University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

18th Century Lenape Finger Mask [Object of the Day #10]

June 28, 2012

18th Century Lenape Finger Mask
18th Century Lenape Finger Mask

An integral part of the (now extinct) Delaware Big House Church (xingwekaon) ceremony was the use of the Mesingw mask or carved face. It’s a representation of a powerful spirit (mesingwhalikan) that came to their ancestors centuries ago, and became incorporated into religious ceremonies. The mask would be painted red (ochre) on the right half and black (charcoal) on the left. The Mesingw face would also be carved upon the wooden posts that held up the wooden longhouse. These faces would also be painted in the the ceremonial colors at the appropriate time.

The wooden mask was also worn by a specially appointed ceremonial participant and worn with a bearskin cloak or suit to give an eerie spiritual presence. He would accompany messengers who announced the meeting, hunters who provided venison for ceremonial feasts, young vision seekers who traveled along in the forests, and danced with the participants during the twelve-day ceremony.

Penn Museum object #s NA3882, NA3881.

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