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Everything Under the Sun

Connections with the supernatural.
Kwakiutl (kwah-KYOO-tuhl) people, Canada, <i>Sun mask</i>, about 1860, wood, metal, pigment, cord, and cloth
zoom Kwakiutl (kwah-KYOO-tuhl) people, Canada, Sun mask, about 1860, wood, metal, pigment, cord, and cloth


For the people of the Northwest Coast of North America, the sun comes and goes with the seasons. Days are long at the height of summer. The sun never sinks far below the horizon at night, causing “twilight nights” around the longest day of the year. Winter days are short and often darkened by rain clouds.

Various cultural groups in the region explain that long ago they lived in a world without any sun at all. In one version of the story, the trickster Raven flew through a rip in the sky to the world of the spirits, where the sun shone all the time. He snatched it in his beak and brought it to the world of the people. As he returned, parts of the sun fell off, forming the moon and the stars.

The bright spring and summer months were traditionally spent preparing stores of fish and other food to last the rest of the year. The dark and rainy winter was a time for gathering together at home. It was also the season for ceremonial reenactments of the stories of the people. Countless stories, like that of Raven and the sun, reminded communities of connections between the physical world around them—animals, humans, plants, the sun, moon, and stars—and the world of the spirits. A dancer might have worn a mask like this one as part of such a drama.

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1. The mask of Raven, the most important figure in many stories, would traditionally be worn by a tribal leader believed to have special abilities to communicate with the spirit world.
2. This mask of Raven opens to reveal a human face, a reminder of the connection between humans, animals, and the world of the spirits.


May 2005