William Tyson: The thing… when they danced like this, in the old days they had the masks. And those were made by the medicine man. They said this is the spirit of this one (an animal) and if I get this, I can do this or I can do it like this.
Sarah Elder: How do you mean?
William Tyson: Okay, if I make a mask of an eagle, if I make an eagle mask, the medicine man says, “you can become an eagle and fly around and do this or that.” Or, I can become a mink and do this and do that (using a mask of a mink spirit). If there’s a sickness of some kind in a person, I can become this animal and take the sickness away from him.
I don’t know whether that is true or not because I never experienced it. But people believed it was true.
Sarah Elder: Did you ever see those kind of masked dances?
William Tyson: Yeah, I did.
Sarah Elder: How did it feel to see them?
William Tyson: Very good, you should see the motions of the dancers…. some masks kind of weird and look scary, but when they dance with those masks, they’re good. I still remember them.
Sarah Elder: Tell me a little more about how everything looked with all the people and the masks.
William Tyson: Now it depends on what kind of a mask you have. It will be an image of a certain thing. It could be a half-man, or half… whatever. If it’s a seal, it will look like a seal, with the whiskers and ears and everything, that would be able to do something (be useful) – as far as the medicine man was concerned. Either bring something or take something.
A person can make a mask of a tree, but it would have to have a face. Because the spirit of the tree has a face. I don’t know what the face would look like, but the spirit of the tree is what makes the tree talk and sing and those things.
Looking at pictures of Yup’ik dance masks.
William Tyson: I can’t explain what that mask is. Maybe somebody else can. But the second one, half a face… If I remember right, it was a man who was attacked by the shaman – the medicine man. And this is when the shaman attacks him, he would take half his face and use it. And the other would not know on which side his own human body would be. He, the shaman, is hiding behind that half a face, because half of it is hidden. They couldn’t know exactly where the shaman was.