The Inuit people been crafting tools, rugs, clothing, and many other objects of art for thousands of years. They often use animals within their art as a way of symbolizing various qualities that each animal represents. One of the most commonly used animal in Inuit artwork is the bear. This large, powerful animal has long been a representation of strength and endurance for the Inuit people, and it certainly reflects in the artwork that they create.
Bears in Motion
Since the bear is such a powerful creature, many Inuit sculptures demonstrate the animal posed as if in a dancing motion. The bear often represents the shaman, a powerful leader of tribes. Since the shaman regularly leads his followers in ceremonies and dances, it makes sense that the bear, who is a representation of leadership and strength, would also be posed as if it is dancing. Tribal leaders often portrayed themselves as a bear, which can also explain the link between the artwork of dancing bears and how the Inuit people viewed them.
Human and Bear Similarities
In the colder regions, most bears hunt, build a den, and then rest in a warm place until spring. The Inuit people mirrored very similar traits as hunter-gatherers that looked to construct a safe, warm place for themselves and their families during the frigid winters. The Inuits had a great respect for bears even though they were often hunted and killed by them for food and skins. They understood and revered bears as animals that had very similar needs and behaviors to their own. This can also explain the high number of bears found in Inuit paintings, totems, and other objects of art.
Stories and Legends
Many Inuits enjoyed telling legends to their tribes. Some popular legends stated that bears were mystical creatures that could transform into other animals like birds in order to prevent themselves from being captured or killed by hunters. Another popular story was often told about how the bears went into their warm dens and shed their heavy fur as they took on the same traits and shape as that of a human. This can explain the link between Inuit art containing bears and the constant respect and reverence that the Inuit people had for them. While bears were often a main source of food and fur, the Inuit admired these animals and it is easily seen in the beautiful pieces of art that they created as a symbol of reverence.
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