Agayuliyararput - Our Way of Making Prayer
I n t r o d u c t i o n

During 1996, 1997 and 1998 an amazing exhibit of Southwestern Alaskan culture and art toured the United States. Developed jointly by a team of native Yup'ik people, researchers and museum professionals, Agayuliyararput or "Our Way of Making Prayer" was the first exhibit to bring Yup'ik masks and ceremonial materials to a wide audience in their native context.

Drumming, dancing and storytelling were integral parts of the exhibit in each of its venues, which included Alaskan villages and major metropolitan areas. At each site both native and non-native people were allowed a rare glimpse into the living tradition of Yup'ik masks.

Masked dancing traditionally took place during the long Alaskan winter in the qasgiq or communal men's house. Masks were carved, decorated and painted, ingenious theatrical devices were created and hung from the roof, and beautiful clothing was sewn, all as part of a complex spiritual life which honored the beings that made life possible in the Arctic environment. The masks were used for many ceremonial purposes; they were said to have made the unseen world visible. It is impossible today to know the specific meanings behind any type of mask, as the meaning was personal to the mask's creator and related to the story he or she wished to tell. Similar looking masks could portray stories with very different meanings. Elders remember many stories and dances associated with certain masks, and this, combined with careful scholarly research, build for us a multifaceted view of Yup'ik ceremonial life before the turn of the century.

After Christian contact in the late nineteenth century, masked dancing was suppressed, and today it is not practiced as it was before in the Alaskan villages. Over the years, discarded masks were collected by traders and explorers, and many found their way into museum collections. In museums the Yup'ik masks, many originally used in masked dancing as pairs, were exhibited as unique works of art and were appreciated on their artistic merit alone. This exhibit marks the first time the masks have returned home to the villages, and the first time they have been exhibited in their traditional context. The return home holds great meaning for many younger Yup'ik people, who are seeing pieces of their heritage for the first time.

The National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C is the repository for a large collection of Yup'ik masks and ceremonial objects. 27 of these are can be viewed in this Web based exhibit. Many were a part of the Agayuliyararput exhibit and are available for study by native and non-native researchers alike.

For more information about Yup'ik masks and ceremonial objects in particular and Yup'ik culture in general, please see the two books associated with this exhibit. Both are published in association with the Anchorage Museum of History and Art by the University of Washington Press. They are:

The Living Tradition of Yupik Masks
Agayuliyararput, Our Way of Making Prayer
Ann Fienup-Riordan
Translation by Marie Meade
Photography by Barry McWayne


Our Way of Making Prayer
Kegginaqut, Kangiit-llu/
Yup'ik Masks and the Stories They Tell
Transcribed and Translated by Marie Meade
Edited by Ann Fienup-Riordan Top

a Yup'ik Mask

*Agayuliyararput Home
*View the Masks
*Lessons Learned
*Audio and Video
*Arctic Studies Center