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Walrus Ivory Hunter by Numinkau Kamuek of Provideniya, Siberia, Russia


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by the late Numinkau Kamuek of Provideniya, Chukotka Peninsula, Siberia Russia, North Bering Sea

Authentic Native Eskimo handicraft. It was carved and significantly transformed from marine mammal walrus ivory into Authentic Native Eskimo handicraft and signed by  Native Eskimo artist Numinkau Kamuek.

This very unusual piece was carved from the tusk of a walrus by the late Numinkau Kamuek of Provideniya, Chukotka Peninsula, Siberia Russia, North Bering Sea,
 a small Siberian Yup'ik Eskimo village of about 700 people on the Russian side of the Bering Straits. Their Siberian Yup'ik language is spoken on both the U.S. and Russian side of the straits. It's about 100 miles west from Nome Alaska.

Numinkau Kamuek lived in Gambell Alaska in the winter and spring of 2002 visiting family and friends. Gambell is a small village of about 700 people on St. Lawrence Island in the North Bering Sea. Numinkau is a Siberian Yup'ik Eskimo from the Siberian side of the Bering Straits, near the village of Provideniya. He returned to the Siberian side in the late spring and was killed in an altercation with a Russian border guard. He carved for many years and is a master carver. He carved from whale and walrus bone, both recent and fossil, ivory tusks and teeth from walrus and trims them with baleen from whales. Each piece is unique and one of a kind.

Much walrus ivory, walrus bone and whalebone are dug up or found washed up on beaches after storms. Carving is a rich tradition for the Native Alaskan people on St. Lawrence Island, it helps sustain their proud ancient culture and way of life in a very remote and harsh area.

This stunning piece is called the Ice Hunter or "Mughute" in the Siberian Yup'ik language. It's a great example of Siberian Yupik Native art and was carved from the tusk of a walrus and mounted on a scapula bone from a walrus. The center of the tusk is a mottled light gold/tan color, the outer portions are a cream to pure white colored ivory, hence the color variations. The mottled center can be seen on the right side of the hunter and seal, the body is cream colored. There are several faint black lines or temperature cracks on the elbow of the hunter and. Temperature cracks are caused when the walrus was hauled out and sunning on a beach, warming their bodies and tusks, then plunging back into the cold arctic sea. There tusks develop surface cracks and minerals in the sea water stain them black, adding to the richness and authenticity of the carving. The spear shaft is baleen, a fibrous material found in the mouth of Bowhead Whales, they strain food through it. The spear point is ivory.

The story behind the piece is about the traditional way of hunting walrus prior to contact with western civilization. The hunters would wait till the walrus surfaced for air. 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 in their culture and continues today. The foundation of the Siberian Yup’ik culture and way of life is hunting, hunting seals, walrus and  bowhead whales. When I first traveled to St. Lawrence Island I asked him if they fish, and in no uncertain terms I was sternly told “we are hunters and not fisherman, we hunt whale, walrus, and seals!”  This scene depicts one of many ways of hunting walrus. Standing on the ice waiting for a walrus to surface in his breathing hole. A real test of stamina and patience. Eskimo myths are full of stories of the hunt.

In the Siberian Yup'ik culture the walrus was a source of food, tools and material for artwork and trading. The female hides were stretched over driftwood to make their boats called "umiaks". Walrus were generally hunted from "umiaks". Walrus will defend themselves and the herd will come to rescue a hunted walrus. Individual walrus were driven ashore with the aid of a baleen clapper, or flat piece of baleen they would slap the ocean surface with, which sounded like an Orca (Killer Whale), the enemy of the walrus. The walrus would seek land, where the hunters waited.  Walrus would also be taken when they would surface in their breathing holes. The walrus is considered a bringer of good luck and happiness.

Care of ivory includes avoiding hot dry locations, such as direct sun in a window or a heat register. Remember, our pet dogs, cats and birds also like and ivory carvings!

Numinkau Kamuek signed his name on the bottom and there is also some Russian writing. The ivory hunters stand 6 1/4 inches high, about 2 inches wide and 1 1/2 inches thick; the base is 10 inches long and 1/4  to 1/2 inches thick. The hunters detach from the base on a baleen peg and ivory peg (for shipping safety) and it would be best to glue them to the base on their pegs.

This is a stunning piece and would make a great addition to a collection or a nice very unique gift for someone with an eye for something really unusual from one of the most remote areas of the U.S.

It's a great piece, Buy it now!