Language: Central Yup'ik
Angalkurtauniluku qanrutektullrukait makut. (They would say that these were from a shaman.)
—Virginia Minock, 2002
If a shaman bent down over a nepcetaq, it was said, the mask would rise from the floor and stick to his face. These and other dancing masks were worn during Kelek, a winter festival held in the communal house to invite, honor, and feed the spirits of game animals. The purpose was to ask the spirits to return in spring and to give their bodies to the hunters. Masks portrayed animals, animal spirits (yuit, or “inner persons”) or tuunrat (helping spirits) that assisted the shaman in his communications with other worlds.
Region: Yukon River (lower), Alaska
Village: Rasboinsky (Russian name for Kinegnagak)
Object Category: Ceremony
Dimensions: Height 61cm
Accession Date: 1879
Source: E. W. Nelson (collector)
Museum: National Museum of Natural History
Museum ID Number: E038812
Examining & explaining
John Phillip, Sr.: Amllerqunek wii kegginaqunek tangellrunritua. Makunek kegginaqunek tangellrunritua ava-i taugaam atauciq augna murilkelluku tangvakalqa Apa’rpagmek pilallrat. Mamterillerni uitatullruuq. Kegguterluni-llu.
(I didn’t see many masks. I didn’t see this kind of mask, but once I saw a man named Apa’rpak using one. He used to live at Bethel. It also had teeth.)
Neva Rivers: Reindeer-at-am keggutaitnek.
(It had teeth from reindeer.)
John Phillip, Sr.: Seal-aruarungatuq. Quyuarautelliniakut uum-w’ una.
(I think it resembles a seal. It is smiling at us.)
Neva Rivers: A friendly one.
Virginia Minock: Canqellruyaqelliniluni maa-i. Tang. Pagaani-ll’ pingqerngatuq melqunek nasqurrani. Munallruuq.
(It had something here. Look. Maybe it has feathers up there on its head. He was skilled.)
John Phillip, Sr.: Piciatun-wa tua-i pilaqait makut nissunek makut yaqulet piitneng pililaqkait.
(They also put prominent feathers on them.)
Joan Hamilton: Ii-i [yes]. They drilled some holes in for other things there, and they’re missing. They usually used bird feathers attached to them like these.
John Phillip, Sr.: Caneng makut kangum tua-r maa-i, kangum tua-r’ makut yaqruit.
(These here are like snow geese, these are like snow geese wings.)
Neva Rivers: Yes. Man’ akallauguq man’a muragaq.
(Yes. This wood is old.)
Joan Hamilton: Qaill tau atellruagu?
(How did he put it on?)
John Phillip, Sr.: (Indicates that string at sides of mask goes around head.)
Joan Hamilton: Ii-i [yes]. There’s a string probably, from here (sides of mask).
John Phillip, Sr.: Kegginaquq [mask].
Virginia Minock: Qanemcingqerrluki.
(They had stories for them.)
Joan Hamilton: Una-qaa qanemcingqerciqa?
(What kind of story would this have?)
Neva Rivers: Nunalgutaata taugaam nallunriciiqaa.
(Only the person from that village will know it.)
John Phillip, Sr.: Piliaqestaita tau-w’ taugaam makut nalqigcugngalaqiit.
(Only the maker of the mask can tell about it.)
Virginia Minock: Angalkurtauniluku qanrutektullrukait makut.
(They would say that these were from a shaman.)
Joan Hamilton: They don’t know what story is associated with this or dance associated with this. They wouldn’t know. Only the angalkuq [shaman] would know the stories or people who danced it.
Neva Rivers: Kegginaqut, makut taugam maa-i only ataucirqumeng alrakumeng aturluki. Qelkevkenaki-llu aturraarluki unuaquani eleggluki maqikluki.
(Masks, they just used these one time. They didn’t keep them, but they would be burned the following day.)
Virginia Minock: Ayautetullruit-gguq nunamni yuilqumun agarrluki-llu makut.
(In my village they would bring them out in the wilderness and hang them.)
Joan Hamilton: Waten niitellruunga Mamterillermi-gguq mikelngurmun cikiuteklallruit aquitekluki-llu-gguq. Alingnaqva-g’!
(I have heard that at Bethel they would give them to children and let them play with them. So dangerous!)
Virginia Minock: Inerquutnguluni taugken wangkutnun. Angalkuum pia aquitekesqevkenaku cali picirtaagutkesqevkenaku enelauciitekesqevkenaku-llu alingnaqniluki tamakut wani. Tua-i-w’ yuumcimtenun tutlarniluki.
(It was prohibited for us though. We were instructed not to play with them or make fun of them because they were dangerous.
Because they would come for our lives.)
Joan Hamilton: These are the workings of the angalkuq [shaman], and they’re to be respected and revered and treated very carefully.
Joan Hamilton: They [at Virginia’s village] have trees and mountains, so they just hang them out there. And with us, it was burn them.
Virginia Minock: [Hang them] as far away from the village as possible.
Neva Rivers: Tegumiat-ll’ augkut aturpegnaki yuraraqluta with bare hands, kegginaquaqata taugaam taukut. Nutaan apernarianka angalkut taugaam ivarutaitneng aturaqameng tamakut nutaan tegumiat-ll’ imkut boys-at aturluki. Aturairluku un’ keggaacesseng angutet, kegginaqurluteng, nutaan-llu tamakut aturluki feather-alriit tava-ll’.
(We didn’t use those dance fans, we danced with bare hands, except for when they dance with those masks.
Now is the time to mention shamans, but when they sang their songs the boys would use the dance fans. The boys would remove clothing from the torso, put on a mask, and use the dance fans that have feathers on them.)
Joan Hamilton: Those men’s dance fans.
Neva Rivers: They used the same nassqurrun [headdress], the same necklaces. Naquggluteng [they put on a belt]. That’s the time naquggcaaqluteng [they put belt on], because they’ll dance very hard in that one spot.
Angalkut evaruciaritneng atuqatarluteng. Negiliteng-llu makut augarluki. Maaggun makunun qaspernun light-alriamun elliluki nutaan.
(They are going to dance to the song that a shaman composed. They remove their ruff. This way they transfer to light materials like the kuspuk.)
Anglkuut ivarutaitneng aturluteng. Kegginaquraqameng taugaam tauna atuluku. Kegginaqut-llu cali makut pilituluki. Taum cali nalliini cali kegginaqut once a year atutuluuki.
(They used the shaman’s composition. That would be used when they are going to dance with masks. They would make the masks too. At that time the masks would be worn once a year.)
Joan Hamilton: There was a ceremony once a year where the shaman directed them on how to make the mask, and he composed the songs. They learned the songs, then they got together and they practiced the movements. And then angalquum-qaa assikaqamiu waten piniartuq nutaan tauna [the shaman liked he would say, “Now that is it”].
Neva Rivers: Nutaan tauna arulaciiraa nallaruutuq to his song.
(That dance movement is the right one to his song.)
Joan Hamilton: The angakuq [shaman] would see somebody’s movement for a particular word and he would say, “Yes, finally, that’s the one I want to use to depict this word.” And that’s how they used these and for the masks and for the dance fans.
John Phillip, Sr.: Uksuarmi wani Qaariitaarnilartut. Taum nallini kegginaqurluteng wani Qaariitaarluteng agayuliluteng-gguq. Nunamteni tuaten pilallruut. Augutun ava-i taruyamaurucirluteng yuratullruut augkut uksuarmi. Apeqmegnek Qaariitaam nallini kegginaqurluteng-wa qaralirluki. Makut maa-i kegginaqut wiinga meaning-aarit tuaten taum kegginaqum uksuarmi Qaariitaami atulallruit wiinga nutaan tua-i tuani tangvallruunga wii Qaariitaam nallini.
(In the fall they had Qaariitaaq [old-time festival with masks]. At Qaariitaaq they used masks and prayed. That is what they did in my village.
That is how they danced in the fall with those dance fans. At the time of what they now call Qaariitaaq [Halloween/October] they used masks that were decorated. I have watched them dance in the fall, what we now call Qaariitaaq with masks, but I don’t really know the meaning of the masks.)
Tua-i tamakulek yurarluteng cani. Augutun qanemcinguarluteng, calinguarluteng pilallruut. Augna tangvalqa tangvallruaqa tua-i tuaten. Makut maa-i kegginaqut piciatun aturyaraunrilnganateng wangni tuaten qanrutkanka wii wani-wa.
(They danced those like that. They told stories with those, pretended to work. I watched that happen like that. Seems to me the masks weren’t just used at any time so I am telling what I know.)
Neva Rivers: Augukut taugaam wii pillrenka kegginaqussuutnguut.
(The ones I did were with the use of masks.)
John Phillip, Sr.: Yurapiaraqameng kegginaquurnek atuurpeknateng yuratullruut yurapiarluteng. Taugaam augumek apqemegnek agayuaqameng kegginaqirluteng pitullruut. Tuacetun tua-i augkunek-llu tua-i nutaan taruyamaarutnek aturluteng canguarluteng augutun qanemcirpetun yuralaucirpetun.
(When they had a real dance they wouldn’t use masks but had a real dance. But the one they call Agayuaqameng [when they pray] they would use their mask. They would do it that way and they would finally use the dance fans pretending to do things as you told, the way you dance.)
Tuacetun tua-i tamana wii nallunrilucimcetun wani-wa. Wangkuta-llu tua augutun qanlerpetun missionary-put tekitellermegni tauten tamana assiikevkenaku tua-i taqevkarluki. Tua-i tamaa-i tamana nallunritaaqa wiinga yuraryarallrat maligutlallruama atauciirqunrilngurmeng curukalrianun. Nasqurruutet-ll augkut nasqurrutnek aturluteng yuralriit yuratullruameng tamani-w’ tua-i yuraraqaata.
(I know it is done that way. Like you have said when our missionaries came they didn’t like that and made us quit. I know that way of dance because more than once I went to Curukaq [village-to-village gift-exchange dance]. They used headdresses when they danced at that time.
Ici-w’ tua-i qanrucimallaruama “Murilkelluten yuukina.” Tamaa-i tamakut tuaten wii nallunritanka wii. Tua kita taqellratek ayagluku, ayagayaurrlua taqellruut. Nangnermek yurallratni nunalgutenka ilagallrunritanka tuntunun ayallruama kasmelrianun maligullua.
(You know, they always told me, “Be very observant as you live.” That is how I know those. They quit when I started traveling. I didn’t participate at the last dance my village had because I went caribou hunting. I went with them to [ ].)
Neva Rivers: Uksuarmi ayagluteng yuratullruut Hooper Bay-rmiut.
(People of Hooper Bay would start the dances in the fall.)
John Phillip, Sr.: Taugaam tuaten piaqameng practice-aalartut tamakut yuarutkateng atuurqamegteki.
(When they do that, that was for practice before they did the real dance.)
Neva Rivers: Yes, October. Kegginaqut [masks].
John Phillip, Sr.: Practice-aarturaqluteng taukut curukat pinatkaatni.
(They would practice before the Curukaq came.)
Neva Rivers: Makut-ll avatiini yurat amlleret nakaciuryarat, canun pilriit amllerrluteng yurat.
(There are many other dances around those like the Bladder Feasts, and many other dances for other purposes.)
Effects of missionaries
Joan Hamilton: My mom says nowadays when you Eskimo dance, you’re just playing, pretending. And you’re thinking about entertainment and just fun.
Neva Rivers: Unitellruyaqerput. In the year of 1946, alaillruuq. Unitellruyaqerput missionary-t’ tekicameng tamakut wipe it out. Tamana-llu pirraarluku perrirraarluku tamana qanelteng maliggluku angalkut ivarutait peggluki. Yurat-llu tamalkuita peggtevkarluki.
(We quit them. In the year of 1946, they came out again. We quit doing them when the missionaries came, because when they came they wiped it out. After they did that, wiped it out, they listened to them and quit using the shamans’ compositions. They let them quit all the dances.)
Joan Hamilton: Missionaries wiped out the special songs that shamans composed.
Neva Rivers: Ukvekluku-llu tamakut uyamiteng-ll’ imkuteng uya. Angalkut cikiutellri teguluki eggluki.
(They believed in the shamans’ works and their charms. Whatever the shaman gave to a person would be thrown away.)
Joan Hamilton: And their necklaces, they ones they were given by angalkut [shamans], they threw them away.
Neva Rivers: Angalkut cali cikiutellrit makunun yungcaramegnun. Tavani angalkum tuunritlermegnun.
(Even the healings that the shaman did to people. At that time the shaman worked with spirits.)
Joan Hamilton: When they were healing somebody.
Neva Rivers: Cikirluku tamakut cikiutait-llu tapeqluki avurluki egtevkalqait. Cassuukaraat tamalkuita angalkuum cikiutai.
(They gathered all the objects that the shaman gave to their patients and threw them away. The tools, everything that the shaman gave to them was thrown away.)
Joan Hamilton: When an angakluq [shaman] was healing, he would sometimes present a patient with something. But then after the missionaries came, they had to throw out all those things associated with angalkuq.
Neva Rivers: A lot of those were charms from the angalkuq [shaman]. Pikiutait tamakut iinruit-llu [what belonged to them even their charms/amulets].
Joan Hamilton: And their medicines.
Neva Rivers: Kegginaqucuarneng cikirluku tauna qelkesqelluku. Tamakuneng angalkuum iinrukiutiineng, like a little idol. Tua-w’ tauna ukvekluku pikesqelluku uyamikluku, qemagtaaqluku. That’s that little part of it what I heard from papa, mama, grandma.
(He gave them small masks to keep. Charms/amulets from the shaman, like a little idol. He believed in them and told his patients to keep them for a necklace or in his/her pocket. That’s that little part of it what I heard from papa, mama, grandma.)
Joan Hamilton: The angalkuq [shaman], when he or she was conducting some kind of a ceremony, whether it be healing or something else, they would give them a physical representation of whatever he was doing. It could be a little figurine of an animal, it could be a little mask, it could be pretty much anything. He or she gave it to that patient and said, “This is your kinguan.” How would you interpret kinguan?
Virginia Minock: Like a medicine.
Joan Hamilton: It’s not like they’re medicine, it’s more a way of healing. The word has to do with a process of healing, rather than you say, “This is your medicine.”
Neva Rivers: Tamakut tamaa-i taum angaklum piliallri tamakut tamalkuita teguluki egtelqait. Maa-i-llu kinguakun alaircamegteggu in the year of 1946 tegulqaat tauna. Aatama program-akun antelqaa, Christmas program-aqluku ukunun Atsaruar, Anganaran, Amlliralria, Caniman, Allailngurmun-llu. Aatamneng cauyarcirluteng.
(They took all the things that the shaman made and threw them away. Recently after that they took them back out in the year of 1946. My dad resurfaced those things in the program, it was part of the Christmas program for Atsaruar, Anganaran, Amlliralria, Caniman and Allailngurmun [people’s names]. My dad was their drummer.)
My papa was the one who made a song from the shaman song, and he told them, “This is how we used to play.” And then he made a motion [dance] out of it, and he taught the ones he chose only for a Christmas program that would be only that year.
Kegginaquaqameng atullernaamegcitun. Tarenraqluki tamakut.
(They used masks like they used to. These were like their mirror image.)
This was only an imitation of telling them how they use it, that year. And he chose Lois Tall, Catherine Bell and my sister, Helen Smith. And Julius Green was the only man that was chosen to be in that. It was supposed to have another two boys, but he chose only Julius Green. And it was just shown only once for an audience, along with our Christmas program. Kiiremi elliin aturpagluku nallunrilamiu [he was the only singer because he knew it], because he practiced all those [songs].
Tamaken ayakarluku-llu tamaken nutaan wangkuta Christmas program aturyaurtarput, Christmas, Easter-aami-llu. Kelegluki-llu tavani, three times in a year. Tamakut kelegluki from Scammon Bay, Chevak, Hooper Bay, together.
(From that time on we start using it in the Christmas program, Christmas and Easter. And invite them at that time, three times in a year. Invite those from Scammon Bay, Chevak, Hooper Bay, together. Then they finally start.)
Taum-ell kinguakun cimirtuq kinguakun. Augkut angalkut ivarutellriit-llu-gguq peggluki-gguq wangkut-ggun pililuki. Kenkestengqenritliniamta-yam peggluki tamakut maa-i, tengsuutmeng tekitellriameng, but the air will be same, but the words will be changed. Makut-ggun nutarat-ggun piluteng. Pinguarluta tua pinguarraarluta, just like your mama said.
(It has changed after that time. They got rid of all the songs of the shaman, got rid of them through us. Because there are people who do not like us they got rid of those ways, like today there are planes that arrive, but the air will be same, but the words will be changed. They are going by the new ways.
They pretend, we really pretend, just like your mama said.)
Joan Hamilton: Because those four people knew how to dance and they have some familiarity with the way they were done before, they were picked. One of them was my mother, one of the dancers. Normally there’d be more men, but her father only picked Mr. Green, one male. And it was to show the kind of songs the angalkuq [shaman] composed and made. But then after that, now what you see nowadays is for entertainment. It’s pinguaq [fake]. Just for the Christmas program.
Neva Rivers: Everybody likes it.
[From discussions with Joan Hamilton (Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center and Museum), Virginia Minock, John Phillip, Sr. and Neva Rivers at the National Museum of Natural History and National Museum of the American Indian, 4/22/2002-4/26/2002. Also participating: Aron L. Crowell, William Fitzhugh, and Stephen Loring (NMNH), Suzi Jones (Anchorage Museum), and Ann Fienup-Riordan.]
1. From discussion of headdress E127329.
2. A qaspeq is a “thin hooded garment, usually of cloth, worn as a parka cover, as a jacket or dress;” also spelled (Anglicized) kuspuk (Jacobson 1984).
3. From discussion of headdress E127329.
4. Qaariitaaq is “an old-time festival held in late October” with “masked participants;” and “although this festival predates contact with Europeans, the name has been adopted for Halloween” or “October” (Jacobson 1984). Qaariitaaq is also described as “a ceremony in the fall after freeze-up when children with painted faces visit house-to-house receiving food and water” (Fienup-Riordan 2005).
5. A Yurapiaq—which literally translates as “real dance”—is a “long story dance performed by women (Fienup-Rirodan 1996). Yuraq is “Eskimo dance; a dance in the traditional Eskimo style” (Jacobson 1984). Yuraq is also defined as a “generic term for Yup’ik dancing” and “is used to distinguish arula dances, consisting of both verses and a chorus” (Fienup-Riordan 1996).
6. Agayuyaraq means “way of making prayer; dancing with masks requesting abundance in the coming season, held in late February or early March” (Fienup-Riordan 2005).
7. Curukaq is a “feast wherein one village goes over to another to dance and exchange gifts or challenges (athletic, dance, gift-giving, etc.)” (Jacobson 1984). It is also called Kevgiryaraq (Fienup-Rirodan).
8. Nakaciuryaraq is a “bladder feast, a traditional celebration involving the ceremonial use of inflated sea-mammal bladders (Jacobson 1984). It is also called a “Bladder Festival, in which bladders of caribou and seal are sent on a journey under the ice to return the following season; held in late fall” (Fienup-Rirodan 2005).
9. From discussion of headdress E127329.
10. From discussion of headdress E127329.
11. An iinruq or iinru—singular form of iinrut—is traditionally an “amulet, charm” and is the contemporary word for “medicine, aspirin, pill” (Jacobson 1984).
12. From discussion of headdress E127329.
Yup’ik Elders from the lower Yukon River remember that this type of a mask was called nepcetaq [shaman mask] and that it was used only by an angalkuk [shaman]. If a shaman bent down over a nepcetaq that lay on the floor, it was said, the mask would rise and stick to his face, even if weighted down with a pile of heavy parkas.(1)
Nepcetat and ordinary kegginaqut [masks] were used during Kelek, a late winter dance festival held in the qasgiq [men’s community house] to invite, honor, and feed the spirits of game animals. The purpose was to ask the spirits to return in spring and to give their reincarnated bodies to the hunters.(2) Kelek is also called Itruka’ar, Agayuyaraq and, in historical sources,the Inviting-In Feast or Masquerade.(3) Paul John of Nelson Island, like many contemporary Elders, views the old ceremony as a kind of prayer: “Our ancestors used masks, calling it Agayuliyaraq [way of making prayer], as resolutions to petition God for the things they needed.”
(4) Masks were used for other Yup’ik and Cup’ik ceremonies as well, including Qaariitaaq, Kevgiryaraq [the Messenger Feast, also called Kevgaq], and Nakaciuryaraq [the Bladder Festival].(5)
Masks often portrayed animals, their spirits (yuit or inner “persons”), or sometimes tuunrat [helping spirits] who assisted the shaman in his communications with the spirit world.(6) Some tuunrat, it was believed, held animal yuit in the sky world until the shaman flew to the moon to release them.(7) Songs, masks, and dancing—all composed and directed by the shamans—brought these stories and spiritual beings to life in the qasgiq.
The faces of nepcetaq masks, like this one with its wide toothy grin, may represent the controlling tuunraq moon spirit, while the holes that surround it may be openings or star-holes in the sky through which the yuit pass on their journey to earth.(8)
1. Fienup-Riordan 1996:77-84; Meade and Fienup-Riordan 1996:49-55
2. Fienup-Riordan 1994:304-323, 1996:40-41; Michael 1967:228; Morrow 1984:136-39; Nelson 1899:358-59
3. Fienup-Riordan 1988:23; Hawkes 1913, 1914; Nelson 1899:358-59
4. Meade and Fienup-Riordan 2005:275
5. Fienup-Riordan 1996:95-99; Sonne 1988
6. Fienup-Riordan 1996:66-69
7. Fienup-Riordan 1994:307; Nelson 1899:430, 494-97
8. Fienup-Riordan 1996:77