Humourous or Scary?

Image Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Image Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

This story was originally published in March 2012.

Look at the image closely. Doesn’t it look funny? With an oversized mask, huge hands and tiny feet, the image elicits a few laughs. However, this was not the intention of the photographer, because the costume the person has donned actually signifies fear. The person in the picture belongs to the Koskimo tribe of Native Americans, and is wearing a full-body fur costume, large gloves and a mask of Hami, meaning ‘dangerous thing’. This costume was worn during a traditional dance called Nunhlim, which was held to celebrate the arrival of winter in America. Shot by Edward S Curtis sometime during the early 1900s, this is just one image in a series of photographs that he made of the Native American people. In 1906, renowned American financier J P Morgan offered Curtis a princely sum of 3000 dollars to produce a series on the natives.

Not only did Curtis go about photographing them, he also made sure that he documented their traditional way of living, before westernisation completely took over relegating their way of life to the pages of history. In his first volume of photographs made in 1907, Curtis wrote, “The information that is to be gathered… respecting the mode of life of one of the great races of mankind, must be collected at once or the opportunity will be lost.”

Tags: Story Behind the Picture, march 2012, Edward S Curtis, Koskimo tribe, Native Americans, photo series on native americans