This Tuxw'id Puppet by Calvin Hunt is hand-carved in red cedar and painted in black, red, and green acrylic with horsehair, cedar bark twine, and red cotton added to the figure. The puppet dimensions are approximately 59" (150cm) tall including the hair, 25" (63.5cm) wide including the cedar, and about 11¾" (30cm) in depth.
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In Kwakwaka’wakw winter potlatches there is a deep tradition of elaborate ritual performances that amplify cultural teachings through the dramatization of the supernatural. Traveling the world, making war, Winalagalis comes from the North to winter with the Kwakwaka’wakw as the patron spirit of winter dance season known as the T'seka or Red Cedar Bark Ceremonials. This sacred season is guided by dancing societies and is characterized in part by the elaborate staging of dramatic tricks that make the presence of the supernatural spirits visible and credible.
Dances and songs associated with Winalagalis include the display of dLuguwe' or supernatural treasures—figures and puppets such as this Tuxw'id, a female warrior spirit by Calvin Hunt. This puppet would rise from behind a dance screen and appear to come to life.
Left: Female Warrior Spirit Puppet by Calvin Hunt. Center: 19th Century Kwakwaka’wakw Tuxw'id puppet actioned by Sotheby’s in 2008. (Anonymous Photographer). Right: Tuxw'id puppet Nunlhamgila (“making foolish”) collected from Peter Moon of Kingcome Inlet in 1951. UBC Museum of Anthropology Collection (A4515) Online image. Photo by Derek Tan.
Kwakwaka’wakw Kwiksot’enox Frog Tuxw’id in the American Museum of Natural History (16/6812) with moveable appendages. Donated by George Hunt in 1899. Photo by Mourrice Papi.
During potlatch ceremonials inside the big house, Tuxw'id puppets, some with articulated appendages, appear in powerful dramatic illusions to suggest that spirits are present. Spirits appear to fly through the air on invisible cords, or emerge from beneath the earthen dance floor by hidden control strings, or miraculously materialize from within the central fire. These displays are all part of family privileges in drama and dancing.
As Calvin Hunt explains, “There are so many variations of different spirits portrayed in Tuxw'id. There are power boards that represent ghosts that come up into the house, there are supernatural birds and other creatures. Supernatural events take place. In one version a woman gives birth to a frog.
“My wife, Marie Hunt, had a Tuxw'id that she passed on to our granddaughter, Scarlet, at our potlatch in October 2019. It is a supernatural canoe that could fly across the sky into the heavens. My daughter, Ali Hunt, has one that was passed from my mother to her. Her Tuxw'id are power boards which represent ghosts of different creatures in our supernatural realm.” —Carol Sheehan—
In this re-enactment of a Tuxw’id ceremony, supernatural spirits cause Power Boards (Dantsikw) to rise from underground and then disappear. Edward Curtis photo, 1914. Taken from his film “Land of the Head Hunters.”