Masks For Kindling

One day the late Andrew Chikoyak, a photographer, was telling a story about what he saw as a little boy after a festival had just completed in Tununak.


In the 1930's-1940's, a missionary observed the use of ornate abstract masks during a dance celebration on Nelson Island. The participants shared in the gifts of food supplies, new household goods, tools, and hunting implements. After the celebration, the missionary was surprised they were preparing to use those masks as kindling for a big steam bath for the men. He asked if he was able to take some of those masks, the old men were bewildered and dumbfounded why someone wanted those caliinguat– pretend items imitations or toys. Chikoyak said that some of those men's faces had a reluctant look of "loss for the extra hot flames they would have started” in the middle of winter on a treeless tundra.



It is an accident some masks survived those flames of history. Thanks to the accidental missionary who took those pretend things. The encounter was proof that the early natives did not worship these things designed for theater, storytelling, song and dance, and most of all the joy it brought to give thanks to their creator Ellam Yua-Person of the Universe.


The Yup'ik were easily converted as the Bible had the same principles and teachings as Qaneryaraq or Maligtaquyaraq- the Word had arrived in written form. These conversions also abolished festivals, dance celebrations, naming ceremonies and everything centered around their social well being and structure. The natives living at that time were more "Christian-Like" than their counterparts for thousands of years before assimilation. For more reading on missionaries and the bible read: Lets Dance.


Today, the dance has revitalized. Agayuliyararput - Our Way of Making Prayer is celebrated at the Camai Dance Festival the largest Yup'ik gathering of dance groups in the region.

The missionary did not know that Ellam Yua was the same person as Jesus the Emmanuel, the Word-Qaneryaraq (or Maligtaquyaraq). Qaneryaraq was their living guide. The late elders expressed this with true belief that Jesus, who is the Word, was the one and the same person.


They said missionaries brought the word in written form, the Bible-Qaneryaraq, because of the same values of the Word handed down from ancestors. They believed that the Bible had the same teachings of how to be a real Yup'ik-Real Person. All of the elders would say that the "Yup’ik may change but the Word will never change, and this was what was handed down to us,” said the late Elders.


All the instructions to life were centered around love, peace, respect for others, what is expected at the different stages of upbringing, respect for nature and all living creatures and plants, selflessness, humility, sharing, hunting, safety, gathering food, not to be lazy, differences between men's and women's duties, everything under the sun of being Yup'ik, and the stories of things unseen and how everything in this existence is connected.



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