Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1830 Iroquois False Face
SubjectFalse Face dancer
Culture: Iroquois
Setting: cleansing rituals, Iroquois Confederacy 19thc

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Graymont 1988 p49
"In the spring and fall of every year, the False Faces perform the Traveling Rite to cleanse their village.  They publicly visit the homes of all religious traditionalists on the reservation and ceremonially sweep diseases out of their houses. People give the maskers gifts of Indian tobacco.  Then the Faces and members of the community go to the longhouse, the traditionalists' place of worship, for additional rituals and a feast in honor of the Faces.  At such ceremonial feasts, foods that the supernaturals are believed to like are served: Hominy (cornmeal mush) and corn soup are preferred by False Faces."

* Lee 1995 p97-99
"The society is made up of men not content to wait for the Faces; they do it themselves.  Hidden by the mask, they burst out of the forest and through the doors of longhouse and home. They roll on the floor, they beg for food, they crawl on their bellies like a snake, but the most startling and wondrous of all the many things they do is to reach into the burning heart of the fire and bring out embers to juggle. When the coals cools [SIC], they are crushed into ash and the masks smear the healing ash on their appreciative audience -- yes, these strange creatures are counted great healers and, indeed, much of Native American clowning is considered a healing act.  Then up everyone is pulled to dance and sing to their crazed tune.  The performance done they're off to the next house and before dawn they rush back into the forest from whence they came."

* Johnson/Smith 2003 p34
"Although there was local diversity in the ritual and practices in Iroquois communities, wooden False Face masks represent earth-bound supernatural forest beings who agree not to molest humans provided they are given offerings of tobacco and corn mush.  In return they give curing powers to society dreamers who crave their likeness.  Through the mouths of these masks hot ashes from the Doctors hands are blown (as a spiritual force) onto the patient, without noticeable burning."

* Fenton 1987 p


* Lee 1995 p97
"The False Faces are masks ... carved, quite literally, from the living trunk of a tree.  These masks represent the strange, wild beings who inhabit the forests and rarely, only at particular times of celebration, make themselves known to their neighbors.  Some have specific identities, such as 'Crooked Nose' who had the chutzpah to challenge the Creator to a mountain moving contest and did his nose an injury when he quickly turned to find a mountain looking right over his shoulder.  Many are just anonymous zanies."

* Paterek 1994 p57
"The wooden masks of the Iroquois False Face Society with their twisted faces were used in curing rites.  Considered supernatural beings, these masks were carved from living trees in order to capture the spirit of the god.  They were made and worn only by men."

* Signos y símbolos 2020 p271
"scaras de hojas  Los indios norteamericanos iroqueses espantaban a los espíritus malignos con máscaras de hojas de maíz, cuyo rostro se tenía por un espíritu doméstico que curaba las enfermedades.  Los iroqueses acogIan a una <<sociedad de rostros falsos>> formada por brujos a los que se attribuían poderes especiales cuando llevaban la máscara."

* Graymont 1988 p49
"Many modern Iroquois oppose public display of the sacred False Faces and believe that they should be used only in religious ceremonies." online
"These masks are the most distinctive manifestations of Iroquois religious art. Most are depictions of humanlike mythic beings – portraits of spirits encountered by people in dreams – and anyone who wears such a mask is transformed into the spirit embodied in the image. They are used during communal rituals that focus on driving out disease and misfortune and restoring balance. The spirits may also be called upon in times of personal need. The masks, whose features are cut directly on the living tree, are revered but are not objects of worship".


* Johnson/Smith 2003 p43
"False face ritualists and Great Feather Dance singers ... used snapping turtle shell rattles about 12-14ins long, with head and neck stretched and held by stick splints on the handle."

* Museum of Fine Arts > Art of the Americas > Native North American Art (describing a kanyáhte' ká'nowa' rattle, Seneca 19th century)
"Such rattles are the most important ritual instruments in the culture of the Seneca and other Iroquoian peoples. They are used in healing ceremonies during which singers sit on benches in a communal longhouse, striking the rattles on the bench to mark the rhythm[.]" 

* Museum of Fine Arts > Art of the Americas > Native North American Art