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Alaska Yupik Eskimo Fishing Doll Handmade by Beulah Oittilliah


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by Beulah Oittilliah of St. Lawrence Island, North Bering Sea

This beautiful Alaskan Eskimo Yup'ik fishing doll was hand made by Beulah Oittilliah of Gambell, Alaska, a small Yup'ik Eskimo village of about 700 people on St. Lawrence Island, just south of the Bering Straits. It's about 140 miles off shore from Nome Alaska, and about 40 miles from Russia. Their native Siberian Yup'ik language is spoken on both sides of the straits. On a clear day (which is rare) you can see the mountains of Siberia.

Beulah has crafted hand made Eskimo dolls for many years and is a master Yup'ik doll maker, an old tradition on the island. Her work is featured in a book titled "Ivory Carvers of the Bering Sea" by Dale Kessler. Each doll is unique and one of a kind. The dolls have maintained their uniqueness because of the isolated nature of the island. This beautiful doll is made from a wide variety of native materials. The face, hands, knife blade, fish and ice pick and scoop are ivory from the tusk of a walrus. The knife comes out of the Seal Skin sheath. The eyes are inlaid baleen from the mouth of bowhead whales, they strain food through it. The line is sinew from seal gut. The headdress is sea otter fur. The Eskimo traditional raincoat is made from seal gut trimmed with Spotted Fur Seal. The trousers and mukluks are gray/silver Spotted Fur Seal. The doll is mounted on an Oozeva. An Oozeva is a backbone disk from a bowhead whale, equivalent to our backbone disk. Traditionally these were carved into dishes, seal oil lamps and spirit masks. You can either stand the ice tools in holes or lay them down.

Much of the ivory and whalebone is found washed up on beaches after storms. Doll making and carving are a rich tradition on St. Lawrence Island; it helps sustain their proud ancient culture and way of life in a very remote and harsh area.

Eskimo WomanFishing through the ice or "Iqaniigh" - This beautiful doll depicts an Eskimo Woman fishing through the ice or "Iqaniigh" in the Siberian Yup'ik language. She's dressed in the traditional Spring raincoat. Note her head is protected from the extreme cold by thick protruding fur. The story behind the doll is about the abundance of the land and sea to provide for food, clothing and shelter. The Siberian Yup'ik people have lived in the Bering Straits for thousands of years. This harsh Arctic region is an extremely challenging area to live in, yet there is an abundance to be had from the land and sea. Hunting and gathering were the basis of survival and their culture and continues today. The times of the year offer a variety of hunting and fishing. Polar bears in the winter, whales and walrus in the spring and fall seals in the summer and fall, and fishing all year around.

The doll stands 10 inches high, about 4 inches wide, and about 4 inches front to back. Beulah's traditional way of signing is on the side of the base, a black marker. This unique handcrafted doll is a real beauty. It would be a wonderful addition to a collection and the subject of much conversation; it would truly make a surprise gift for someone special, something really out of the ordinary!
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