and cord .

Some masks were very simple, carved only out of a small piece of wood. Other masks were very elaborate, and extensively decorated . Some masks were very large, and were worn over the head and back. Masks were sometimes made for one use only, and then burned afterward . The more elaborate masks were known to have moving parts to them , or an opened and closed position . Smaller masks , to small to be worn, were often used for ceremonial purposes . No two masks were ever exactly the same .

Northwest Coast

Masked dances were an important part of the Northwest coast winter ceremonies . There were many different kinds of dances, depicting various spirits and story characters .

According to some traditions, the spirits live far away in the summer, but come to visit in the winter . Sometimes it was said, that these spirits sometimes captured a man or a women, and brought them great power . These people were often members of secret societies .

Throughout rituals, there were two additional types of dancers . they were called the Fools, and the Grizzly Bears . The Fools and the Grizzly Bears acted as sort of the police at these events, and were there to make sure everyone in the audience behaved.

One of the most dramatic Northwestern performances was the Ghost Dance . This was a reenactment of a visit to the land of the dead . Few Northwest traditions are still carried on today .

Subarctic and Arctic

Masks were essential to hunting festivals, and healing ceremonies for the Inuit Indians of the subarctic and arctic regions . The dancers portrayed spirits and animals, and were accompanied by music, songs, and stories . These arctic ceremonies also took place in winter .

The Inuit Indians\' masks may have included appendages . Small hands, feet, fish, clams and seals were some commonly attached appendages to the larger masks.
Inuit women often wore small finger masks, in contrast to the males with the large face masks . These mini masks were made to be inua faces . Inua were the spirits of living, and non-living things . When the women wore these finger masks during the dancing rituals, they accentuated their arm movements .


The Iroquois Indians had a secret societies, that often led healing, and curing ceremonies. One of these secret societies was called the False Face Society . The False Face society wore wooden masks, carved to depict spirits .

The members of this secret society carved these masks into living trees . They did this so that the tree\'s spirit could also help in the healing . When it was time to cut the mask free from the tree, they burned tobacco as an offering . After these activities, they believed that the spirit was revealed to the maker of the mask , who then painted, and decorated the mask appropriately .

Eastern Woodlands

The eastern woodland Indians believed that their masks helped them in hunting and healing , and insured their success in battle. Masks of the southeastern people, were said to be the most highly developed. Masks found in Key Marco Florida, some of the oldest artifacts ever found in the area, were said to be nearly 1000 years old.

Cherokees traditionally used masks depicting predators, such as wild cats , to stalk prey . They used masks of the prey , deer and bears, during their pre - hunt rituals. Many southern tribes used masks, only the Cherokees maintained their use into the 20th century .

Masks with human faces were used for several kinds of performances. Men wore warrior masks during ceremonies to strengthen them before battle , or to celebrate success in war.

Human faced masks were also worn in the "Boogerman" dance . The Boogermen were a group of dancers that demonstrated unproper behavior through clothing and behaviors , in their performances .