Mask: face of a tungak?

late 19th century
more object details

General Description

The Yup'ik Eskimo of western Alaska, believe that everything has a spirit (or soul)—people, animals, and things—and all participate in an endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. The boundaries between the spirit world and the real world, and between the human world and the world of animals, are not always clear.

Yup’ik seasonal festivals held in the men’s house, the social and ceremonial center of the village, often included masked dances. The face on this mask may represent Tunghak, Keeper of the Game, who allows animals to pass from the spirit world to the world of humans to replenish the supply of game. This mask alludes to the boundaries and reciprocal relationship between human beings and animals, a reminder that animals give themselves to human beings, who must in turn respect animals.

Adapted from

  • Bonnie Pitman, ed., "Mask with seal or sea otter spirit (1976.50)," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012), 59.

  • DMA Label Copy (1976.50), n.d.

Fun Facts

  • Named on "American Indian and Northwest Coast Top Ten List" (August 6, 1992), Steven A. LeBlanc, former curator at the Southwest Museum at Los Angeles.