Three Yup'ik Dolls, a man with wooden face, a woman with leather face, a man with leather face.
Three Yup'ik Dolls, a man with wooden face, a woman with leather face, a man with leather face.

September 18, 2015: Yup'ik Dolls

Artifact of the Week: Alaskan Dolls

Donated by Janet Carey, September 2015

This week, the museum received part of a donation from Janet Carey, who lived in Alaska as a child while her father, Edwin F. Carey, was stationed at Elmendorf Air Force Base in the years just prior to Alaskan statehood. Edwin flew supplies to villages in Alaska and acquired a number of artifacts through trade and purchase during his travels.

Janet writes about these dolls, “I don’t know where my Dad got them – I got the male (seal fur) and female (rabbit fur) as a gift in the mid 1950’s. I actually played with them when we lived at Elmendorf Air Force Base. The older one was from my Dad’s sister. I believe Dad gave it to her in the 1940’s when he was stationed in the Aleutian Islands.”

Inuguat, meaning “pretend people,” are a type of doll made by the Yup’ik, and one of many forms of anthropomorphic miniatures important in Alaskan cultures. The human form in miniature has a wide range of uses and symbolism in Alaskan cultures, ranging from play to ceremony. This type of play doll could be made from wood, ivory, bone, leather, or fur. Here, we see Janet’s two dolls with faces of leather and her aunt’s doll with a face of wood.

Inuguat were usually part of a family of five comprised of a father, a mother, a son, a daughter, and a baby. Girls would give names their inuguat, which often had changes of clothes along with other miniature possessions. Once a girl reached puberty, it was common for her to pass the inuguat on to a younger child. There was a strong tradition of not taking the dolls outside during the winter, for it was believed to prolong the cold season.

Janet has donated this collection on behalf of her family in memory of her father. Much thanks for the beautiful display of Alaskan culture, full of warm memories of childhood to ward off the cold winter months.

Primary Category