Federation of false faces

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The false faces are a mask covenant of the Iroquois - Indians .

This is probably the most famous medicine society of the Iroquois . There are different names for the "wooden masks ". The most common is "false faces". The Seneca and the Mohawk simply call them "faces", while the Onondaga call them "humpback", the "hunchback" (hunchback). In the literature they are commonly called "false faces". Among the Iroquois themselves, this bond is known as Jadigon'sa shono .

The False Face Association came into action primarily at the midwinter ceremony. Otherwise, the members of this covenant were always active when they were called to heal a sick person.

In order to become a member of the Association of False Faces, a mediator was required to introduce interested parties.


If someone complained of head, shoulder or joint problems, the Association of False Faces was sought. But you said the masks to the force, the swelling of the head, toothache , burning eyes, nose bleeds , a sore jaw or ear pain heal, but also can cause.

The faces of the forest claimed to be able to control and cure diseases. They instructed the dreamers what it would take for their faces to help them. They should carve faces to look like them. Then they should have a festival where they burned Indian tobacco and sang songs. The dancers should wear turtle rattles.

The false faces perform healing rituals with a certain type of wooden mask. The ceremony usually includes a retelling of the myth of the Medicine League , an invocation of the spirits by burning tobacco , then the main ritual in which the members of the Association roam houses looking for illnesses, and finally a feast.

In addition to the ritual masks, the celebrating members of the Federation use rattles made of turtle shells, which represent a reference to the Iroquois worldview , according to which the world rests on the back of a giant turtle. The arrival of the false-face mask wearers is announced by faces made of corn stalks , who themselves wear masks made from corn cob hulls.

If the healers find a sick person on their tour, a healing ritual begins, during which they sing and again tobacco is burned. The ashes are blown over the sick person. At a subsequent gathering of the tribal community in the traditional long house , those present can ask for their ailments to be treated. The ritual ends with a dance, the scattering of more tobacco ashes and a final feast.

Fixed times for holding the healing ritual are spring, autumn and midwinter. In addition, it can also be carried out at the request of a sick person.

The "Wrong Faces"

The masks that gave the Society its name are preferably carved from the wood of the black linden tree ( Tilia americana ), but other types of wood are also common. In the past, they were made directly on the tree and only cut out of it when it was completed without it being lost. The tree is selected in a spiritual process in which the artist wanders around until, according to Iroquois ideas, a spirit leads him to the right tree. The spirit also inspires the specific features of the design of the mask, which is ultimately intended to be a representation of this being.

The designs of the masks have a wide variety, but certain features are common to most of them. They are usually adorned with long, black or white horse hair. Before the introduction of horses by the Europeans, buffalo hair or husks of corn on the cob were common instead. The eyes are deep-set and are emphasized by metal fittings. In addition, the masks often have long and crooked noses, often downright hooked noses. Incidentally, the facial features are very different.

The painting is done with red and black paint: red masks were started in the morning, while work on black masks starts in the afternoon. The latter are considered less powerful. Masks painted in both colors represent ghosts with "divided bodies". While painting used to be generally more colorful, red masks predominate today.

The False Face Association knows different classes of masks. The number and type of classes is controversial, looks something like this:

  • Doorkeeper or doctor masks
  • Dancing masks
  • Beggar masks
  • Secret masks

The beggar or thief masks do not represent any part of real society. The secret masks are never used in public ceremonies in the council house during the midwinter ceremony.

The masks can be categorized not only by their shape or appearance, but also by their function. The role in which the mask is used is even more important than its shape. Dancing and the actions of the wearer generally occupy a central position. The success of a ceremony depends largely on the talent of the mask wearer. It is very important that you dance and present yourself well.

Traditionalists reject the designation of masks entirely because they are living embodiments of ghosts and not mere objects. The masks are treated accordingly; They are "fed" with tobacco .

If a member of the False Face Association dies, he bequeaths his mask to his children. But if he is childless, he can demand that his mask be buried with him.

More recently, the masks have become a controversial topic since tribal artisans make ritual masks to sell as souvenirs to tourists and collectors. The Iroquois leadership reacted to this development, which was perceived as a commercialization of tradition, by passing a resolution against the sale of sacred masks. They also ask collectors and museums to return masks they have already purchased.

The other specific objects of society relate to the Iroquois legend. They consist of the masks, the turtle rattles , the bark rattles , a pole to which a corn straw mask is attached, a small wooden false face, a small turtle rattle and a tobacco basket .

Myth of origin and historical foundation

The tradition of the Iroquois traces the tradition of the medicine association back to the " Spirit Medicine Man ", to whom healing powers were bestowed for his love for all beings. He ran a competition with a stranger to see which of the two could move a mountain. The stranger made the mountain shake, whereupon the ghost medicine man certified him great ability but lack of faith. He himself moved the mountain with a jolt in such a way that he hit the stranger in the face and shattered it. The ghost medicine man immediately healed him and taught him his healing art. The nameless stranger thus became the great healer Old Broken Nose (lit. "Old Broken Nose"), whom the rituals have since honored and whose face with the nose broken by the mountain is shown in the masks. In various versions of the story, a creator deity takes the place of the spirits medicine man, while the stranger names like "False Face" ( False Face ) or "the Great face" ( Great Face ) bears.

The above legend is not the only one. The Seneca know two who explain the origin of society, the Mohawk even know three. These stories explain the origin of the various classes of masks.

Experts argue about the age of society. Indeed, there are few early accounts of Iroquois culture. Nevertheless, an early origin of the society cannot be ruled out, especially since its ceremonies are usually held in secret. Another evidence that speaks for an early existence of this covenant are the finds of stone pots and pipes on which faces had been carved that resemble the false faces. The literature first mentions the false faces in 1851 by Lewis H. Morgan .

See also


  • William N. Fenton: Masked Medicine Societies of the Iroquois , in: Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution, 1940. Washington: United States Government Printing Office , 1941