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DZUNUKWA

Dzunukwa, “Wealthy Woman” - also known as “Tsonokwa” and “Wild Woman of the Woods” is a complex character who is often described as an old ogre who spends her time stealing young children away to her lair deep in the forest. This Legend is a popular tale, and often concludes with the children stealing Dzunukwa’s Coppers and Abalone shells, and running off with her finest of treasures – suggesting the old wretch is actually quite obtuse. Wild Woman is characterized as a disheveled old hag, who is three feet tall with hollow and sunken eyes, and lips pursed for howling while she hunts. 

 

In ceremonies, Dzunukwa is characterized as an androgynous creature six feet tall, and so wealthy she can fall asleep at will without attracting criticism. 

 

Evidence of Dzunukwa’s association with wealth, are the full-size theatrical, symbolic dishes used for presenting food at potlatches. Carved from red cedar and often measuring four feet in length, the deep basin of her body was hollowed out for staple foods, while a smaller bowl was hollowed out where her head would be, topped with a lid that signified her face. Two smaller bowls placed over her breasts were used for serving the highly prized “milk of life” – or Eulachon grease, which remains a cherished wealth commodity today.

 

Dzunukwa is often depicted with sleepy eyes and pursed lips. Her hair hangs in front of her face, and she is sometimes seen with copper shields or abalone shells. This imagery represents Dzunukwa as a wealthy woman. Other illustrations of Dzunukwa include a basket on her back, which is often full of small children. This wild woman who steals children is quite scary in mask form, with furry eyebrows, wide open red eyes, red cheeks and lips, and a haggard expression that is intended to frighten the viewer.

SOURCES

Cheryl Shearar Understanding Northwest Coast Art (2000)​

Campbell River Museum & Archives

Conversations with James Taylor & Chris Cook III

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