"Tupilak" figures, Inuit culture, Greenland
"According to an article by Ole G. Jensen in Greenlandair's in-flight Magazine "Suluk", the word  Tupilaq or Tupilak describes a wide variety of small
figures which represent either tupilaqs or other mythical or spiritual creatures.

Originally the tupilaq was a creature composed of different materials such as animals parts, human hair,  or even parts taken from a child's corpse.
Those who knew about witchcraft, gathered these  bits and pieces in a secret, isolated place, tied them together, chanted magic spells over  them and
allowed them to suck the energy from their own sexual organs.

Then the tupilaq was ready to be put into the sea and sent off to kill an enemy. This way of getting rid of  one' s enemies, however, was not entirely
without risk because if the targeted victim had greater  powers of wizardry than the initiator, his power could reverse the tupilaq' s strength and potency
like a boomerang. In other words, sending a tupilaq to harm an enemy was a dangerous game.

Nobody ever found a real tupilaq. They have vanished, as they were made of perishable materials and, besides, they were not meant to be seen by
others anyway. When the first Europeans came to  East Greenland and heard about tupilaqs, they were curious and wanted to know more about them.
That's when people started carving tupilaqs to show them what they looked like.

The oldest known tupilaqs were made of wood and skin, and they resemble the authentic ancient figures. Today these carvings are mostly associated
with East Greenland, as the old days are more alive there, and its culture has always maintained a rich carving tradition.

From the early thirties until the late seventies the majority of tupilaqs were carved from sperm whale ivory. Those were the figures that most of us are
familiar with and associate with a tupilaq.  As a curiosity of the late sixties, some tupilaqs were carved from buffalo horn, which was imported from Africa
by the old Greenland Trade Department KGH.

When the Endangered Species Act restricted the use of sperm whale ivory, other material such as narwhal- or walrus tusks, the making of these
figures started to be done with antlers, particularly caribou antler.

Today' s tupilaqs are harmless. The only danger you can face, is to start buying one as a souvenir and end up becoming a serious collector over time."

ArticArtSales.com which has a nice selection of contemporary Tupilak figures on their website
Tupilak figure (contemporary) by Soren  Pipps.
3.8 inches tall (9.5cm)
A beautiful and delicate Tupilak from one of the best carvers in Greenland.
This figure is made from reindeer antler with smooth high gloss finish and deep color of white and cream.
Acquired from Johann Brandsson, Kulusuk, Greenland
"The history of the tupilak goes back 5,000 years. The tupilak proper was a magically created troll animal, which the Greenlanders manufactured out
of the bones of children or various animals. The tupliak was made at a lonely well-concealed spot, the individual bones being put in place by the thumb
and little finger only. If other fingers were used, the attempt would be a failure.

Earth or seaweed was used for the musculature. The whole thing was wrapped in a piece of old skin and life was given to it by the singing of a magic
song. The creator had no need to be a shaman, as tupilak magic came more under witchcraft and consequently anyone skilled in the latter could
make a tupilak provided he adhered to the proper procedure.

The purpose of the tupilak was to be rid of an enemy, and the tupilak attacked in the form of the animal it represented. If it was a seal, it would drag
down the hunter and drown him. As a polar bear, it would eat the enemy.

The tupilak was a magical impliment devoid of independent will. It was, thus, compelled to obey a person posessing insight into the supernatural world.
Were the tupilak given orders by two different people, it would obey the one with the greater magical ability. Should the victim prove to be the more
adept at the magic art and had reason to suspect what was taking place, he would return the tupilak in order that it would hunt its creator instead.
When the Greenland explorer, Gustav Holm, reached Angmagssalik in 1884, he asked what a tupilak looked like. The people of Angmagssalik found it
difficult to draw it on the spot, and therefore carved one in wood. This was the beginning of tupilak production which gradually spread all over
Greenland. Only in rare instances will a Greenlander use his tupilak to bring misfortune or disaster to his neighbor.

Today the artist is under the spell of goodness, of laughter, humor and kindness and not under the demonic control of the diabolic shamans. He
creates what he has envisioned in his dreams, from what others have told him and from his own experiences with his fellow men. They still assume
"unnatural" forms as did the original tupilaks.

There is no definite or single theme behind the tupilak. Some are funny, some are droll, some sad and tragic, some show age old superstition. Others
catch a wierd monster of the imagination. They appear as fettishes, totemic figures, and as fertility designs in various seemingly pornographic stances.
However, this was not intended by the shaman or the artist."

Native art by Lorentz Josefsen
Rand African Art
home page
Tupilak figures that were in the exhibition:
"Native Arts of the World...At Home in Colorado - The Douglas Society Collects"
The figures below are made of ivory
Private collection
Tupilak figure (contemporary) by Soren  Pipps.
4 inches tall
A beautiful and delicate Tupilak from one of the best carvers in Greenland.
This figure is made from reindeer antler with smooth high gloss finish and deep color of white and cream and a bit of pink.
Acquired from Johann Brandsson, Kulusuk, Greenland