Introduction

By: Frank Gouldsmith Speck

Originally Published in 1950

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The use of the mask in various forms of symbolic activity, religious or dramatic, is found in many parts of the world and has long been familiar to students of the American Indian as an element in the ceremonies of certain tribes. What is not so well known, however, is that masks play a part in the life of so many groups throughout eastern North America. From the Eskimo along the eastern coast of Labrador to the Cherokee of the mountains of North Carolina, the masking complex appears in a variety of symbolic contexts. To examine this phenomenon and its significance in the cultures where it occurs is the purpose of this study. What beings do these masks represent? What myths and traditions do they reflect? What power do they confer on the wearer? What effect do they produce on the beholder? Finally, what do they reveal of the history and cultural interconnections of peoples now scattered and already forgetful of their past? The evidence at hand-the masks themselves and the activities involving them, the records of the past and the memory of the people-allows of only tentative conclusions; but the inferences it is possible to make from the data warrant the attempt.1


1 The subject matter upon which this report is based has been largely drawn from field work in the area among the groups mentioned. Support of this work has come from various sources; the Faculty Research Fund, University of Pennsylvania, in large part (Grants 586, 594). Acknowledgements are also gratefully made lo Dr. Erminie W. Voegelin for the Shawnee data and to Dr. William N. Fenton for reference to the Iroquois material. Without, however, the aid and encouragement generously furnished by Mr. Eli Lilly of Indianapolis and Mr. Robert Riggs of Philadelphia, in 1948-49, it would have been impossible for me to continue and complete the field work required to bring the survey to its present state. I rest under deep obligations for extending me the advantages of their intimacy with the Iroquois informants at Allegany, N. Y. in 1949, to Mr. Charles E. and Mr. Richard B. Congdon of Salamanca, N. Y. and Mr. M. H. Deardorff of Warren, Pennsylvania. The officers and rangers of the Allegany Stale Forest Commission afforded me unforgettable assistance in the field in March 1949 (Mr. L. F. Becilia, Mr. O. R. Lindberg, Mr. C. D. Lapp, Mr. F. L. Knight, Mr. P. E. O’Stricker, Mr. G. Anderson). Dr. George S. Snyderman read the manuscript and made critical suggestions and Mrs. Snyderman did the typing. Few investigators in the field of the humanities can realize more than I do the extent of what we owe to those who contribute time and substance to the furtherance of our research in pure science.

Cite This Article

Speck, Frank Gouldsmith. "Introduction." Museum Bulletin XV, no. 1 (July, 1950): 6-6. Accessed February 28, 2024. https://www.penn.museum/sites/bulletin/3228/


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