Reindeer Koryak leather mask
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Leather Mask.
Reindeer Koryak.
The Koryak (including Aliutor and Kerek), Even, Evenk, and Yukaghir used simple hoodlike leather masks in masquerades and to cover the face of the deceased in funeral rites. Reindeer Koryak donned leather hood masks representing cannibal kalas (evil spirits) to scare children.

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Except when used as pictographic art on wood and ivory, as effigy figures on the clothing of shamans, as simple leather and wooden masks, and as zoomorphic forms of ritual containers, humans and animals appeared infrequently in the art of Northeastern Siberians.

In Siberia, mask distribution was spotty, social support for masking was weak or even banned, and the art of masking was of poor quality. The impression created by this general pattern is of a dying tradition, once more widespread, only remnants of which survived into the 19th century. This contrasts with the highly visible and dynamic masking traditions of America and of eastern and southeastern Asia.

However, there is reason to give consideration to Northwest Coast and Alaskan parallels with Asian cultures. Although similarities in ethnographic art styles are not extensive, significant parallels in underlying structures exist, especially in Northwest Coast and Amur art. More important, archeological evidence suggests that greater similarities existed in the past than during the historical period. Although archeological data from the region are sparse, there are suggestions that North Pacific and Bering Sea art may once have been more unified than it was during the past millenium and that related forms of animal-style hunting art may have existed throughout the region. Divergence between Siberian and American art may have occurred realatively recently as a result of changes in Siberian cultures stimulated by economic, social, and technological innovation (reindeer herding and metallurgy).

- William W. Fitzhugh
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