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The Story of the Totem Pole / Het Verhaal van de Totempaal

The Trickster, U'met, Raven the Trickster, Het verhaal van de totempaal
The Trickster
Part two of my visit to the museum of Volkunde in Leiden. (part 1 is here: China's terracota army). I hope you enjoy!

U’met is Raven the Trickster and transformer in the myths and legends of the Northwest Coast, who is famous for thievery, mischievousness and for moving objects for one place to another. He is the Creator of light and the moon; he also brought the Kwakwaka’wakw people the moon, fire, salmon, sun and the tides. This privilege came to the Hunt family trough Calvin’s great great grandmother, Anisalaga, a Tlingit noblewoman from Tongass, Alaska who married into the Kwagu’l. As part of her dowry, she brought with her the Hunt pole, which has three ravens, one of which is the Creator of Light and the Moon – this is what this Raven represents. (Text from the museum)

U'met, Raven, Trickster, Kwakwaka'wakw, Museum van Volkenkunde Leiden
Hamats’a composite Mask
Kwakwaka’swakw winter dances are accompanied by initiation ceremonies. Of these, initiation into the secret Hamats’a society is the most prestigious. The initiate, possessed by the spirit of the Cannibal, is escorted by four man-eating birds. These are usually represented by individual masks. In this mask two birds, Crooked Beak and Raven, are combined. (Text from the museum)

Dzunukwa Mask (Wild Woman), original duckface
Dzunukwa Mask (Wild Woman)
A.k.a. the original duckface? Okay, sorry had to do that! She lives and the forest and captures children of mortals for her to eat. She is also associated with wealth.

Life and Death
Dualism is an important theme in Northwest Coast: life and death, man and woman, animal and human. These themes continue to play an important role in contemporary art. (Text from the museum)
Fool's Mask
Fool's Mask
Mask like these are worn nowadays by diverse Haida dance groups at their first performance, to purify the air. The dancers shout when the supernatural being enters the space, in the guise of gigantic hairy monster. By chasing him away again, they purify the air and the dance performance can continue. (Text from the museum)
Painted drum
Songs and dance are important elements of ceremonies and rituals. The circular tambourine drum was mainly used in the southern region of the Northwest Coast. (Text from the museum)
Wolf's Mask
Wolf's Mask
Wolves were very common along the Northwest Coast. Wolf plays an important role in transformation stories and is a popular subject in crest and shamanic art. He is seen as the ancestor of the Dzawada’enux, a Kwakwaka’wakw tribe. This tribe performs a wolf dance as part of the winter ceremonies. (Text from the museum)

Raven Mask
Raven Mask
At the start of the exhibition they had handpainted fish hanging. I really like the reflection of it.

Some contemporary art, I found them nowhere near as impressive as the old masks!

This 8 meter (26ft) high totem pole is specially designed for the museum. A group of North American First Nation artists led by Rande Cook created this giant. It's the masterpiece of the exhibition. The Northwest Coast First Nations are world-famous for their magnificent totem poles.

If you want to visit the exhibition you can do so until april the first. (No joke, I promise)

Part three will contain the Wayang puppets!


  1. wooooow, die zijn echt heeeel mooi! Ik vond het altijd wel een beetje eng uitzien, maar tegelijkertijd ook zoooo interessant! En die handgeschilderde visjes dan! Zo leuk! :)
    Leuke blog heb je ;)

  2. Very interesting; I wonder where the museum took these from, and if they were ok with it. It's really quite spooky and gives me a taboo feeling.

    d a n i e l l e | daniellewu.comGiveaway: win a shopping spree to FirmooGlasses!

  3. Gorgeous photos!! xo

  4. I agree with an eerie feeling to them! I shall see if I can find out where they were from. Some of them were on loan I know. I will let you know asap!
    Have a nice Sunday!

  5. The trickster is a courtesy of Calvin A. Hunt, the composite mask is from "Museum aan de Stroom), the Fool's Mask, The Dzunukwa Mask & Wolf Mask from the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, Life & Death, Bird Mask comes from the Museum für Völkerkunde Wien. Hope this helps! :]