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p. 127


This organization is one of the better known societies of the Iroquois, and its rites have often been described, though not always correctly interpreted. There are three divisions of the False Faces, and four classes of masks--doorkeeper or doctor masks, dancing masks, beggar masks, and secret masks. The beggar and thief masks form no part of the paraphernalia of the true society, and the secret masks are never used in public ceremonies in the council house at the midwinter ceremony. The False Face ceremonies have been well described, though by no means exhaustively, by Morgan 1 and Boyle 2. The main features are generally known.

The paraphernalia of this society consist of the masks previously mentioned, turtleshell rattles (snapping turtles only), hickory bark rattles, head throws, a leader's pole upon which is fastened a small husk face, a small wooden false face, and a small turtle rattle, and a tobacco basket.

There are two Seneca legends setting forth the origin of the False Faces, and three with the Mohawk story. These stories, however, explain the origin of different classes of masks. Each mask has a name. One story relates that the False Faces originated with the Stone Giants. However this may be, the writer obtained in 1905, from a woman claiming to be the keeper of the secret masks, a mask representing the Stone Giant's face. With it was a mask made of wood, over which was stretched a rabbit skin stained with blood. This mask was supposed to represent the face of a traitor as he would look when drowned for his infamy. Chief Delos Kettle said it was used to cure veneral diseases.

There is some dispute as to the antiquity of the False Face Company. Doctor Beauchamp, in his History of the Iroquois, 3 says it is comparatively recent. From a study of the Seneca society, however, the writer is inclined to believe that it is quite old with them,

p. 128

although it may be more recent with the other Iroquois. Early explorers certainly could not have seen everything of Iroquois culture, especially some of the secret things, and their lack of description may be regarded as negative testimony rather than as positive evidence of the nonexistence of certain features which later students have found. It is quite possible that the author of "Van Curler's" journal of 1634-35 mentions a false face when he writes: "This chief showed me his idol; it was a head with the teeth sticking out; it was dressed in red cloth. Others have a snake, a turtle, a swan, a crane, a pigeon for their idols. . . ." The Seneca at present drape their false faces when they hang them up for safe keeping, and use them as well as turtle and snake charms as bringers of good fortune. Some pipes from seventeenth-century graves seem to represent blowing masks. Mr M. R. Harrington and the writer found one in 1903 while excavating a seventeenth-century site, since learned to be of Seneca occupancy, on Cattaraugus creek, near Irving. The counterpart of this pipe was found by R. M. Peck on the Warren site, near West Bloomfield, N. Y. The Indians say it is a False Face blowing ashes, and such it may represent. Mr Harrington, and the writer as well, have found what may be false face eye-disks, as well as turtle-shell rattles, in Seneca and Erie graves.

The principal False Face ceremonies are: Ganoi`'iowi, Marching Song; Hodigosshos'ga, Doctors' Dance, and Yeanndâdi'yas, Doorkeepers' Dance.


127:1 Morgan, Fifth Annual Report New York State Cabinet (Museum), 1852, p. 98.

127:2 Boyle, Archaeological Report, Provincial Museum, Toronto, 1898, p. 157.

127:3 N. Y. State Mus. Bul. 78, p. 141.]

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