The Story of the Mask

Like many Northwest Coast peoples, the Nuxalk of Bella Coola believed that their first ancestors descended from the upper world of the Creator. These first Ones had the special ability to change from human to animal form and back again. Eventually Salmon, Raven, Bear, Wolf, Mink and the other first ancestors lost their ability to transform and remained in their human shape.

Stories, dances, names, crests and carvings became sacred and cherished possessions of individual families. Special prerogatives were validated and passed down through the generations in order to keep the memory of each family’s lineage alive. Winter ceremonials and potlatches retold the old stories in sophisticated dramatic reenactments where, through the use of dances, songs and masks, beings from the land above literally came alive for those not initiated into the secret societies performing the rituals.

Today there are many artists from outside of Nuxalk culture who copy the Bella Coola style but there are very few Nuxalk carvers creating authentic Bella Coola masks. Even more rare are the Nuxalk carvers who still carve in the traditional style.