black bear Inua mask
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Black Bear Inua Mask.
Bering Sea Eskimo.
This mask represents a black bear with its semihuman inua appearing in its right eye, partly obscured by human hair. Hunters often told of seeing inuas in the fur, feathers, or eyes of animals they were hunting. An encircling red-painted groove gave the mask spiritual life. This mask has lost its original white paint, its tongue, and its arcing array of white feathers.

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According to the worldview of the Yupik Eskimo, human and nonhuman persons shared a number of characteristics. First and foremost, the perishable flesh of both humans and animals belied the immortality of their souls ("yuas"). All living things participated in an endless cycle of birth and rebirth of which the souls of animals and men were a part, contingent on the right thought and action by others as well as self. For both men and animals, the soul was identified as the principle that sustained life. For sea mammals, the soul had an anatomical locus (the bladder). For human and nonhuman persons, the soul remained in the vicinity of the body for a specified time after death before going to an extraterrestrial realm to await rebirth. For humans, an essential aspect of the person was reborn in the next generation. The newborn child regularly received both the name and with it the soul of a recently deceased realative in the ascending generation. Finally, inanimate objects were also believed to possess souls. Thus hunting implements were decorated not only to please or attract animals but also to impart life into and please the objects themselves.

- Ann Fienup-Riordan
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