The Wild Woman of the Woods is a supernatural being. She goes by many names including Tsonoqua, Tsonokwa, Dzunuk’wa, Zuniquwa, Th’owxiya, The Giantess, The Ogress, and Wealth Giver. This being is often considered female, but may be depicted as male or female.
Tsonoqua and First Nations
The Wild Woman of the Woods is part of a large family of giants. She is known to roam the forests in search of children who have disobediently wandered too far from the village into the woods. It is told that she steals the children, covers their eyes with pitch, puts them inside a basket that she carries on her back, and takes them back to her home where she eats them. However, she is considered very clumsy and dim-witted, so the children are usually able to outsmart her. This terrifying figure is seen as a deterrent for anyone venturing too far away from their village.
In addition to being a dark and threatening figure, the Wild Woman also has great powers and is considered a bringer of good fortune. If you manage to trick her, she will bring you great wealth. For some, she is in possession of great knowledge, with powerful abilities to change her shape and size, and carry a basin of water that could turn the ugly beautiful and revive the dead.
The Wild Woman is seen in some ceremonial dances wearing a traditional Dzunuk’wa mask. She is often portrayed as a narcoleptic creature, stumbling around the fire in the wrong direction only to fall into a heap, asleep on the ground. Others help her to her seat, only for her to fall asleep again.
Native Art - The Wild Woman of the Woods Symbol
Wild Woman Mask by John Livingston
She is identified by her black hairy body, pendulous breasts, recessed eyes, hollow cheeks, and bushy unkempt hair. She walks with a shuffle, her back hunched over. She is usually depicted with pursed lips to make her signature cry "Huuu! Huuu!".
Spirits of the West Coast Native Art Gallery sells masks and other works inspired by the Wild Man of the Woods symbol.
More than a Superstition
"Through my cultural sojourn, I learned the Tsonukwa was more than a mythical creature that stole children and ate them. She was a symbol of feminine grace, strength, wealth and mystery. For example, she was the symbol of our Kwaguł "Unity Feast Dish", new chiefs put her mask on their face to symbolize their step into leadership, chiefs walked through their village wearing the mask to announce a potlatch, and the deepest meaning, the Tsonukwa represents the feminine spirit of the forest, her cave being the womb where wealthy is born. Rather than simply taking children, stealing children, during a rite of passage ritual, she places the child in her basket and this makes space for the adolescent (young adult) to emerge. There is much to learn about feminine psychology by studying Tsonukwa myths."
- Wedlidi Speck, member of the Namgis nation, Cultural Advisor, and Spiritual Leader
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