Art Through Time: A Global View
Ceremony and Society Art: Soul Recovery Ceremony paraphernalia
Ceremony, enacted on occasions ranging from name-giving to marriage to the honoring of the deceased, is viewed by the Salish people of the Pacific Northwest as a way of validating one another and reinforcing their cultural identity and sense of community.
At the same time, the Salish believe that certain knowledge must be closely guarded; if spread too widely, there is a risk that the power associated with that knowledge will be lost. Thus, a complete understanding of particular ceremonies and their attendant objects is restricted to certain highly-trained members of society.
The SHitsab, or the “Soul Recovery Ceremony” in English, is a complex ritual that has traditionally been considered extremely dangerous to participants. During this ceremony, expert healers journeyed to the First Land of the Dead (a’hLqW3hL) to retrieve the soul of an ill patient. Objects such as the ones seen here were created to ensure the success of the mission. Each object had a specific function in the ceremony. For instance, the red figures, known as earth dwarves, endowed those with the necessary shamanic training and knowledge with the power to recover the sH3li’, or soul. The cedar bark headbands worn by the figures were intended to bind together the minds of the travelers and keep them focused on their goal. Large painted boards called qWi’libixW (“spirit boards”), here painted white, with black and red designs, bore the power songs of the travelers. Other paraphernalia involved in the ceremony were bundles of grass arrows, cedar rope, a basket to carry enchanted huckleberries, and a doll to contain the recovered soul on the journey back to the Land of the Living.
CHiXapkaid (Michael Pavel), Artist and Traditional Bearer for the tuwaduq Nation
“The Soul Recovery exhibit in itself encompasses an incredible amount of knowledge that we need to bring forth, and we’re really motivated to bring that forth not only for our own purposes today, but for future generations.
For whatever reason, individuals, families, collectives, or communities can lose their joy for living. They lose a sense of promise and aspiration; it’s like, give them the motivation to wake up to greet the day positively.
As we encountered more and more of that, we saw the need for a ceremony like this that wasn’t being satisfied by the services society might offer people in suffering. Many communities throughout the native lands are suffering at the hands of colonization and oppression. And that deep-seated sadness has evolved into depression, so that the whole family kinship and network has been somewhat disrupted.
This ceremony, in fact, was about providing aid to a particular individual who may have lost their soul, but it was also about gathering the community to work in one mind, one heart, one spirit for the purpose of something good, something that could contribute to the worth of living.
There is something about giving back that gives each of us a sense of worth. It means that we value life so much that we are willing to do whatever is necessary to make sure other people enjoy it too. We’re not just simply thinking about recovering the soul of an individual, but it’s about the soul and the salvation of our society.”
Berlo, Janet C., and Ruth B. Phillips. Native North American Art. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Brotherton, Barbara, ed. S’abadeb, The Gifts: Pacific Coast Salish Art and Artists. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2008.
Duffek, K. The Transforming Image: Painted Arts of Northwest Coast First Nations. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2007.
“S’abadeb—The Gifts: Pacific Coast Salish Art and Artists.” Exhibition page. Seattle Art Museum Web site. http//www.seattleartmuseum.org.
Stewart, H. Looking at Art of the Northwest Coast. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1979.