When the first Europeans arrived, they quickly learned about the tupilak’s abilities. They were curious to see what this little chap was all about and would ask the locals to show them one of these monsters. Since it was naturally far too dangerous to produce real tupilaks—after all, they might be used by a stronger opponent for evil purposes—and since there was no tradition for drawing, the solution was to carve a tupilak-like figure out of bone or wood.
These small monstrous creatures became quite a hit among visitors; demand grew and soon an actual industry rose up around the production of tupilak figures. In fact, one might say that the tupilak is the father of the crafts in Greenland.
Soon, the carvings spread throughout the country and assumed many other forms than the original, more grotesque figures. They came to depict people going about their daily lives, prey, tools and much more, and the range of materials widened with the years—today, the crafts span anything from natural materials across synthetics to both silver and gold.
Jewellery, in its many representations, is particularly popular. Necklaces, bracelets, hair clips and earrings, many local. In this manner, the tupilak has become part of our own everyday culture.
The descendants of the original tupilaks are pretty harmless. The only risk is that you might end up falling head over heels in love with these objects—dare I say ‘spellbound’—once you get up close to them. But that is probably something you can learn to live with.
Article by Ole G. Jensen