Ancestral Hands - 3 ft Copper by Trevor Hunt
Masterpiece by the Kwakiulth First Nations Artist TREVOR HUNT
Copper - Title: Ancestral Hands
Highest QUALITY CRAFTSMANSHIP - fully hand carved cedar wood, hand painted, richly inlaid with mother of pearl, decorated with horse hair, adorned with the traditional cedar bark robe, extremely clean carving and painting - a truly excellent piece of Indigenous Art from the Pacific Northwest
Measurements: 35" tall (!!!) 20" wide, the face is 12" diameter, 7" deep
Meaning: The "Copper" was used by the First Nations people as a form of money and wealth. It was made out of "Native" copper which was found in the land where they lived, and superficially resembled a shield. Considered very rare and hard to obtain, raw copper was traded from the Athabaskan Indians in the Interior Plains, or from the white man in later times. Coppers were beaten into shape and usually painted or engraved with traditional designs. Most Coppers were fairly large, often 2 to 3 feet tall and a foot across.
One of the most interesting aspects of the Copper is that they were given names so that their worth and heritage could be passed on. A Copper was only worth what it was last traded for, and it could only be traded for a larger amount the next time around. Consequently, some Copper values became highly valuable - worth the total of 1,500 to 2,000 blankets, a couple of war canoes and hundreds of boxes and bowls. No matter what the original value was the next person who wanted it had to trade more in exchange for it. Only the richest and most powerful could afford the price of an old Copper. Many Coppers were in rather shabby condition as a result of having been used in quarrels between Chiefs.
To the Kwakiutl, the ownership and display of a Copper became an essential for the proper conduct of a marriage or important dance ritual. A man whose family's honour had been injured by the actions of remarks of another would publicly have a piece cut from a valuable Copper and give the piece to the offender. That person was obligated to cut or "break" a Copper in return. The broken pieces could be brought up and joined into a new Copper or used to replace pieces missing from a "broken" one. The most valuable Kwakiutl Coppers tend to be rough and patched since they have the longest history and have been broken the most often. Coppers that have been broken have a certain prestige value that is quite independent from their monetary value.
"Breaking Copper" is a challenge, it is also a shaming, and it is also about banishment. There are a lot of layers to this. Some people have described this as a way to protest. But it's beyond that.
Breaking apart a copper shield is a long-dormant ritual shaming practice. Also known as “copper cutting,” the ceremony involved taking a copper — a traditional symbol of the wealth and alliances of Kwakwaka’wakw chiefs — and smashing off a piece of it to be left behind as a challenge. The copper is a symbol of justice, truth and balance, and to break one is a threat, a challenge and sometimes can also be an insult.
The mining of copper dates back long before the arrival of Europeans. It was mainly mined by the Tsilhqot’in nation and traded north as a form of medicine — a "gift from the heavens". But occasional Chinese shipwrecks near Haida Gwaii also meant that even larger copper sheets were found, and those were made into decorated shields and became a symbol of power and prestige and a record of good deeds.
In potlatch culture, the plates were enlarged when a chief distributed wealth broadly in the community or carried out good. So to break a copper into pieces - a ritual not practiced for decades - became an act of shaming, banishment and a symbol of a wrong needing to be addressed. Usually, just the threat of breaking it was enough to bring feuding factions together.
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