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*Not all masks are on display in the U'mista Gallery.

Duck Headdresses of

Duck Headdresses of "Hilamas" Joseph Speck
Duck Headdresses Lawitsis

Duck Headdresses

In Kwakwa̱ka̱'wakw culture, many tribes come from first Ancestors who were animals, birds or supernatural beings. In these origin stories, often these creatures transformed or were transformed into human beings and remained in that form to become the founders of the existing clans and tribes today.

These two duck headdresses clearly have flat beaks like those of the many species of ducks that flock into our territories. The lengths of their necks also distinguish them from swans or geese and the lack of a necklace differentiates them from a loon. The side additions represent wings and a small tail is also implemented. The large human faces on the bellies of the two ducks signify the supernatural ability to transform to and from their human form. This theme is often portrayed when the artist is creating a piece that tells of human transformation.

The species of ducks that we are led to believe these headdresses represent are male Mallards. Both headdresses have painted yellow flat bills and the green eye bans that are characteristics of Mallards. The use of green is a color commonly used by Kwakwa̱ka̱'wakw artists; however, this color along with the usual black and red support the research that identifies these headdresses as being male Mallard ducks.

The following is a ‘Namgis legend telling about one such story about the transformation of ducks:

LEGENDS OF THE ‘NAMGIS T̕siłwalagame’ (Ancestor legend of the T̕sit̕sał’walagame’ ‘namima) After the Flood, the former people were transformed into animals and stones. When the waters had receded, the monster ‘Namxiyalegiyu "Only One" rose from the depths of the ocean. He looked like a huge halibut carrying a man on its narrow edge. He put him ashore at Xwalkw and returned again to the deep. The man looked around on earth and saw nobody. Therefore he called himself ‘Namukustolis "Having Come from the Earth as the Only One". He had a son called Gi’yi "Chief". They kept a fire going on the beach and were sitting beside it. Then one day K̕aniki’lakw (the Transformer) passed that way in his canoe and landed at Xwalkw. He sat down by them at the fire in such a way that ‘Namukustolis and Gi’yi were sitting on one side, and he on the opposite. He wanted to test his strength with them, so he put some fish, which he had with him, by the fire and roasted it. Gi’yi wished to eat some of this fish, so his father held his hand underneath it and caught the fat dripping down, which he gave to his son. K̕aniki’lakw took the fish, broke it and gave it to them to eat. He thought that they would die because it was the Sisiyutł "Double-Headed Serpent", but it didn’t harm them. But ‘Namukustolis himself had a Sisiyutł, which he roasted and gave to K̕aniki’lakw to eat. The latter was very surprised at this. Then K̕aniki’lakw tried to transform the two into ducks. He succeeded, but after a short while both became human again. They sat down by the fire again and K̕aniki’lakw now transformed them into two large mountains. These, too, soon regained their human shape. Then he transformed them into a pair of kingfishers. These, too, soon became human again. ‘Namukustolis also transformed K̕aniki’lakw three times, but was not able to prevent him from assuming his real shape again each time. When K̕aniki’lakw thus saw that he was unable to defeat them, he made friends with them and journeyed on…

Recorded by George Hunt for Franz Boas

The Duck Headdresses in the Potlatch Collection are listed as belonging to: Joseph Speck "Hiłamas" UCC-80.01.021, UCC-80.01.039

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