Rare Yup'ik masks reunited in Alaska after 100 years

 Four Yup'ik masks on display at the Anchorage Museum through September 8th. (KTUU)
Four Yup'ik masks on display at the Anchorage Museum through September 8th. (KTUU) (KTUU)
Published: Apr. 8, 2019 at 1:42 PM AKDT
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A rare set of four Yup’ik masks is back together in Alaska for the first time in over 100 years. The masks are believed to have been carved by the shaman Ikamrailnguq from the village of Napaskiaq in the early 1900s.

Typically, masks were used in a ceremony and then destroyed. As traders from outside arrived in Alaska, masks could be exchanged for other goods.

Often not aware of the relationships between a set of masks, traders would break up sets. Eventually, over time, scholars realized that three of the masks were related. There was no idea a fourth mask had originally been part of the set. Then, a couple of years ago, a researcher came across a mask in the collection of the Fowler Museum at UCLA. Chuna McIntyre saw the resemblance between the fourth mask and the now well-known group of three.

The Anchorage Museum is currently displaying the reunited Tumanret or weather masks. The four masks represent the four cardinal directions – north, south, east and west. They were used to give thanks for the seasonal return of the animals.

The four masks normally live in four different locations. One is on long-term loan to the Anchorage Museum. Another is from the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas. The third is a part of the collections of the Smithsonian Nation Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. And the fourth, recently discovered mask, is from Los Angeles.

This is only the second time that they have all been displayed together. The will be on display at the Anchorage Museum through September 8.