Vintage Tupilak with Hands Behind Back, c. 1960 Greenlandic Inuit bone 4” high x 1.5” wide x 2.5” deep
Provenance: This was one in a large collection of Tupilaks collected by an Air Force Officer at the now-abandoned settlement of Pituffik, Greenland in the 1960's.
In Greenlandic the word ‘Tupilak’ means an ancestor’s soul or spirit that is mysterious or sinister. Today, however, the majority of people think of the well-known small figures carved in ivory, bone, or stone when the word ‘Tupilak’ is mentioned.
Revenge against enemies
A Tupilak spirit could be called upon to help against a foe by a shaman secretly creating a figure made from various bones or other parts of animals. The figure was then initiated by singing a spell over it, thus making a home for the spirit.
The Tupilak was often put out to sea so that it could find its enemy and enact revenge. However, this course of action was not without risk. If the Tupilak’s intended victim had greater shamanic powers than its creator, it could repel the attack, and instead send the Tupilak back to kill its originator.
Tupilaks as souvenirs
It is only in recent times that it has become a tradition to produce Tupilaks as works of art made from materials such as wood, bone, tooth and reindeer antler points. This began to occur in the previous century when Europeans began exploring East Greenland and became aware of these small figures.