Language: Bering Strait Iñupiaq
And the singers, they start singing and he kept up with the beat. Pretty soon the singers start going – beat getting faster and faster, see, and he kept up. When they started getting fast, before you know it, that old man bounced from that floor… and he was up with those gloves on and he started dancing.
—Jacob Ahwinona, 2001
A man’s face is depicted on this 19th century King Island mask, part of a set of three that were probably used together in a single performance. King Island dancers dressed in masks and special regalia for the Walrus Dance, Wolf Dance, Polar Bear Dance, and other performances held in the qargi, or ceremonial house. Many are still performed, each tied to a traditional story of its origin.
Region: King Island, Alaska
Object Category: Ceremony
Dimensions: Length 30cm
Accession Date: 1882
Source: E. W. Nelson (collector)
Museum: National Museum of Natural History
Museum ID Number: E064226
Branson Tungiyan: This is a dance masks . . . This has a male haircut . . . Females part their hair to braid them.
[From discussion with Jacob Ahwinona, Estelle Oozevaseuk, Marie Saclamana and Branson Tungiyan (Kawerak, Inc.) at the National Museum of Natural History and National Museum of the American Indian, 9/10/2001-9/14/2001. Also participating: Aron Crowell and Bill Fitzhugh (NMNH) and Suzi Jones (AMHA).]
This male portrait mask, purchased on King Island by Smithsonian collector Edward W. Nelson in 1882, has not yet been specifically identified by contemporary Elders.
In the book King Island Tales, Frank Ellanna of King Island described some of the many songs and dances that people of this Bering Sea island traditionally performed during mid-winter, or Sauya.tuġvik [the Time of Drumming].(1) For the “competition dance,” men wore women’s clothing and masks to hide their faces, and women danced disguised as men; it seems possible that this mask was used for that purpose. Dancers wore different types of masks and special regalia for the Wolf Dance, Polar Bear Dance, and other performances.(2) When not in use, masks and drums were hung up in the qagri [community house] .(3) Masks were used throughout the Iñupiaq region for the Messenger Feast, whaling festivals, and other social and religious ceremonies.(4) The King Island Singers and Dancers, Northwest Iñupiaq Dancers, and other groups carry on the traditions of Iñupiaq dance.
1. F. Ellanna 1988a:85-87
2. Kingston 1999; Ray 1977:12, 124-125
3. Rasmussen 1927:348
4. Murdoch 1892:366-69; Ostermann and Holtved 1952: 131-35; Rainey 1947; Spencer 1969:221, 293-94
5. Kingston 1999