I spent all day Saturday in my Yupik culture class. We studied masks and dance. Both play a large role in Yupik storytelling and spiritual life. Our Instructor Nita, is trying to provide us with some insight into these traditions before the Camai dance festival in March. She has done a great job introducing us to the culture. But there are many layers. I am reading several books that are very insightful. ( Yupik Words of Wisdom and Our Way of Making Prayer: Yup’ik Masks and the Stories they Tell) I wish I had read these before our last class on stories. When you first hear Yupik stories they seem a bit disjunct and edgy. Once you understand their philosophies and teaching styles you understand the lessons within.
Tom had a chance to hear these stories first hand. This is a harsh environment. The elders tell stories to pass on their survival skills. Survival and sustenance are a huge theme in everyday life here. Tom is going to Anchorage this month to present the biological description of Nelson Island in comparison to the traditional elder knowledge. He worked with a team of elders, scientist, and students to meld western science with traditional Yupik knowledge. Ann Fienup-Riordan is the social anthropologist who wrote the books I am reading. She is one of the scientist Tom worked with. Tom really enjoyed the experience.
I had to create my own mask and dance for class. Here’s my attempt at creativity. I used a Ptarmagin fan and wings that Tom shot. You can’t see the dance. I have no coordination.