TITLE: Yup’ik Inua Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: North America
COUNTRY: United States of America
DESCRIPTION: Inua Owl Mask
CATALOG ID: NAUS031
CEREMONY: Entertainment; Healing; Spirit Invocation
MAIN MATERIAL: cedar wood
OTHER MATERIALS: pigment; snow goose feathers
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, but it continues in some segments of the population.
This mask depicts an inua, in the form of an owl. An inua is one of the natural spirits that inhabit humans or animals interchangeably. Appeasing the inua by showing respect and gratitude was considered essential to successful hunts.
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).