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Hamatsa

by Jennifer Ruggiero
The Hamatsa society is the highest ranking Kwakiutl secret society proud to perform the most important Kwakiutl dance - a winter initiation ceremony for the newest members of the society. It is 4 days long and very complex. The Hamatsa dancers represent a cannibal spirit who lives in the sky (Bakbakwalanooksiwae). Boas translated the spirit's name to mean "Cannibal at the north end of the world." Bakbakwalanooksiwae is invisible and the Hamatsa dancers are thought to each represent one of his many mouths. His presence is made known though a strange whistling sound which is supposed to be the wind blowing through his millions of mouths. On the first day of the ceremony, the novice member is "possessed" by the Bakbakwalanooksiwae spirit and wanders into the woods, and is not seen again until the last day of the dance. The rest of the dance involves the frenzied dancing of the Hamatsa dancers, and a final appearance of the initiate Hamatsa performing a symbolic re-enactment of Bakbakwalanooksiwae's first cannibal experience. Hamatsa Raven (Kwakwakalanooksiwae) is considered to be the most important role of the ceremony, and is reserved for only senior members of the Hamatsa.

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