TITLE: Yup’ik Transformation Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: North America
COUNTRY: United States of America
SUBREGION: Alaska
ETHNICITY: Cup’it Yup’ik
DESCRIPTION: Raven Transformation Mask
MAKER: Duwayne Price
CEREMONY: Entertainment; Healing; Spirit Invocation
AGE: 2011
MAIN MATERIAL: yellow cedar wood
OTHER MATERIALS: willow branches; paint

The Yup’ik (or Yupik) people inhabit western and southern Alaska and the Chukotka region of Russia. They currently number some 24,000 individuals who survive in some of the harshest climates of the world. The Yup’ik survived by hunting caribou, rabbits, and marine mammals, especially walrus, seals, and whales. Their traditional religious beliefs are shamanistic, based on the belief that certain animals and birds are sacred. Their masked rituals are oriented toward ensuring a successful hunting and giving thanks for past hunts, storytelling, and healing ceremonies by shamans (angalkuq).

The masks are typically made of wood, decorated with feathers, and painted with only a few colors. They could be carved by men or women under the direction of a shaman. Masks were formerly destroyed after use. Christian proselytization has suppressed the use of masquerade in Yup’ik cultures today, although some segments continue to practice.

This mask depicts raven, a culture hero among the Yup’ik and other northwest coast peoples. He is a trickster capable of transforming shape (here, into a human) and helps humans while typically getting himself into trouble.

For more on Yup’ik masking traditions, see the excellent monograph by Anne Fienup-Riordan, The Living Tradition of Yup’ik Masks (University of Washington Press 1996).