The Power of Symbols: Masks and Masquerade in the Americas by N. Ross Crumrine, Marjorie Halpin

By N. Ross Crumrine, Marjorie Halpin

This number of papers, awarded on the forty second foreign Congress of Americanists, considers the interaction among the masks, the masks bearer, and the viewers. The experiences pay attention to the belief of protecting as a transformational ritual during which the human actor is reworked right into a being of one other order. The authors use examples from a number of cultures and of their analyses argue for specific units of relationships as being an important to the certainty of the masks.

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Boas cites another tradition from eastern Baffin Island first observed by the Arctic traveller C. F. Hall. In Hall's journals are descriptions of a solstice ritual in which two masked figures enter each house in the camp and extinguish the light of the oil lamp. The lamp is immediately rekindled, signifying " 'new sun — new light,' implying a belief that the sun was at that time renewed for the year" (Hall in Boas 1888:607). Boas credits the ethnologist Lucien Turner with observing a similar rekindling rite among Inuit of Ungava Bay and the northernmost Labrador peninsula (1888:608).

This fundamental motif is symbolically replicated in other rituals associated with a general Nuliajoqsolstice pattern found in diverse areas of the eastern arctic. From Cumberland Sound, for example, Boas has recorded a number of rituals marking the transition of seasons, fall to winter and, by implication, the annual renewal of life. Part of this tradition is a visitation by two masked and fully disguised figures called qailertetang ("masked figures"), servants of Sedna whose activities are related to the supplication of the sea spirit and observation of the solstice (Boas 1901:139-142).

Both Halpin and I are suggesting that what survives death is the soul-spirit man shares with divine nature, and that human power is achieved by communication with this non-human aspect. The social dimension of our being, which disrupts the flow of communication, must be denied or split through the use of trance before we can achieve harmony with the non-human. The difference between the masked trance and the Naskapi trance is that the former requires an audience. For masking cultures, the person is a socially maintained construct, whereas for the latter this is not the case.

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