August 11, 2008

My Favorite Things

Posted by: Nicole Robert

Hello! I am the newest member of the Communications team here at the Burke Museum and a student in the Museology Graduate Program at the UW. I thought I would tell you about my favorite object on display at the Burke right now. Like me, this object is a new addition. In June, the Burke sponsored a showing of the 1914 vintage film In the Land of the Head Hunters—a restored and re-evaluated version of Edward Curtis’s landmark melodramatic silent film. Head Hunters documents a unique moment of cultural encounter between Curtis and the Kwakwaka’wakw actors, depicting Kwakwaka'wakw artwork, technology, and earlier cultural practices that had been long abandoned.

Several of the objects created for use in this film are Duntsik or “power boards” and are my favorite things on display at the Burke right now. They are constructed so they can appear to grow taller, swaying as they grow, and then to disappear slowly, apparently into the ground. They are said to represent the 3-headed serpent, sisiotl, and were used in the ceremonial performance called hyikhatsayoo (“means of harm”). In 1914, the creation and use of many Kwakwaka’wakw ceremonial objects had been banned, so participating in the making of a movie presented a sanctioned way for Kwakwaka’wakw people of the time to create and use these traditional objects.

The Burke was fortunate to receive these Duntsik, along with several other objects used in the film. These are all on display now, a new addition to the Pacific Voices exhibit. I love that these objects tell a story within a story, and symbolize both a sacred tradition and the unique way that Kwakwaka’wakw people found to preserve a symbol of that tradition, even when it was banned.
- Nicole
Photos: (Left) Duntsik or “power boards.” (Right) Display of objects used in In the Land of the Headhunters, now on view at the Burke Museum.