ESKIMO DRAG HANDLE WITH HUMAN FACE
E 347) Eskimo toggle or drag handle representing a shamanic transformation from human to animal – a seal with a human head. The face is shown wearing two labrets to either side of the large smiling mouth and the eyes are inlayed with bright, blue glass, Russian trade beads. The lateral flippers lay gently held to the belly and the two hind flippers are joined around the minute tail. The rear section of the body is engraved with four vertical bands to either side. The large, rounded body is pierced vertically through the center for the passage of the pull rope.
Probably Sledge Island (Ayak Island), West Coast Alaska, USA. Thulé culture, circa 18/19th century. Walrus tusk with a fine glossy patina of age and use (old, repaired break at neck) and blue glass trade beads from Siberia. 9,2 cm.
Provenance Ex coll. : Chloé de Monbrisson, Paris/Bruxelles.
Sledge Island also known as Ayak Island, was home to the Ayakmiut people. It was « discovered » by Captain James Cook in 1778 who, when finding an abandoned sled gave it the name. The Ayakmiut people numbering at the time some fifty souls were forced to leave the island during the 1899 gold rush and after the Spanish influenza of 1918 never returned. In a remarkable turn of events a local teacher and his class from the Inupiaq village Sinuk in 1912 sailed across to the island for an end-of-term picnic. One of the students, Johnnie Tumichuk, noticed a pole wedged between rocks. Shifting some, he recognized it as a boat crook for repelling ice and retrieving harpoon lines. Moving the rocks, the class discovered a hidden cave with filled with the only extant pre-contact whaling-captain outfit, an heirloom owned by a shaman who had mysteriously vanished leaving his equipment. They found, a dozen chert- as well as obsidian-tipped lances; scrapers; spare slate blades sheathed in a box shaped like a polar bear head; bentwood buckets with walrus-ivory handles and whale figurines; a wood chest holding bear claws, an eagle’s foot, and chipped-stone amulets. A carved-bone bowhead, and enveloped whetstones. A harpoon rest for a skin-boat decorated with two chains carved from a single unbroken tusk each and ending in flukes. The teacher acquired the cache, which today is in the collections of the University of Pennsylvania Museum.