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Visually Arresting Native Americans Masks of the 20th Century

These masks don't actually conceal their wearers from the world, but instead expresses both their own inner self and the culture from which they come sometimes better than their bare face ever could.

Native tribes across the Americas give social and cultural relevance on masks, from the Navajo to the Koskimo, as well as the Kwakiutl and beyond. These people use them in storytelling, dances, and spiritual ceremonies.

Photographer and ethnologist Edward Curtis delighted himself in capturing images of numerous Native Americans wearing these historic masks throughout the first few years of the 20th century. At which point, the U.S. government were campaigning for the permanent disappearance of the tribes and culture represented by these masks.

Navajo man, half-length, seated and facing front; wearing a ceremonial mask with feathers and fir or spruce branches forming a wreath on his shoulders, 1904.
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Edward Curtis/Library of Congress

A person wearing Mask of Tsunukwalahl, a mythical being, valued during the Winter Dance, 1914.
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Edward Curtis/Library of Congress

Navajo man wearing mask of Ganaskidi, god of harvests, bounty, and of mists, 1905.
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Edward Curtis/Library of Congress

A Koskimo wearing full-body fur garment, oversized gloves and mask of Hami ("dangerous thing") for the numhlim ceremony, 1914.
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Edward Curtis/Library of Congress

Tonenili-Navajo man, dressed in spruce branches, 1904-1905.
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Edward Curtis/Library of Congress

A Kwakiutl don a mask of the mythical creature Pgwis (man of the sea), 1914.
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Edward Curtis/Library of Congress

Navajo person with leather mask composed of basket cap, fur ruff, nude torso painted with white lines, 1904-1905.
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Edward Curtis/Library of Congress

Ceremonial mask don by a dancer portraying the hunter in Bella Bella mythology who slayed the giant man-eating octopus. The dance was executed during Tluwulahu, a four-day ceremony before the Winter Dance, 1914.
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Edward Curtis/Library of Congress

Navajo man with a dark mask, fur ruff, paint on torso, 1904-1905.
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Edward Curtis/Library of Congress

Navajo person, full-length, complete with ceremonial dress including mask and body paint, 1904.
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Edward Curtis/Library of Congress

A dancer wearing raven mask with coat of cormorant skins for the numhlin ceremony, 1914.
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Edward Curtis/Library of Congress

Dancer don an oversize mask, three rings of feathers in front of clothing, holding a rattle, 1913.
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Edward Curtis/Library of Congress

Navajo person bedecked in hemlock boughs and mask of a clown identified with the mischievous rain god Tonenili, "Water Sprinkler," 1905.
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Edward Curtis/Library of Congress

Kwakiutl person adorn an oversize mask and hands representing a forest spirit, Nuhlimkilaka ("bringer of confusion"), 1914.
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Edward Curtis/Library of Congress

Man embellished in a full-body bear costume. The bear had the duty of guarding the dance house, 1914.
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Edward Curtis/Library of Congress

Navajo man adorned with dark leather mask, fur ruff, cloth girdle, silver concho belt and necklaces, 1904-1905.
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Edward Curtis/Library of Congress

Dancer depicting Paqusilahl ("man of the ground embodiment"), wearing a mask and shirt bedecked with hemlock boughs, representing paqus, a wild man of the woods, 1914.
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Edward Curtis/Library of Congress

Navajo person wearing mask of Haschebaad, a benevolent female deity, 1905.
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Edward Curtis/Library of Congress

During the winter ceremony, Kwakiutl dancers don masks and costumes crouch in foreground with others behind them. The chief on the far left holds a speaker's staff. Three totem poles in background, 1914.
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Edward Curtis/Library of Congress

Ceremonial dancer, full-length portrait, standing, dressed up with mask and a fur garments during the Winter Dance ceremony, 1914.
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Edward Curtis/Library of Congress

Man with a ceremonial mask of Nunivak, 1929.
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Edward Curtis/Library of Congress

Person wearing ceremonial mask of the Nuhlimahla for the Winter Dance ceremony. These characters mimic fools and were noted for their fervor to filth and disorder, 1914.
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Edward Curtis/Library of Congress

Woman adorn a fringed Chilkat blanket, a hamatsa neckring and mask depicting deceased relative who had been a shaman, 1914.
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Edward Curtis/Library of Congress

Two Native Americans in costumes wearing horns of buffaloes, 1927.
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Edward Curtis/Library of Congress

Sisiutl, one of the main performers in the Winter Dance ceremonies, wearing a double-headed serpent mask and shirt made of hemlock boughs, 1914.
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Edward Curtis/Library of Congress

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