‘HAMATSA’ by Francis Dick – First Nations Northwest Coast Kwakwaka’wakw Art presented by DaVic Gallery of Native Canadian Arts.
Condition: no condition noted.
Description by Artist: ‘HAMATSA’ – “Is inspired by Wayne Alfred, the best Hamatsa dancer within the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation. I have known him all my life. We both have been very strong in our cultural upbringing. He is also one of the very few that I consider an artist. He is well versed in our traditions. He not only is an exceptional carver he is an exceptional man. I have tremendous love and respect for him. His life is a testimony to his character.” – Francis Dick
I have known and loved Wayne Alfred since we were 6 years of age. Every Tuesday at 2:00 PM, Wayne and I (along with a couple of male students) would run from our school, high on the hill in Alert Bay to our Big House to dance for the Cruise Ship passengers. We belonged to a small group of children and adults that formed what was historically called the “Arts and Craft Society”. Since those times, Wayne remains in my heart. I love him, I respect him and I honour him. He is an exceptional man. He is humble, his creativity is beyond phenomenal and his dancing creates chills through your body for he is connected in such a strong way to his culture, his creator and his spirit.
Notes from DaVic Gallery: There is another painting by Francis Dick titled ‘Where I Stand’ that fits together very well with ‘HAMATSA‘. After the storm comes calm. HAMATSA brings the storm on one’s life, whereas ‘Where I stand’ signifies the calm, wisdom, maturity. HAMATSA to me signifies the days of youth. Days of excessive appetite for adventure, for knowledge, for trouble, for meat and we devour everything life and circumstances throw at us without discrimination despite the words of advice from the elders. Yes, we don’t listen and we are hungry for doing things our way and we enter willingly into the mouth of the cannibal spirit. Only there we finally SEE, only there we understand and we come out victorious and wiser or remain there forever in the vowels of the cannibal if we refuse to accept truth and wisdom. In modern terms, these two paintings reflect very well our transition from youth and adulthood and into our midlife passage.
Similarly, as mentioned in my notes with ‘Where I Stand’, I admit this is one painting that will be difficult to let go of. Hangs in my living room together with ‘Where I Stand’ side by side, and the entire family loves them both. Amazing lift of energy in the entire room and great piece for conversation.
The Kwakwaka’wakw have many ceremonies practiced by different secret societies with four main cultures: The war society (Winalagalis), the magical society (Matem), the society of the afterlife (Bakwas), and the cannibal society (Hamatsa) which is the most prestigious of all. The Kwakwaka’wakw use the winter as the ceremonial season for the Kwakwaka’wakw mask tradition. During the hamatsa dance (represented in this painting), many masks transform from one character to another, demonstrating the transformations that the dancer is undergoing. The Kwakwaka’wakw carving style is bold with bright colors combined with white paint to highlight dramatic expressions intensifying the features in firelight dance performance. Among the most recognized masks of the Kwakwaka’wakw are the massive Hamatsa bird masks:
- Crooked Beak (Galokwudzuwis) – a monstrous human eating bird that produces great fear.
- Huk-huk (Huxwhukw) – uses long beak to crack open human skulls and suck out brains.
- Raven (Baxbaxwalanuksiwe) – eats his victim’s eyeballs.
These masks are used for the initiation ceremony of new Hamatsa Society members which dramatizes the struggle of good and evil forces for the young initiate’s soul. The giant Hamatsa birds are the earthly representatives of Baxwbakwalanuxwsiwe’, the massive cannibal spirit in the sky world. The enormous birds try to lure the young person into the dark realm, while the family and tribe work tirelessly to liberate the forces of evil from the young person’s soul. When the initiation ceremony concludes (which can take several days), the forces of good, with any luck, have prevailed and the young initiate is ready to be a productive, positive contributing member to the Hamatsa society and the tribe.