Thursday, December 9, 2010

Why is there not many masks made anymore?

Before the start of the colonization period in the 19th century, indigenous people all over Alaska were very traditional in their lifestyles. The shamans were often ranked very high in their villages and were respected because they possessed a lot of power. While trying to colonize Alaskans, the missionaries had stopped all shamanic practices because they were thought of as demonic worshipping. That had meant that there were no more shamans that could practice what they had been for thousands of years. The art of making the masks has slowly been making its way into the traditional lifestyles of Alaskans and has been becoming more and more popular. The elders are still trying to get the young people involved and it's still a work in progress but with optimism and a group of hard working young adults should make it possible for future mask making.


These are the Aleut group of Alaska performing at the Alaska Native Heritage Center. This is just to show that different cultures in Alaska do have masks of their own masks and dances.
As you can see the men are using the masks and are telling a story with the song and dancing. It is always fun to see other peoples cultures and how they do somethings that are very similar to our own.

Agayuliyararput-Our Way Of Making Prayer

"During 1996, 1997 and 1998 an amazing exhibit of Southwestern Alaskan
culture and art toured the United States. Developed jointly by a team of native Yup’ik people, researchers and museum professionals, Agayuliyararput or “Our Way of Making Prayer” was the first exhibit to bring Yup’ik masks and ceremonial materials to a wide audience in their native context..."

Arctic Studies Center (2004), "Introduction"(Agayuliyararput-Our Way of Making Prayer ¶1).

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

How are masks made?

The Yup'ik masks were carved by men or women, but mainly were carved by the men. They were made during the winter because during the summer is when the wood was collected on the shores. Masks were carved and stained with clay from the earth. Decorations were also added that included teeth, beads, animal hides, feathers and possible other organic materials.
With the stories that the masks represented, it also meant a lot of different decorations. Masks could be as small as 3 inches long, or as heavy as 20 pounds and had to be held up by a handful of people.
The shamans were the ones that told the carvers how to make the masks. Although they were being told how to make it, they usually added their own imagination into it. Those types of carvers were chosen because they were known for making beautiful masks.

Traditional dancing in Emmonak

This is an example of how the ceremonies were during the winter time. The singers and drummers are in the back and
the dancers would be in front to show the shamans creation. Nowadays it isn't only the shamans that make the songs and
the dances, but that doesn't mean that it is a bad thing. People have made there own songs because the presence of shamans
is basically extinct, so we like to make our own.

Yuungnaqpiallerput By Ann Fienup-Riordan


This book gives the reader a history lesson on how the tools and objects were used in the Yup'ik culture. The elders are a big part of this book because they are the center of knowledge and they are the ones that you go to for any word of wisdom. The technology that was used in the past is very high-tech even if we don't think about it, and this book portrays the smartness of our people.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Some Masks Look-a-Like

This mask is similar to mine and it is also a Yup'ik Mask. It has the white spots, cone-shaped head, distorted face with a crescent shape on the face, feather sticking up on top of the head and two legs on the side made out of wood. Masks may look the same but can have two very different stories. The only problem is, most masks' stories are no longer known to us because they were made long ago and then either taken away or recycled back to the earth where it first came from. One could only wish to know the stories of these beautiful objects.

What Shamans?

In the past, there were two types of shamans, the good and the bad. The good were the healers, leaders, song makers, dance composers and were the ones to ask the spirits for the return of a good hunting season. The bad ones tried to steal the powers of other shamans and made peoples lives miserable by either making them ill or go crazy.
People wonder if there are still shamans still living today and the answer is yes. The problem is that there aren't as many shamans as there once was before the colonization period. They are still important to the Yup'ik culture, nonetheless. 

My Mask

Critical to the Yupik culture, the shaman’s masks were used in important events such as healing of the ill, winter festivals and connecting to the spirit world for various reasons. This shamans mask that I have chosen is from the mouth of the Yukon River, possibly near the village of Emmonak. The mask is from a community that possibly no longer exists and it is difficult to trace the origin of the mask nowadays because it was taken in the year 1878. Although, E. W. Nelson, who was in St. Michael at the time located north of the Yukon River, collected the shaman’s mask.Designed with a white, semi-human face, this mask has a mouth splattered with blood, wooden teeth, and two red attachments on each side. The right side contains two wooden legs, which are fastened with porcupine quills. This mask is a tuunraq, or an angalkuqs (shaman’s) helping spirit.  In more detail, a tuunraq can be called an ircenrraq, which is a powerful being in the form of a wolf, fox or a killer whale. The mask also looks like it can represent a crescent moon with the white dots representing the snow.

Personal Connection

I come from a Yupik village called Toksook Bay, located on the Nelson Island. It is one of the most recent made villages that were made, relocating from Nightmute to the new site in 1964. People still live in Nightmute but it is not as big and modernized as Toksook Bay. Being a new village doesn't mean the cultural knowledge is less than that of an older village, the cultural knowledge is rich and is growing daily in my home village. There are descendants of healers, or more famously known as shamans, still living in the village that we know of but never speak of for unknown reasons. I have heard stories of the shamans and what they did whether it was for good or bad intentions. It's interesting to hear of magical beings when your just a child, you hold that interest throughout your life, wanting to know more about it until your satisfied. That is why I chose a mask from the Yupik region, to learn more about it until I was sure that was all I wanted to know.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Where is the Yup'ik Region located?

Of a total population of about 21,000 people, about 10,000 are speakers of the language. The Yup'ik region is the biggest in both size and speakers of the language with kids still speaking the Yup'ik language before English. The majority of the fluent speakers live near the Kuskokwim river (see below)

The town I lived in for the majority of my life is Bethel, right next to the red dot on the map.