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yup'ik hands

December 20, 2014

sweet surprise like a late birthday present, my firing was done yesterday–1 large mask, 3 small masks, and 3 tiny pieces for a secret santa exchange at work. I am in


the process today of applying pigment to the larger of them and wrapping and hanging feathers from each finger of its two hands.


some say the common yup'ik mask motif of human hands with a hole in the palm and truncated or absent thumbs represents a passageway in the sky through which animals enter the earth and the human hunter’s realm, or the temperance of the hunter who takes only what’s needed and allows animals to pass through his hands to the earth, or the eye or window through which an animal’s person (yua) or spirit sees into the human world. this is my first use of the motif.


performing with the northwest inupiaq dancers some years ago, i wore gloves, an eskimo convention that to my understanding signifies the transformation of hands from mundane to supernatural and a tool to protect dancers from pernicious influences or spirits.


i am aware that “eskimo” is decidedly not a yup'ik word but an outsider’s term. i was subjected in college to contempt and lectures against using a colonizers' term to identify myself, delivered by well-meaning strangers. still, “eskimo” feels like home. my granny used it. my family uses it. and until i learn so much that the word no longer sounds in my head like a whisper from my granny’s lips, i use it.

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