Man-Woman Hollow Bead Earrings
EXHIBITION:Joan Tenenbaum: Moons, Mountains & Mystery
Carvings of a smiling man and a frowning woman are a recurring theme among the art of the Yup’ik Eskimo of Western Alaska. Bering Sea kayak hunters carried protective spirit images of smiling male and frowning female faces lashed inside their kayak cockpits in order to spiritually balance their craft.
The evidence is good that among all northern aboriginal hunting peoples, the hunter saw himself bound up in a sacred relationship with the animals he hunted. In the same way the hunter felt bound to the animals he hunted, he felt the contract incomplete and somehow even inappropriate if his wife was not part of it. In no hunting society could a man hunt successfully alone. He depended upon his wife to make and repair his clothing and prepare his food. Similarly, a woman could not exist without a man to make tools and bring home animals for food and clothing. Body and spirit, one felt incomplete without the other.
Smiling male and frowning female faces have another significance in Alaskan Eskimo iconography. Smiling faces were associated with land animals, and frowning faces with ocean animals. This dual nature of reality is everywhere represented in masks and symbolic images.
When a Bering Sea Eskimo embarked in his kayak to hunt, he was prepared for the task not only by a lifetime of training and equipment perfected over thousands of years, but also, and equally important, by having at hand the magical aids that protected him and his boat, and which summoned spirit helpers to assist in the hunt.
Beads on the Yup’ik style earrings and the earrings with two dangles reflect the distinct and complementary nature of handwork in Native American cultures. Men worked with stone, bone, horn, ivory and wood, while women worked with fur, skin and cloth, quills and beads.
The Harpoon Brooch depicts a traditional toggling harpoon.
The triangle with its tip pointing upward is an ancient symbol for the masculine, and symbolizes the feminine when its tip points downward.