one of the most popular topics within Inuit art. These creatures
are often the subject of statues and symbolize the Inuit’s link
with both the natural and the spiritual world. Their connection
to Inuit spirituality stems from the Inuit belief that the universe
is inhabited by human beings, dead beings known as ‘inuviniit’
and spirits, which are known as ‘tuurngait’. The Inuit believe
that each human being has a spiritual essence ‘tarniq’ and a breath
of life ‘arnirniq’, which are passed on to new human or animal
bodies when somebody dies. In times gone by, shamans served as
intermediaries between the human world, the world of dead beings
and the spirit world. They received power and strength from tuurngaits
in order to do this. The tuurngaits that helped the shamans often
took the form of polar bears.
Bears in Inuit
carvings are frequently shown to be dancing. This is also related
to the ancient spirituality of the Inuit shamans. When shamans
needed to communicate with dead people, invisible entities or
human beings in far away places, they danced whilst playing drums
in order to summon the tuurngaits to assist them. When a tuurngait
arrived, the visible appearance of the shaman would alter and
his tarniq and arnirniq would merge together with those of the
tuurngait, resulting in the shaman either acting like a bear or
adopting the form of a bear whilst continuing to play the drums
The dancing bear requires more skill to carve than its non-dancing
equivalent, as the entire stone carving is usually balanced on
one foot of the bear, making these sculptures difficult to produce.
Collectors are usually willing to pay more for this type of bear,
with the Chronicle Herald reporting them selling at
auction for as much as twenty thousand dollars. Not all dancing
bears cost as much as this though. There are bears that are relatively
cheap considering the level of craftsmanship that goes into their
creation. Dancing bears are especially popular around Christmas
time, as the fact that they are dancing adds a happy, carefree
element to the statues that makes them the perfect festive ornaments.
It is not uncommon for those looking for novel decorations for
their homes to search for Christmas
deals on these items in order to ensure that they have something
to brighten up their households during December.
Other Bear Legends
spirit guides wasn’t the only skill that bears possessed back
in times gone by. According to Inuit legend, in the age where
man and beast enjoyed a closer co-existence, bears were able to
transform into people and even utilise weapons, though they were
still recognisable as bears because they always appeared much
sturdier than regular humans. Many Inuit believed that when bears
entered their dens in winter time, they removed their skin and
adopted a human-like form. Perhaps this would explain the dwindling
numbers of polar bears that are about today. Maybe some of
them have simply shed their skins and integrated themselves into
the human world.
There were also tales of bears transforming themselves into birds and blocks of ice in order to avoid being killed by hunters. Other legends told of bear spirits tormenting those who refused to share their food and delivering captured prey to those who were starving due to being outcast by their peers, displaying yet again the spiritual significance of these creatures. The bear was considered to be a magical animal, possessing a myriad of supernatural powers.
Bond Between Man and Bear
Although the Inuit hunted polar bears and polar bears occasionally killed Inuit, the Inuit still had a great respect for these creatures. There were a lot of similarities between the Inuit way of life and that of the polar bear. The process of selecting a site, constructing a den and then living in it parallels the building of an igloo and both polar bears and the Inuit hunted in order to survive. Perhaps the fact that bear and Inuit man were so alike can explain why the Inuit are so adept at tapping into the essence of these creatures in order to create ornate sculptures depicting their likeness. It is a tradition that spans far into the past and will no doubt continue well into the future.