Crooked Beak of Heaven

emcrooked-a.jpg (72930 bytes)In The Kwakwaka'wakwa culture, a youth is initiated to the secert society of the Hamatsa during a potlatch in a dramatic dance where a large and a small Crooked beak of Heaven mask are used as two of the four mythical birds who are servants of Baxwbakwalanuxwsiwe, the man Eater of the North End of the World. The story of the taming of Baxwbakwalanuxwsiwe's spirit in the youth is the story of the human struggle to tame the cannibal spirit within each of us, The wild spirit that defies peace, harmony and balance.

The Hamatsa masks are always carefully carved and painted, representing the finest efforts of the carvers commissioned to make them for a new member. Collectors have sought these masks as one of the most imaginative examples of the art forms produced by the Kwakwaka'wakwa carvers.

Of the four mythical bird masks of the Hamatsa, the elaborate curve arching above the short, squat beak that characterizes the Crooked Beak of Heaven  provides the greatest range for individual variation by the artist. This curved wooden arch can be either solid or cut out and comprises half of the mass of the mask. The lines of the beak are emphasized by the use of paint in details of curved lines and brackets. The nostrils within the mask muzzle are flared and the emphasis of the nostrils with the curved beak arching above them gives the whole mask a character both aggressive and massive. The eye form in it's socket is tapered at both ends with a round, alert pupil.

The mask is worn on the forehead with the cedar bark fringe concealing the face and shoulders of the dancer. the lower beak of the mask is jointed so that when the proper string is pulled  it shuts with a clap. The dancer moves with a springy bird step in unison with the sharp beat of the batons on the drum log and, at moments of high drama, claps the beak in fast vibration.