Cherokee Tribe: Mask
Materials: Wood, Animal Fur
This mask is a wooden “Booger” mask from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians of present-day North Carolina. Masks like this one were often used in ritual dance performances to satirize the tensions between tribal members and outsiders. Booger masks were fashioned to represent the faces of foreigners –Europeans, Germans, Africans, or neighboring Indians– and the masks were worn during the dance to designate these clumsy intruders.
In this Booger mask, an eagle feather and strips of white deer skin and brown bear skin make up the hairpiece. The mask was made in 1939 by Will West Long, a Cherokee shaman, who lived on the Qualla Reservation in North Carolina. His influence on the social, political, and cultural ways of the Cherokee is still being studied to this day. Additionally, with anthropologist Frank Speck, he put together several books, recordings, and collections of Cherokee dance and drama.
Booger masks were usually carved from wood or gourds and dyed with vegetable pigments. They often exhibited sexual characteristics, like phallic noses with opossum fur as seen here, and the actors who wore them made obscene, albeit humorous, gestures during the dance to illustrate the perception many had of foreigners with rude behavior and a preoccupation with sex. In the Booger Dance, “Boogers” dressed in European clothing, wrapped themselves in sheets and bed quilts, and chased women around the room, fondling them and soliciting giggles and screams. The performance often culminated in the community Eagle Dance, whereby both the Cherokee and the Boogers danced, and singing and partying continued into the night.
The following is a video of Michael Searching Bear, a Cherokee and Powhatan musician, performing a rendition of the Booger Dance. Check it out and enjoy getting to know the Story Behind the Object! [Lauren Simons]