Alaska Native Collections – Sharing Knowledge

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agayullgútaq “mask”
Language: Koniag Sugpiaq (Kodiak Island dialect)

But then they said they [the shamans] had messengers, to go from here to Old Harbor, or Karluk, or Larsen Bay. And they travel as a ball of fire. They call them keneq íyaq (fire devil).

—Ephraim Agnot, 1986

This mask has a birdlike mouth and the pointed head of a dangerous being called an íyaq on Kodiak Island and a kaláaq in Prince William Sound; today’s elders translate these words as “devil.” An íyaq was the soul of an evil or insane person who had died five times and was said to be hungry for meat or human flesh. An íyaq could be used by a shaman as his helping spirit to spy on distant events, to carry messages, or to carry him to other worlds. Owls, cranes, and other birds also served as shaman’s assistants, perhaps explaining this mixed being’s pointed beak. The mask has been partly burned, perhaps to destroy it after a shaman’s ritual or hunting ceremony.

Culture: Sugpiaq (Alutiiq)
Region: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Village: Sitkinak Island
Object Category: Ceremony
Dimensions: Length 32cm
Accession Date: 1884
Source: William J. Fisher (collector)
Museum: National Museum of Natural History
Museum ID Number: E090466