By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon

We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: The Dance Festivals of the Alaskan Eskimo
Author: Hawkes, Ernest William, 1883-
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Dance Festivals of the Alaskan Eskimo" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive/American Libraries.)

 Transcriber's Notes:
 1) There are a number of words in the native language that appear to mean
    the same thing, but have different accents. It is unknown if this is
    intentional or a printing error - these have been left as printed. eg:
    Nuleága / núleaga ... Takináka / takínaka / Takinaka ... Wáhok / wahok
 2) Characters with diacritical marks are noted as follows:
    Acute ['x]  macron [=x]  combined  ['=x]
    Macron (below) [x=]
    Dot above [.x]
    Breve [)x]

       *       *       *       *       *

 VOL. VI                No. 2





 INTRODUCTION                           5
 PHONETIC KEY                           7
 THE DANCE IN GENERAL                   9
     THE CHORUS                        10
 THE KÁSGI OR DANCE HOUSE              13
     PARAPHERNALIA                     15
 THE DANCE FESTIVALS                   19
     THE ASKING FESTIVAL               22
     THE BLADDER FEAST                 26
     THE FEASTS TO THE DEAD            29
 THE ANNUAL FEAST, AIL['=I]GI          31
     THE FEAST GIVERS                  34
     THE RITUAL                        35


This account of the Dance Festivals of the Alaskan Eskimo was written
from material gathered in the Bering Strait District during three
years' residence: two on the Diomede Islands, and one at St. Michael
at the mouth of the Yukon River. This paper is based on my
observations of the ceremonial dances of the Eskimo of these two


 [=a], [=e], [=i], [=o], [=u], long vowels.

 a, e, i, o, u, short vowels.

 ä, as in hat.

 â, as in law.

 ai, as in aisle.

 au, as ow in how.

 h, w, y, semivowels.

 c, as sh in should.

 f, a bilabial surd.

 g, as in get.

 ['g], a post-palatal sonant.

 k, as in pick.

 l, as in lull.

 m, as in mum.

 n, as in nun.

 ng, as ng in sing.

 p, as in pipe.

 q, a post-palatal surd.

 [.r], a uvular sonant spirant.

 s, as in sauce.

 t, an alveolar stop.

 tc, as ch in chapter.

 v, a bilabial sonant.

 z, as in zone.

       *       *       *       *       *



The ceremonial dance of the Alaskan Eskimo is a rhythmic
pantomime--the story in gesture and song of the lives of the various
Arctic animals on which they subsist and from whom they believe their
ancient clans are sprung. The dances vary in complexity from the
ordinary social dance, in which all share promiscuously and in which
individual action is subordinated to rhythm, to the pantomime totem
dances performed by especially trained actors who hold their positions
from year to year according to artistic merit.[1] Yet even in the
totem dances the pantomime is subordinate to the rhythm, or rather
superimposed upon it, so that never a gesture or step of the
characteristic native time is lost.

This is a primitive 2-4 beat based on the double roll of the chorus of
drums. Time is kept, in the men's dances, by stamping the foot and
jerking the arm in unison, twice on the right, then twice on the left
side, and so on, alternately. Vigorous dancers vary the program by
leaping and jumping at intervals, and the shamans are noted for the
dizzy circles which they run round the púgyarok, the entrance hole of
the dance hall. The women's dance has the same measure and can be
performed separately or in conjunction with the men's dance, but has a
different and distinctly feminine movement. The feet are kept on the
ground, while the body sways back and forth in graceful undulations to
the music and the hands with outspread palms part the air with the
graceful stroke of a flying gull. Some of their dances are performed
seated. Then they strip to the waist and form one long line of waving
arms and swaying shoulders, all moving in perfect unison.

  [1] This characterization applies to the Alaskan Eskimo only; so far
  as is now known the other Eskimo branches do not have totemic dances.


The chorus which furnishes the music, is composed of from six to ten
men. They sit on the in['g]lak, a raised shelf extending around the
dance hall about five feet from the floor, and sing their dance songs
keeping time on their drums. They usually sit in the rear of the room,
which is the post of honor. Among the island tribes of Bering Strait
this position is reversed and they occupy the front of the room. Some
old man, the keeper of tribal tradition and song, acts as the leader,
calling out the words of the dance songs a line ahead. He begins the
proceedings by striking up a low chant, an invitation to the people
assembled to dance. The chorus accompany him lightly on their drums.
Then at the proper place, he strikes a crashing double beat; the drums
boom out in answer; the song arises high and shrill; the dancers leap
into their places, and the dance begins.

The first dances are usually simple exercises calculated to warm the
blood and stretch stiffened muscles. They begin with leaping around
the pú['g]yarok, jumping into the air with both feet in the Eskimo
high kick, settling down into the conventional movements of the men's

  [2] While the northern and southern tribes have the same general
  movements for their ordinary dances, they give a very different
  presentation of the festival dance-songs. The northerners leap and
  stamp about the kásgi until overcome with exhaustion; while in the
  south the performers sit or kneel on the floor, adorned with an
  abundance of streaming furs and feathers, sweep their hands through
  the air in graceful unison. It is a difference between rude vigor
  and dramatic art.

Quite often a woman steps into the center of the circle, and goes
through her own dance, while the men leap and dance around her. This
act has been specialized in the Reindeer and Wolf Pack Dance of the
Aithúkaguk, the Inviting-In Festival, where the woman wearing a
reindeer crest and belt is surrounded by the men dancers, girt in
armlets and fillets of wolf skin. They imitate the pack pulling down a
deer, and the din caused by their jumping and howling around her
shrinking form is terrific.


There appears to be no restriction against the women taking part in
the men's dances. They also act as assistants to the chief actors in
the Totem Dances, three particularly expert and richly dressed women
dancers ranging themselves behind the mask dancer as a pleasing
background of streaming furs and glistening feathers. The only time
they are forbidden to enter the kásgi is when the shaman is performing
certain secret rites. They also have secret meetings of their own when
all men are banished.[3] I happened to stumble on to one of these one
time when they were performing certain rites over a pregnant woman,
but being a white man, and therefore unaccountable, I was greeted with
a good-natured laugh and sent about my business.

  [3] This custom appears to be widespread. Low writes of the Hudson Bay
  Eskimo: "During the absence of the men on hunting expeditions, the
  women sometimes amuse themselves by a sort of female "angekoking."
  This amusement is accompanied by a number of very obscene rites...."
  Low, The Cruise of the Neptune, p. 177.

On the other hand, men are never allowed to take part in the strictly
women's dances, although nothing pleases an Eskimo crowd more than an
exaggerated imitation by one of their clowns of the movements of the
women's dance. The women's dances are practiced during the early
winter and given at the Aiyáguk, or Asking Festival, when the men are
invited to attend as spectators. They result in offers of temporary
marriage to the unmarried women, which is obviously the reason for
this rite. Such dances, confined to the women, have not been observed
in Alaska outside the islands of Bering Sea, and I have reason to
believe are peculiar to this district, which, on account of its
isolation, retains the old forms which have died out or been modified
on the mainland. But throughout Alaska the women are allowed the
utmost freedom in participating in the festivals, either as naskuks[4]
or feast givers, as participants or as spectators.

  [4] Literally "Heads" or directors of the feasts.

In fact, the social position of the Eskimo woman has been
misrepresented and misunderstood. At first sight she appears to be the
slave of her husband, but a better acquaintance will reveal the fact
that she is the manager of the household and the children, the
business partner in all his trades, and often the "oomíalik," or
captain of the concern as well. Her husband is forbidden by tribal
custom to maltreat her, and if she owns the house, she can order him
out at any time. I have never known a woman being head of a tribe, but
sometimes a woman is the most influential member of a tribe.


With few exceptions, all dances take place in the village kásgi or
dance hall. This is the public meeting place where the old men gather
to sit and smoke while they discuss the village welfare, where the
married men bring their work and take their sweat baths, and where
the bachelors and young men, termed kásgimiut, have their sleeping
quarters. The kásgi is built and maintained at public expense, each
villager considering it an honor to contribute something. Any tools or
furnishings brought into the kásgi are considered public property, and
used as such.

When a kásgi is to be built, announcement is made through messengers
to neighboring villages, and all gather to assist in the building and
to help celebrate the event. First a trench several feet deep is dug
in which to plant the timbers forming the sides. These are usually of
driftwood, which is brought by the ocean currents from the Yukon. The
ice breaks up first at the head of that great stream, and the débris
dams up the river, which overflows its banks, tearing down trees,
buildings and whatever borders its course as it breaks its way out to
the sea. The wreckage is scattered along the coast for over a hundred
miles, and the islands of Bering Sea get a small share. The islanders
are constantly on the lookout for the drifting timber, and put out to
sea in the stormiest weather for a distant piece, be it large or
small. They also patrol the coast after a high tide for stray bits of
wood. When one considers the toil and pain with which material is
gathered, the building of a kásgi becomes an important matter.

After the timbers have been rough hewn with the adze (úlimon) they are
set upright in the trench to a height of seven to eight feet and
firmly bedded with rock. This is to prevent the fierce Polar winds
which prevail in midwinter from tearing the houses to pieces. In the
older buildings a protecting stone wall was built on the sides. Most
of the houses are set in a side hill, or partly underground, for
additional security, as well as for warmth. The roof is laid on top of
the uprights, the logs being drawn in gradually in pyramid shape to a
flat top. In the middle of the top is the [.r]álok or smoke hole, an
opening about two feet square. In a kásgi thirty feet square the rálok
is twenty feet above the floor. It is covered with a translucent
curtain of walrus gut. The dead are always taken out through this
opening, and never by the entrance. The most important feature of the
room is the in['g]lak, a wide shelf supported by posts at intervals.
It stands about five feet high extending around the room. This serves
the double purpose of a seat and bed for the inmates of the kásgi. The
rear, the káan, is the most desirable position, being the warmest, and
is given to headmen and honored guests.[5] The side portions, káaklim,
are given to the lesser lights and the women and children; and the
front, the óaklim, being nearest the entrance and therefore cold and
uncomfortable is left for the orphans and worthless men.

  [5] The order of the seating on the in['g]lak of invited guests is a
  matter of great concern to the Eskimo, as it is an indication of

  Children purchase their right to a seat in the kásgi by making
  presents, through their parents, to all the inmates, kásgimiut.

  Until they do so they have no right to enter. For the same reason
  strangers on entering the kásgi offer a small present to the headman,
  who divides it among the people.

The floor of the kásgi is made of rough planking, and the boards in
the center are left loose so that they may be easily removed. These
cover the k[=e]néthluk or fireplace, an excavation four feet square,
and four feet deep, used in the sweat baths. It is thought to be
the place where the spirits sit, when they visit the kásgi, during
festivals held in their honor. Offerings are poured to them through
the cracks in the planks. In the center of the floor is a round hole
about two feet in diameter, called the entrance hole or púgyarok. This
connects with a long tunnel, the a['g]veak, which leads outside. The
tunnel is usually so low that it is necessary to enter in a stooping
position, which the Eskimo does by placing both hands on the sides of
the púgyarok, and drawing himself through. Some dance-houses have
another entrance directly into the room on a level with the ground,
the underground passage being used only in winter. The diagram (Plate
XI) gives an idea of this arrangement.


The drum (saúyit)[6] is the only instrument employed in the dances. It
is made of a circular hoop about eighteen inches in width over which
is stretched a resonant covering made from the bladder of the walrus
or seal. It is held in place by a cord of rawhide (o['k]linok)[7]
which fits into a groove on the outer rim. The cover can therefore be
tightened at will. It is customary during the intermissions between
the dances for the drummers to rub a handful of snow over the skins to
prevent them from cracking under the heavy blows. The drum is held
aloft and struck with a thin stick (múmwa).[8] It gives a deep boom in
answer. The shaman uses a smaller baton with which he beats a
continuous tattoo as an accompaniment to his songs. The northerners
strike the back of the rim with their sticks, while the Yukon people
belabor the face of the drum.

  [6] Tcáuyak, Yukon dialect.

  [7] Lóftak, Yukon dialect.

  [8] Múmra, Yukon dialect.

The leader of the chorus frequently flourishes a baton, made from a
fox tail or the skin of the ermine which is mounted on a stick. With
this he marks the time of the dance. In Plate XIV, the white blur is
the ermine at the end of his stick. It is very difficult to obtain a
good picture in the ill lighted kásgi, and not often that the natives
will allow one taken there.

One indispensable part of a male dancer's outfit is his gloves. I have
never seen a man dancing without them. These are usually of wolverine,
or of reindeer with elaborate trimmings, but on ordinary occasions any
kind will do. The women do not share this peculiarity. In place of
gloves they wear handlets of grass decorated with feathers of duck or
of ptarmigan. The men in the Totem Dances also wear handlets which are
carved and painted to represent the particular totem they seek to
honor. These too are fantastically decorated with feathers, usually of
the loon. The central feather is stripped, and crowned with a tuft of
white down. Both men and women wear armlets and fillets of skin or
feathers according to the animal character they represent. When in the
full swing of the dance with fur and feathers streaming they present a
pleasing spectacle, a picture full of the same wild grace and poetic
motion which characterizes the animal forbears from which they claim

The chief characters in the Totem and Comic Dances wear masks and
carry staves decorated with feathers. Occasionally the women
assistants carry feathered wands (Kelízruk).

Of the masks there is a great variety ranging from the plain wooden
masks to those of such great size that they are suspended from the
ceiling of the kásgi by a cord while the dancer performs behind them.

The Cape Prince of Wales (Kinígumiut) Eskimo construct complete
figures of their totems. These are worked by means of concealed
strings by the performers, a climax of art which is supposed to be
particularly pleasing to the spirits addressed. Then the shaman
(Túngalik)[9] has his own set of masks, hideous enough to strike
terror to even the initiated. Each one of these represents a familiar
spirit (túnghat)[10] which assists him in his operations.

  [9] Tungrálik, Yukon dialect.

  [10] Tungrániyak, Yukon dialect.

Ordinary dance masks may be made by anyone, but the masks for the
ceremonial dances are made by some renowned shaman, engaged for the
occasion. These masks are burned at the close of the festival, but may
be sold by the actors if they supply an equal amount of wood for the
sacrificial fire.

Many of the masks are very complicated, having appendages of wood, fur
and feathers. They are all fashioned with an idea of representing some
feature in the mythology of the spirit (Inua) or animal shade
(Tunghat) which they represent. In the latter case they are nearly
always made double, the mythical beings who inhabited the early world
being regarded as able to change from animal to human shape, by merely
pushing up or pulling down the upper part of the face as a mask. Such
masks are often hinged to complete the illusion, the actor changing
the face at will.

It might be mentioned here that when the actor puts on the mask he is
supposed to become imbued with the spirit of the being represented.
This accounts, to the native mind, for the very lifelike imitation
which he gives.

The masks are painted along conventional lines; the favorite colors
for the inua masks are red (Karékteoak),[11] black (Auktoak), green
(Cúngokyoak), white (Katéktoak), and blue (Taúkrektoak), in the order
named. These colors[12] may hold a sacred or symbolic significance.
The inua masks are decorated with some regard to the natural colors of
the human face, but in the masks of the túnghat the imagination of the
artist runs riot. The same is true of the comic masks, which are
rendered as grotesque and horrible as possible. A mask with distorted
features, a pale green complexion, surrounded by a bristling mass of
hair, amuses them greatly. The Eskimo also caricature their neighbors,
the Dènè, in this same manner, representing them by masks with very
large noses and sullen features.

  [11] These are the northern names. In the southern or Yukon dialect
  black is Túnguli; white Katughúli; red, Kauigúli; green, Tcunungúli.

  The endings and pronunciation of similar Eskimo words are somewhat
  different in Arctic Alaska and on the Yukon River; sufficiently so as
  to produce two distinct dialects. For this reason I have given the
  forms from both sections.

  [12] Red is obtained from red ochre; white from white clay; black from
  soot or ashes; green from oxide of copper.


The Dance Festivals of the Alaskan Eskimo are held during that cold,
stormy period of the winter when the work of the year is over and
hunting is temporarily at an end. At this season the people gather in
the kásgi to celebrate the local rites, and at certain intervals
invite neighboring tribes to join in the great inter-tribal festivals.
This season of mirth and song is termed "Tcauyávik" the drum dance
season, from "Tcaúyak" meaning drum. It lasts from November to March,
and is a continuous succession of feasts and dances, which makes glad
the heart of the Eskimo and serves to lighten the natural depression
caused by day after day of interminable wind and darkness. A brisk
exchange of presents at the local festivals promotes good feeling, and
an interchange of commodities between the tribes at the great feasts
stimulates trade and results in each being supplied with the
necessities of life. For instance, northern tribes visiting the south
bring presents of reindeer skins or múkluk to eke out the scanty
supply of the south, while the latter in return give their visitors
loads of dried salmon which the northerners feed to their dogs.

The festivals also serve to keep alive the religious feeling of the
people, as evidenced in the Dance to the Dead, which allows free play
to the nobler sentiments of filial faith and paternal love. The
recital of the deeds of ancient heroes preserves the best traditions
of the race and inspires the younger generation. To my mind, there is
nothing which civilization can supply which can take the place of the
healthy exercise, social enjoyment, commercial advantages, and
spiritual uplift of these dances. Where missionary sentiment is
overwhelming they are gradually being abandoned; where there is a
mistaken opinion in regard to their use, they have been given up
altogether; but the tenacity with which the Eskimo clings to these
ancient observances, even in places where they have been nominal
christians for years, is an evidence of the vitality of these ancient
rites and their adaptation to the native mind.

The festivals vary considerably according to locality, but their
essential features are the same. Taken in order of celebration they
are as follows

Local Festivals.

    1. The Aiyáguk or Asking Festival.
    2. The Tcaúiyuk or Bladder Feast.
    3. The Ail['=i]gi or Annual Feast to the Dead.

Inter-tribal Festivals.

    4. The Aíthuk['=a]tukhtuk or Great Feast to the Dead.
    5. The Aithúkaguk or Inviting-In Feast.

The Asking Festival, which begins the round of feasting and dancing,
takes place during the November moon. It is a local ceremony in which
gifts are exchanged between the men and women of the village, which
result in offers of temporary marriage. It takes its name from the
Aiyáguk or Asking Stick,[13] which is the wand of office of the
messenger or go-between. The Annual Feast to the Dead is held during
the December moon, and may be repeated again in spring after the
Bladder Feast, if a large number of Eskimos have died in the interim.
It consists of songs and dances accompanied by offerings of food and
drink to the dead. It is a temporary arrangement for keeping the dead
supplied with sustenance (they are thought to imbibe the spiritual
essence of the offerings) until the great Feast to the Dead takes

  [13] The Asking Stick is also used in the Inviting-In Feast

This is held whenever the relatives of the deceased have accumulated
sufficient food, skins and other goods to entertain the countryside
and are able to properly honor the deceased. At the same time the
namesakes of the dead are richly clothed from head to foot and
showered with presents. As this prodigal generosity entails the
savings of years on the part of the feast givers (náskut), the feast
occurs only at irregular intervals of several years. It has been
termed the Ten Year Feast by the traders (Kágruska), but so far as I
have been able to inquire, it has no fixed date among the Eskimo. It
is by far the most important event in the life of the Alaskan native.
By it he discharges all debts of honor to the dead, past, present and
future. He is not obliged to take part in another festival of the kind
unless another near relative dies. He pays off all old scores of
hospitality and lays his friends under future obligations by his
presents. He is often beggared by this prodigality, but he can be sure
of welcome and entertainment wherever he goes, for he is a man who has
discharged all his debts to society and is therefore deserving of
honor for the rest of his days.

In the Bladder Feast which takes place in January, the bladders of the
animals slain during the past season, in which the spirits of the
animals are supposed to reside, are returned to the sea, after
appropriate ceremonies in the kásgi. There they are thought to attract
others of their kind and bring an increase to the village. This is
essentially a coast festival. Among the tribes of the islands of
Bering Sea and the Siberian Coast this festival is repeated in March,
in conjunction with a whaling ceremony performed at the taking down
of the [=u]miaks.

The dance contests in the Inviting-In Feast resemble the nith songs
of Greenland. They are Comic and Totem Dances in which the best
performers of several tribes contest singly or in groups for
supremacy. The costumes worn are remarkably fine and the acting very
realistic. This is essentially a southern festival for it gives an
opportunity to the Eskimo living near the rivers to display their
ingenious talent for mimicry and for the arrangement of feathers.

There are a few purely local ceremonies, the outgrowth of practices of
local shamans. An example of this is the Aitekátah or Doll Festival of
the Igomiut, which has also spread to the neighboring Dènè. Such local
outgrowths, however, do not appear to spread among the conservative
Eskimo, who resent the least infringement of the ancient practices
handed down from dim ancestors of the race.

It is not often that they will allow a white man to witness the
festival dances, but, owing to the friendliness of the chief of the
Diomede tribes, who always reserved a seat for me next to him in the
kásgi, I had the opportunity of seeing the local rites and the Great
Dance to the Dead. The same favor continuing with the chief of the
Unalit, during my residence on the Yukon, I witnessed the Inviting-In
Feast as celebrated by the southern tribes. Having described the
dances in general, I will proceed to a detailed account of each.


The Aiyáguk or Asking Festival is the first of the local feasts. It
occurs about the middle of November when the Eskimo have all returned
from their summer travels and made their iglus secure against the
storms of the coming winter. So, with caches full of fish, and houses
packed with trade goods after a successful season at the southern
camps, they must wait until the shifting ice pack settles and the
winter hunting begins. Such enforced inaction is irksome to the
Eskimo, who does not partake of the stolidity of the Indian, but like
a nervous child must be continually employed or amused. So this
festival, which is of a purely social character, has grown up.

My first intimation that there was a celebration taking place was
being attracted by a tremendous uproar in the native village just as
darkness had fallen. Suspecting that the Eskimo were making merry over
a native brew, called "hoosch,"[14] I slipped down to the village to
see what was the matter. I was met by the queerest procession I have
ever seen. A long line of men and boys, entirely naked and daubed over
with dots and figures of mingled oil and charcoal,[15] were proceeding
from house to house with bowls in their hands. At each entrance they
filed in, howling, stamping and grunting, holding out their dishes
until they were filled by the women of the house.

All this time they were careful to keep their faces averted so that
they would not be recognized. This is termed the "Tutúuk" or "going
around." Returning to the kásgi they washed off their marks with
urine, and sat down to feast on their plunder.

  [14] This is a liquor distilled from flour and molasses. In the
  operation an old cask and a gun barrel are used. The liquid is
  fermented with sour dough and allowed to distill through the barrel.
  The Eskimo had no liquor prior to the advent of the whalers, who
  supplied them with the materials and probably taught them the art of
  distilling. The U. S. Revenue Cutter "Bear" has been active in
  breaking up the practice. In 1909, six illicit stills were seized on
  the Diomede Islands.

  [15] The first night of the feast the men and older boys meet in the
  kásgi, and two boys named the Raven (Tulukaúguk) and the Hawk
  (Teibúriak) mix the paint and assist the men in ornamenting

The next day the men gathered again in the kásgi and the Aiyáguk or
Asking Stick was constructed. It was made by a man especially chosen
for the purpose. It was a slender wand about three feet long with
three globes made of thin strips of wood hanging by a strip of
o['k]linok from the smaller end. It was carried by the messenger
between the men and women during the feast, and was the visible sign
of his authority. It was treated with scrupulous respect by the Eskimo
and to disregard the wishes conveyed by means of it during the feast
would have been considered a lasting disgrace. When not in use it was
hung over the entrance to the kásgi.

The wand maker, having finished the Asking Stick, took his stand in
the center of the room, and swaying the globes, to and fro, asked the
men to state their wishes. Then any man present had the privilege of
telling him of an article he wished and the name of the woman from
whom he wished it. (Among the southern tribes the men made small
wooden models of the objects they wished which were hung on the end of
the Asking Stick.) The messenger then proceeded to the house of the
woman in question, swinging the globes in front of her, repeated the
wish and stood waiting for her answer. She in turn recollected
something that she desired and told it to the messenger. Thereupon he
returned to the kásgi, and standing in front of the first party, swung
the globes, and told him what was desired in return. In this way he
made the round of the village. The men then returned to their homes
for the article desired, while the messenger blackened his face with
charcoal and donned a costume betoking humility. This was considered
the only proper attitude in presenting gifts. The costume consisted of
wornout clothing, of which a disreputable raincoat (Kamleíka) and a
dogskin belt with the tail behind were indispensable parts.

Then the men and women gathered in the kásgi where the exchanges were
made through the messenger. If anyone did not have the gift requested
he was in honor bound to secure it as soon as possible and present it
to his partner. Those exchanging gifts entered a relationship termed
o[=i]ló['g]uk, and among the northern tribes where the ancient forms
persevere, they continued to exchange presents throughout succeeding

After this exchange, a dance was performed by the women. They stripped
to the waist, and taking their places on the i['n]glak, went through a
series of motions in unison. These varied considerably in time and
movement from the conventional women's dance.

According to custom at the conclusion of the dance any man has the
privilege of asking any unmarried woman through the messenger, if he
might share her bed that night. If favorably inclined, she replies
that he must bring a deerskin for bedding. He procures the deerskin,
and presents it to her, and after the feast is over remains with her
for the night.

Whether these temporary unions lead to permanent marriage I was unable
to find out. The gift of reindeer skin is very like the suit of
clothing given in betrothal and would furnish material for the parka
which the husband presents to his bride. The fact that the privilege
is limited to unmarried women might be also urged in turn. As the
system of exchanging wives was formerly common among the Alaskan
Eskimo, and as they distribute their favors at will, it is rather
remarkable that the married women are not included, as in the
licentious feasts recorded of the Greenlanders.[16] From talks with
some of the older Eskimo I am led to regard this as a relic of an
ancient custom similar to those which have been observed among many
nations of antiquity, in which a woman is open to violation at certain
feasts. This privilege is taken advantage of, and may become a
preliminary to marriage.

  [16] See Hans Egede, Det Gamle Grönlands Nye Perlustration, p. 78.


The Bladder Feast (Tcaúiyuk) is held in December at the full of the
moon. The object of this feast is the propitiation of the inua of the
animals slain during the season past. These are believed to reside in
the bladders, which the Eskimo carefully preserve. The ceremony
consists in the purification of the bladders by the flame of the wild
parsnip (Aíkituk). The hunters are also required to pass through the
flame. They return the bladders then to the sea, where entering the
bodies of their kind, they are reborn and return again, bringing
continued success to the hunter.

The first three days are spent in preparation. They thoroughly clean
the kásgi, particularly the kenéthluk or fireplace, the recognized
abode of all spirits visiting the kásgi. Then the men bring in their
harvest of bladders.[17] They tie them by the necks in bunches of
eight to the end of their spears. These they thrust into the walls at
the rear of the room leaving ample room for the dancers to pass under
the swaying bladders in the rites of purification. Offerings of food
and water are made to the inua, and they are constantly attended. One
old man told me that they would be offended and take their departure
if left alone for a moment. Dogs, being unclean, are not allowed to
enter the kásgi. Neither is anyone permitted to do any work during the

  [17] The mothers also preserve with greatest care the bladders of the
  mice, ground squirrels, and other small animals killed by the
  children. These are purified at the same time.

Meanwhile four men,[18] especially chosen for the purpose, scour the
adjoining country for parsnip stalks. They bind these into small
bundles, and place them on top of the látorak, the outer vestibule to
the entrance of the kásgi. In the evening they take these into the
kásgi, open the bundles and spread out the stalks on the floor. Then
each hunter takes a stalk, and they unite in a song to the parsnip,
the burden of which is a request that the stalks may become dry and
useful for purification. The heat of the seal oil lamps soon dries
them, and they are tied into one large bundle. The third day the sheaf
is opened, and two bundles made. The larger one is for the use of the
dancers; the smaller is placed on a spear and stuck in front of the

The fourth day the bladders are taken down and painted. A grayish
mixture is used which is obtained by burning a few parsnip stalks and
mixing the ashes with oil. The designs are the series of bands and
dots grouped to represent the totems of the hunters. When the paint is
dry the bladders are returned to their places.

In the evening the men gather again in the kásgi, and the dancers
proceed to strip off every vestige of clothing. Snatching a handful of
stalks at the common pile they light them at the lamps, and join in a
wild dance about the room. The resinous stalks shoot into flame with a
frightful glare, lighting up the naked bodies of the dancers, and
dusky interior of the kásgi. Waving the flaming torches over their
heads, leaping, jumping, and screaming like madmen they rush around
the room, thrusting the flame among the bladders and then into the
faces of the hunters. When the mad scene is at its height, they seize
one another, and struggle toward the púgyarok (entrance hole). Here
each is thrust down in succession until all the dancers have passed
through. I am informed that this is a pantomime enactment, an
indication to the inua it is time for them to depart.

  [18] The number four appears to have a sacred significance among the
  Alaskan Eskimo. The Raven Father (Tulukaúguk) waves his wings four
  times over the objects of his creation; the heroes of ancient legends
  take four steps and are transported great distances; and important
  events occur on the fourth night. I understand that the four men who
  gather the wild parsnips represent the four clans of the tribe.

The next day a hole is made in the ice near the kásgi, and each hunter
dips his spear in the water, and, running back to the kásgi, stirs up
the bladders with it. The presence of the sea water reminds the inua
of their former home, and they make ready to depart. The bladders are
then tied into one large bundle, and the people await the full moon.

At sunrise the morning after the full moon each hunter takes his load
of bladders, and filing out of the kásgi starts for the hole in the
ice on a dead run. Arriving there, he tears off the bladders one by
one, and thrusts them under the water. This signifies the return of
the inua to the sea.

As the bladders float or sink success is prophesied for the hunter by
the shaman in attendance.

In the meantime the old men build a fire of driftwood on the ice in
front of the kásgi. The small bundle of parsnip stalks which stood in
front of the bladders is brought out and thrown on the fire, and as
the stalks kindle to the flame, each hunter utters a shout, takes a
short run, and leaps through in turn. This performance purifies the
hunter of any matter offensive to the inua, and concludes the

During the Bladder Feast all intercourse between the married men and
their wives is tabooed. They are required to sleep in the kásgi with
the bachelors. Neither is any girl who has attained puberty
(Wingiktóak) allowed near the bladders. She is unclean (Wáhok).


The Eskimo idea of the life after death and the rationale for their
most important ritual, the Feast to the Dead, is nowhere better
illustrated than in a quaint tale current along the Yukon, in which
the heroine, prematurely buried during a trancelike sleep, visited the
Land of the Dead. She was rudely awakened from her deathlike slumber
by the spirit of her grandmother shaking her and exclaiming, "Wake up.
Do not sleep the hours away. You are dead!" Arising from her grave
box, the maiden was conducted by her guide to the world beneath, where
the dead had their dwellings in large villages grouped according to
the localities from which they came. Even the animal shades were not
forgotten, but inhabited separate communities in human shape.[19]
After some travel the girl found the village allotted to her tribe,
and was reclaimed by her departed relatives. She was recognized by the
totem marks on her clothing, which in ancient times the Eskimo always
wore. She found the inmates of this region leading a pleasant but
somewhat monotonous life, free from hardships and from the sleet and
cold of their earthly existence. They returned to the upper world
during the feasts to the dead, when they received the spiritual
essence of the food and clothing offered to their namesakes[20] by
relatives. According to the generosity or stinginess of the feast
givers there was a feast or a famine in spirit land, and those who
were so unfortunate as to have no namesake, either through their own
carelessness[21] or the neglect of the community,[22] went hungry and
naked. This was the worst calamity that could befall an Eskimo, hence
the necessity of providing a namesake and of regularly feeding and
clothing the same, in the interest of the beloved dead.

  [19] The shapes of animals are thought by the Alaskan Eskimo to be
  like those of men, and in ancient times animals possessed the power of
  changing their forms at will. This was effected by pulling the muzzle
  up over the head to become people or of pulling it down again to
  regain their original form.

  [20] The first child born in the village after his death becomes the
  deceased's namesake. However, if born in camp, its mother gives it the
  name of the first natural object to catch her eye.

  [21] Childless people provide for this contingency by adoption.

  [22] One who has made himself odious to his fellow villagers is
  purposely neglected in the feasts to the dead.


The Annual Feast to the Dead is a temporary arrangement, whereby the
shades of those recently departed are sustained until the advent of
the Great Feast to the Dead. The essence of the offerings of food and
drink are supposed to satisfy the wants of the dead until they can be
properly honored in the Great Festival. In the latter event the
relative discharges all his social obligations to the dead, and the
ghost is furnished with such an abundance that it can never want in
the world below.

The makers of the feast (n['ä]skut) are the nearest relatives of those
who have died during the past year, together with those villagers who
have not yet given the greater festival. The day before the festival
the male mourners go to the village burial ground and plant a newly
made stake before the grave of their relative. The stake is surmounted
by a wooden model of a spear, if the deceased be a man; or a wooden
dish, if it be a woman. The totem mark of the deceased is carved upon
it. In the north simple models of kayak paddles suffice. The sticks
are a notification to the spirits in the land of the dead that the
time for the festival is at hand. Accordingly they journey to the
grave boxes, where they wait, ready to enter the kásgi at the song of
invocation. To light their way from the other world lamps are brought
into the kásgi and set before their accustomed places. When the
invitation song arises they leave their graves and take their places
in the fireplace (Kenéthluk), where they enjoy the songs and dances,
and receive the offerings of their relatives.

The Annual Feast is celebrated after the Bladder Feast during the
December moon. By the Yukon tribes it is repeated just before the
opening of spring. During the day of the festival a taboo is placed on
all work in the village, particularly that done with any sharp pointed
tool which might wound some wandering ghost and bring retribution on
the people.

At midday the whole village gathers in the kásgi, and the ceremony
begins. Soon the mourners enter bearing great bowls of food and drink
which they deposit in the doorway. Then the chorus leader arises and
begins the song of invitation accompanied by the relatives of the
dead. It is a long minor chant, a constant reiteration of a few well
worn phrases.

    "Tukomalra-[=a]-, tung lík-a,   tis-ká-a a-a-yung-a-a-yung-a, etc.
     Dead ones, next of kin,        come hither,

     Túntum komúga thetámtatuk,     móqkapik thetámtatuk moqsúlthka.
     Reindeer meat we bring you,    water we bring you for your thirst."

When the song is completed the mourners arise, and going to the food
in the doorway set it on the planks over the fireplace, after which
they take a ladleful from each dish pouring it through the cracks in
the floor, and the essence of this offering supplies the shades below
with food until the next festival. The remainder of the food is
distributed among those present. When the feast is over, the balance
of the day is given over to songs and dances. Then the spirits are
sent back to their homes by the simple expedient of stamping on the


After making offerings to his relative at the annual feast the chief
mourner begins saving up his skins, frozen meat, and other delicacies
prized by the Eskimo, until, in the course of years, he has
accumulated an enormous amount of food and clothing. Then he is
prepared to give the great feast in honor of his kinsman. Others in
the village, who are bereaved, have been doing the same thing. They
meet and agree on a certain time to celebrate the feast together
during the ensuing year. The time chosen is usually in January after
the local feasts are over, and visitors from neighboring tribes are
free to attend. There are no set intervals between these feasts as has
been generally supposed. They are celebrated at irregular intervals
according to the convenience of the givers.

At the minor festival preceding the Great Feast, the usual invitation
stakes planted before the dead are supplemented by others placed
before the graves of those in whose honor the festival is to be given.
On these is a painted model of the totemic animals of the deceased.
The feast giver sings an especial song of invitation, requesting the
dead kinsman to be present at the approaching feast.

On the first day of the Great Feast the villagers welcome the guests.
Early in the morning they begin to arrive. The messenger goes out on
the ice and leads them into the village, showing each where to tie his
team. During the first day the guests are fed in the kásgi. They have
the privilege of demanding any delicacy they wish. After this they are
quartered on various homes in the village. Salmon or meat must also
be provided for their dogs. This is no small item, and often taxes the
resources of a village to the utmost. I have known of a village so
poor after a period of prolonged hospitality that it was reduced to
starvation rations for the rest of the winter.

Immediately on tying up their dogs, the guests go to the kásgi. On
entering each one cries in set phraseology, "Ah-ka-ká- Píatin,
Pikeyútum." "Oh, ho! Look here! A trifling present." He throws his
present on a common pile in front of the headman, who distributes them
among the villagers. It is customary to make the presents appear as
large as possible. One fellow has a bolt of calico which he unwinds
through the entrance hole, making a great display. It may be thirty
yards long. Sometimes they accompany the gift with a short dance. It
is considered bad form for one coming from a distance[23] not to make
the usual present, as in this way he purchases the right to join in
the festival dances.

  [23] During the inter-tribal festivals, guests are given seats of
  honor next to the headman of the village according to the distance
  from which they have come. The back of the room (káan), the place of
  honor, is reserved for this purpose.

As soon as all are gathered in the kásgi, a feast is brought in for
the tired travelers. Kantags of sealmeat, the blackskin of the
bowhead, salmon berries swimming in oil, greens from the hillsides,
and pot after pot of tea take off the edge of hunger. After gorging
themselves, the guests seem incapable of further exertion, and the
remainder of the day is spent in visiting.


The feast givers or n['ä]skut assemble in the kásgi the second day,
and the ceremony proper begins. They range themselves around the
púgyarok or entrance, the chorus and guests occupying the back of the
room and the spectators packing themselves against the walls.

Each feast giver is garbed according to the sex of his dead relative,
not his own, so that some men wear women's clothes and vice versa.
Each bears in his right hand a wand about two feet long
(Kelézruk).[24] This is a small stick of wood surmounted with tufts of
down from ptarmigan (Okozregéwik). All are dressed to represent the
totem to which the deceased belongs. One wears a fillet and armlet of
wolfskin (Egóalik); others wear armlets of ermine (Táreak); still
others are crowned with feathers of the raven (Tulúa) or the hawk
(Tciakaúret).[25] After a short dance they withdraw and the day's
ceremony is finished.

  [24] The same arrangement characterizes the finger masks of the
  Inviting-In Dance. (Kiggilúnok), meaning wand, in southern dialect.

  [25] Southern dialect. Akkizhzhígik, Ptarmigan. Teibúviak, hawk;
  Tulukaúguk, meaning raven.

The following day the n['ä]skut assemble again, but they have doffed
their fine feathers, and are dressed in their oldest clothes. The
suits of the day before they carry in a grass sack. They wear
raincoats of sealgut tied about the waist with a belt of dogskin, and
enter the kásgi with eyes cast on the floor. Even in the dances they
keep their faces from the audience.

This attitude of humility is in accord with Eskimo ethics. They say
that if they adopt a boastful air and fail to give as many presents as
the other n['ä]skut they will be ashamed. So they safeguard themselves
in advance.


Advancing with downcast eyes, the n['ä]skut creep softly across the
kásgi and take their places before the funeral lamps. Then taking out
their festival garments, they slip them on. Immediately the drummers
start tapping lightly on their drums, and at a signal from their
leader the song of invitation begins. Each n['ä]skuk advances in turn,
invoking the presence of his dead in a sad minor strain.

    Toakóra ílyuga takína
    Dead brother, come hither


    Nuleága awúnga toakóra
    Sister mine, dead one,
    Takína, núleaga, takína,
    Come hither, sister, come hither.


    Akága awúnga takína
    Mother mine, come hither.
    Nanáktuk, takína,
    We wait for you, come hither.

To which the chorus answer:

    Ilyúga awúnga takína,
    Our brother, come hither,
    Takináka, ilyúga, takínaka,
    Return, dead brother, return.

The women advance in line, holding their wands in the right hand, and
singing in unison; then the men advance in their turn, then both
n['ä]skut and chorus sing together:

    Takinaka, awúnga, tungalika,
    Return to us, our dead kinsmen,
    Nanakátuk, kineáktuk tungal[í=]ka
    We wait your home coming, our dead kinsmen.

Suddenly the drummers cease and rap sharply on the in['g]lak with
their drumsticks. The dancers stop in the midst of their movements and
stamp on the floor, first with one foot then with the other, placing
their hands on their shoulders, bringing them down over their bodies
as though wiping off some unseen thing. Then they slap their thighs
and sit down. I am informed that this is to "wipe off" any uncleanness
(wahok) that might offend the shades of the dead.

Then the namesakes of the dead troop into the kásgi, and take their
places in the center of the room between the two lines. To each, the
n['ä]skuk hands a bowl of water and a kantag of frozen reindeer meat
cut into small pieces. The namesakes drop a small portion of the meat
on the floor. The essence is evidently thought to pass below to the
waiting inua. Then they finish the remainder. At the same time a large
amount of frozen meat and fish is brought in and distributed among the
guests. This is done at the end of each day.

The fourth day the chorus leader mounts the top of the kásgi and
begins again the invitation song. The people scatter to the burying
ground or to the ice along the shore according to the spot where they
have lain their dead. They dance among the grave boxes so that the
shades who have returned to them, when not in the kásgi, may see that
they are doing them honor.

During the dancing the children of the village gather in the kásgi,
carrying little kantags and sealskin sacks. The women on returning
bring great bags of frozen blueberries and reindeer fat, commonly
called "Eskimo Ice Cream," with which they fill the bowls of the
children, but the young rogues immediately slip their portions into
their sacks (póksrut) and hold out their dishes for more, crying in a
deafening chorus, "Wunga-T['=u]k" (Me too). This part of the festival
is thoroughly enjoyed by the Eskimo, who idolize their children.

At the conclusion of the day's feast many presents are given away by
the n['ä]skut, the husbands of the female feast givers distributing
them for the ladies, who assume a bashful air. During the distribution
the n['ä]skut maintain their deprecatory attitude and pass disparaging
remarks on their gifts. Sometimes the presents are attached to a long
line of óklinok (seal thong) which the n['ä]skut haul down through the
smokehole, making the line appear as long as possible. At the same
time they sing in a mournful key bewailing their relative:

    Ah-ka- ilyúga toakóra, tákin,
    Oh! oh! dead brother, return,
    Utiktutátuk, ilyúga awúnga,
    Return to us, our brother,
    Illearúqtutuk, ilyúga,
    We miss you, dear brother,
    Pikeyútum, kokítutuk,
    A trifling present we bring you.


The following day occurs the clothing of the namesakes. This is
symbolical of clothing the dead, who ascend into the bodies of their
namesakes during the ceremony and take on the spiritual counterpart of
the clothing.

After a grand distribution of presents by the n['ä]skut, bags of fine
clothing are lowered to the feast givers and the namesakes take the
center of the floor, in front of their relatives, the feast givers.
Then each n['ä]skuk calls out to the particular namesake of his dead
kinsman: "[=I]takín, illorahug-náka," "Come hither, my beloved," and
proceeds to remove the clothing of the namesake and put on an entirely
new suit of mukluks, trousers, and parka, made of the finest furs.
Then the feast giver gathers up the discarded clothing, and stamps
vigorously on the floor, bidding the ghost begone to its resting
place. It goes, well satisfied, and the dancers disperse until another
great festival. Until the feast is concluded no one can leave the


The Inviting-In Festival (Aithúkaguk) is a great inter-tribal feast,
second in importance to the Great Feast to the Dead. It is a
celebration on invitation from one tribe to her neighbors when
sufficient provisions have been collected. It takes place late in the
season, after the other festivals are over. Neighboring tribes act as
hosts in rotation, each striving to outdo the other in the quality and
quantity of entertainment offered. During this festival the dramatic
pantomime dances for which the Alaskan Eskimo are justly famous, are
performed by especially trained actors. For several days the dances
continue, each side paying the forfeit as they lose in the dancing
contests. In this respect the representations are somewhat similar to
the nith contests of the Greenlanders. As I have noticed the dances at
length elsewhere,[26] I shall only give a brief survey here,
sufficient to show their place in the Eskimo festival dances.

  [26] Canadian Geological Survey. Memoir 45. The "Inviting-In" Feast
  of the Alaskan Eskimo.

The main dances of the Inviting-In Festival are totemic in character,
performed by trained actors to appease the totems of the hunters, and
insure success for the coming season. These are danced in pantomime
and depict the life of arctic animals, the walrus, raven, bear,
ptarmigan, and others. Then there are group dances which illustrate
hunting scenes, like the Reindeer and Wolf Pack dance already
described, also dances of a purely comic character, designed for the
entertainment of the guests. During the latter performances the side
which laughs has to pay a forfeit.

Elaborate masks are worn in all of the dances. The full paraphernalia,
masks, handmasks, fillets, and armlets, are worn by the chief actors.
They are supported by richly garbed assistants. An old shaman acts as
master of ceremonies. There is an interchange of presents between the
tribes during the intervals but not between individuals, as in the
Asking Festival. At the close of the festival the masks are burned.


    A--Outer Vestibule. (L[=a]´tor[)a]k.)
    B--Summer Entrance. (Am[=e]k´.)
    C--Front Platform. (['=O]aklim.) Seat of Orphans and Worthless.
    D--Plank Floor. (N[=a]´t[=u]k.)
    E--Rear Platform. (K[=a]´an.) Seat of Honored Guests.
    F--Smoke Hole. ([.R]a´l[)o]k.) Entrance for Gift-lines.
    G--Entrance Hole. (Pug´y[)a]r[)a]k.)
    H--Fireplace. (K[=e]ne´thluk.) Seat of Spirit-Guests.
    I--Underground Tunnel. (Ag´v[=e]ak.)
    J--Side Platforms. (K['=a]aklim.) Seats for Spectators.
    K--Chorus of Drummers.
    L--Feast Givers. (Nä´skut.)
    M--Namesakes of Dead.

                Arrangement of Kásgi during the Great Feast to the Dead.
                THE KÁSGI OR DANCE HOUSE.]


    A--First Movement. The Chief's Son, Okvaíok is dancing.

    B--Second Movement.

                MEN'S DANCE]


    C--Third Movement.

    D--Fourth Movement.

                MEN'S DANCE]


    Children's Dance.

    The Chorus. Leader in Center Beating Time With an Ermine Stick.

                CHILDREN'S DANCE
                THE CHORUS]


    Women's Dance.

                WOMEN'S DANCE]

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Dance Festivals of the Alaskan Eskimo" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.