Unknown maker, Tlingit
Collected by George T. Emmons in 1894
American Museum of Natural History E/2547

The throwing stick was once used by Aleutian and Yup’ik hunters in the Arctic as an implement for increasing the thrust of a short spear. At some point in the long history of hostility with their northern neighbors, the Tlingit adopted the form but embellished it with culturally specific imagery while adapting its use as a shamanic implement for spiritual warfare. This throwing stick depicts a number of figures indicating such a function: a shaman—or “doctor” as identified by its collector, George T. Emmons—charged with the task of returning a sick person’s stolen soul; three land otters, a common shamanic motif associated with spiritual cleansing; and a wolf, mostly likely its owner’s clan crest. Shamanic practice was shrouded in secrecy, which may help explain the general lack of recorded object interpretations, and most Tlingit laymen avoided shamans’ graves for fear of a spirit intrusion causing illness or death. Emmons collected many objects from shamanic gravesites just as the practice was being eradicated under pressure from missionaries.

Tags for Interactive Tag Cloud: diffusion, hybridity, repurposing