Bill Henderson

Bill Henderson
Kwakwaka’wakw (Wei Wai Kum) 1950

Pugwis and Kingfisher Mask
Kumugwe, (Pugwis)  Chief of the Undersea World
Red cedar


Born in Campbell River to Chief Sam Henderson and May Quocksister Henderson, Bill Henderson started carving as a child under his father’s guidance. He still carves today in the same shed where he started and has become a noted teacher and mentor in his own right. He is also an accomplished traditional dancer and has played a vital role in supporting the potlatch tradition, having been initiated into the sacred Hamatsa society in 1983.

Bill is best known for his carved dance masks, canoe paddles, bowls, and plaques. He carved the corner poles for the Wei Wai Kum Big House in Campbell River, and in 1993 one of his totem poles was installed in front of the city hall in Campbell River’s sister city, Ishikari, Japan. He views artistic creation and performance as an intrinsic part of his life and heritage.

This exquisite Mask depicting the Kumugwe (this means Rich One in Kwakwaka’wakw language) also known as the Chief of the Under Sea World. Another one of his names is Tlakwagila meaning Copper Maker. He has an under sea house that has Sea Lions as house post, he is associated with high rising tides and whirlpools along with many creatures such as the Loon, Killer Whale and Octopus some say that he is a Giant Octopus. The kingfisher is shown on the mask to be on the head of Kumugwe/Pugwis as he was so big that the kingfisher mistook Pugwis for an island.

Kumugwe (also Komokwa or Goomokwey) is a figure in the mythology of Pacific Northwest peoples. Known as “Copper-Maker”, he is the god of the undersea world revered by the Kwakwaka’wakw and Nuxalk indigenous nations. He has a house under the sea filled with riches, and his name means “wealthy one”. He is sometimes identified as one and the same as Qaniqilak, the spirit of the summer fishing season, and is then regarded as the adversary of Tseiqami otherwise known as Thunderbird, the guiding spirit of the Winter Hamatsa Dance season.

Kumugwe is master of the seals. The posts and beams of his house are living sea lions. Sometimes he appears on the surface of the sea, but his head is so big that it looks like an island. He is responsible for the rising and ebbing of the tides, as well as the riches these tides deposit on beaches, and those claimed by the vagaries of sea weather, both material and human lives. One terrific story recounts how he eats human eyes as if they were crab apples. Kumugwe has the power to see into the future, heal the sick and injured, and bestow powers on those whom he favors.

Many heroes went on quests to reach his undersea abode; those who made it were rewarded with riches and spirit magic. His world is guarded by the octopus. Sometimes Kumugwe himself is conceived of in octopus form. Kumugwe would teach the hero who entered his abode the ways of the sea, and give him gifts of blankets, coppers, songs, masks, and regalia. These items of mystical regalia are called Tlugwe (or Tlokwe) in Kwak’wala.

One of Kumugwe’s epithets is “Copper Maker.” He has a wife named Tlakwakilayokwa, which means “Born to Be Copper Maker’s Woman.” She is also sometimes named Kominaga.

Masks of Kumugwe often show him with sea creature attributes, such as rounded fish eyes, and rows of gills at the corners of his mouth, not to mention fins encircling his head, the suction cups of an octopus, fish and aquatic birds which frame or sit upon his head. His most important totemic animals are loons, seals, sea lions, octopuses, orcas, and sculpins.