Eskimo transformation mask
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Transformation Mask.
Bering Sea Eskimo.
Theatrical surprise enhanced the transformational aspect of this mask figure, whose hinged belly opens to reveal a thumbless, semihuman tunghak, framed by fleeing, defecating caribou.

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Although shamans were also important, individuals retained primary responsibility for relationships with animals they hunted by virtue of making and maintaining their own equipment and performing necessary rituals.

The social manifestation of these beliefs was expressed in elaborate festivals and ceremonials. Among Alaskan Yupiks, ferocious tunghak* masks portrayed semihuman spirit controllers whose superhuman predatory capabilities were moderated by thumbless hands whose pierced palms signified a role as gatekeeper of the animals' spirit passage between the sky world and the earth. Tunghak masks frequently took on phantasmagoric dimensions: twisted "Old Man in the Moon" faces; hoops and feathers signifying the stars and galaxies; and devilishly grinning beastly faces festooned with severed body parts, blood-stained mouths, skeletized views, and panoplies of animal prey. Transformation masks, common in the central Northwest Coast, were relatively rare in Southwest Alaska, but some occur, having grinning heads that turn with strings and bellies that swing open to reveal inuas, spirit beings, tunghak, animals, and people in grisly encounters. Even masks protraying gentle animals were imbued with vibrant power.

tunghak: A powerful spirit which controls the movements of game animals. (Return)

- William W. Fitzhugh
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