Tupilak means ‘the ancestor’s spirit’ – As part of Inuit mythology, tupilaks were special and meaningful for Greenlandic tribes.
Nowadays, when travelers glimpse Greenlandic souvenirs for the first time, tupilaks are sort of a piece of art they can bring home, but not so often they know the meaning or the origin of tupilaks. Before turning into souvenirs, these unique carved figures possessed magical powers to annihilate enemies.
All these small or big tupilaks can be collectable, with totemic figures, happy or scary faces, erotic and misterious creatures related to fertility, sex, danger or evil, evoking superstition.
Not everybody was able to create tupilaks, first of all, the inuit creator had to be a warlock, or a shaman, who based on his experience and knowledge about witchcraft, could create a powerful monster made of animal bones, skin, hair, antlers, sinew, ribs, feathers, tusks, teeth, etc. Some people say, these magicians were also using human remains, taken from dead child’s bodies.
This carved figures had a very important mission: to protect the shaman against the enemy. Once they finished the tupilak, the owner and creator was gathering all the pieces, tying them as a pack and sending it into the sea, not before chanting magic spells over the tupilak, as part of the ritual, in order to find a very particular enemy and kill him using its power.
Sometimes they were looking for revenge, and sometimes they were just trying to protect themselves and their tribes. They had to be extremely clever choosing the best stuff for their tupilak, hoping the enemy was not yet sending his tupilak against him. There was always the possibility to fight versus a stronger tupilak, and suddenly get killed by the enemy.
Currently, some tupilaks you can find as souvenirs are mostly carved from wood, sperm whale ivory teeth, narwhal or walrus tusk, or caribou antlers. If you happen to visit Ilulissat, there is a nice workshop, where you can visit the artist carving bones or antlers. As a present for your family and friends, and also for yourself, buy a tupilak key chain, a ring, a display, or a pendant! Just in case, it would be nice to be protected by an ancestor’s soul!
Here is a nice video I’ve found. Filmed and Edited by Bastien Labat for LabatVideo: