-Booger-_Dance_Mask._-_NARA_-_281601

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The Booger Dance or tsu’nigadu’li ᏧᏂᎦᏚᎵ “many persons’ faces covered over” is an important dance in Cherokee culture. The dance originated as a way of driving evil, sickness causing spirits away from the community but was quickly adapted as a way of symbolically driving out the power of the new colonizers. The name “booger” comes from the Europeans, and has a similar origin as the word “bogey” as in the “bogeyman”. You can see the same name in the Ozarks applied to certain supernatural animals like the booger dog. The name was given to the dance by the colonizers who saw these masked, nighttime dances as something strange and “spooky”. The purpose of the dance is to mock and scare away spirits of sickness that might have crept into the community during the wintertime. There’s a duel functioning in the terrifying masks that the “boogers” would wear; one is to scare away the spirits themselves, the other is to simultaneously entertain or humor the audience watching the dance. Originally the masks took the shape of terrifying animals, or the faces of the enemies of the community, but with the coming of the Europeans the masks changed forms.

As the Cherokee interacted with, and became more and more oppressed by the new colonizers the traditional dance masks began to take on distinctly European features. What had once been used to scare away the spirits of the cold, or of sickness, now were being used as a symbolic rebellion against the White colonizers. By mocking the new invaders the community hoped to lessen the power of the colonizers and loosen their hold on the people and the land.

Some more information and examples of traditional booger masks can be found here, here, and here.