Among the Kwakiutl Natives, the most important ritual of the winter ceremonials was a dance performed by a special group known as the Hamatsa Society.
The Hamatsa Dance told the story of their ancestor, the Cannibal at the North End of the World, a powerful spiritual being who was said to feed on human flesh.
The Hamatsa Dance was performed by a young Kwakiutl who was being initiated into the society. He was accompanied by several performers wearing huge wooden masks over their heads to depict Raven, Cannibal’s helper.
During the dance, as the initiate was overtaken by the Cannibal’s spirit, he began to flail around wildly. The dancer sometimes ran into the audience and started biting the arms of spectators. Before the ceremonies, these audience members usually agreed to be bitten in exchange for a gift. Also on hand were the Fool Dancers. They kept an eye on the audience and threw rocks at anyone who did not behave properly.
At the end of the Hamatsa Dance, the initiate was tamed as the Cannibal’s spirit was driven from his body.