UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

The Tupilaq : image and label : understanding East Greenland carvings Romalis, Sheila Ruth


This thesis attempts to understand the nature of the Greenlandic image "Tupilaq" in traditional Kalaadlit culture and in its modern context. The same term is applied today in Greenland to a variety of images carved as small figures for the tourist or art markets. This thesis examines the ways in which the images and the application of the term have changed. This study describes the traditional context of the TUPILAQ image and establishes a time frame for the inception of carvings labelled "Tupilaq". Data used to support this investigation were drawn from ethnographic records, historical accounts, and museum exhibit reports. It becomes clear that the Tupilaq figure exists as a distinct and new category of material culture which stands apart from its mythic image. An analysis of these carvings and interviews with their carvers show that the content of Tupilaq figures is not what their label implies. The analysis is carried a step further, examining the development of this carving production, the market for these carvings as cultural artifacts, and the concerns of their producers and consumers. This investigation demonstrates that the ways in which East Greenlanders modified and continue to modify this carving production relates directly to their necessity to establish their group's identity in a changing cultural environment. This thesis shows that the label -Tupilaq- is the symbolic link between traditional and contemporary society. In conclusion, interpretation of material culture is discussed as it applies to Tupilaq figures; we need to go beyond the label for a more adequate interpretation of the content and the occurrence of cultural images as material objects.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.