Auluturta: The Story Of The 2019 Cama-i Spirit Mask

Apr 1, 2019

Sivaluaq Jerry "Bucket" Lieb tells a customer the story behind a design on one of his pieces at the Cama-i Dance Festival at Bethel Regional High School on March 30, 2019.
Credit Rashah McChesney / KTOO

This year’s Cama-i theme was “Together We Dance As One.” The unifying message inspired artist Sivaluaq Jerry "Bucket" Lieb to design the festival’s spirit mask around the story of how people gave up fighting to dance and sing. Lieb told KYUK the story behind the image.

Toksook Bay singer and drummer Byron Nicolai performs on the Cama-i stage beneath the image of Auluturta, designed by Sivaluaq Jerry "Bucket" Lieb, at Bethel Regional High School on March 29, 2019.
Credit Rashah McChesney / KTOO

“It was during a time of war that Auluturta was here," Lieb explained. "And although we ain’t warring and killing each other, in a way we are. When we don’t help each other, it’s like warring and hurting each other.”

Lieb is a third-generation storyteller. He grew up neighbors with Bethel storyteller John Active, and first heard the story of Auluturta from John’s renowned storytelling mother, Maggie Lind.

“She shared the story of Auluturta to remind me to pray,” he remembered.

Lieb says that old stories like Auluturta’s can be hard to believe.

“But you have to remember that these were from long ago, when the earth’s crust was thin," he described. "For when the earth’s crust is thin, it is easier for those who are gifted to travel in spirit to the spirit world, and those that were gifted would heal by touch. And when we lose connection to the man upstairs and what he’s given us, we lose that ability.”

The story of Auluturta starts during a time of warring over food. Auluturta was a great provider, but the animals were hiding and not giving themselves. The people were fighting and killing each other instead of making prayer.

“And so Auluturta knew we needed to drum, sing, and dance again," Lieb said. "That came to him in a dream.”

Auluturta was not a drummer. But one day a spirit man, who was his namesake, visited him and carried him through the earth’s thin crust.

“In the spirit world, they would teach him the old songs and dances, the prayers, the ones that were lost from long ago, no longer sung," Lieb said. "He would learn them, and he would travel back to earth, and he would share the stories and songs that he learned.”

Auluturta taught his village the songs, but they didn’t have a drum. Then one day, a young man was walking through the wilderness and heard the village singing, the sound rising from the ground.

“And so he followed that sound, and he found the qasgiq, and he went inside," Lieb said. "And he saw Auluturta. And he said, ‘I am here to give you this drum. My father told me of you and taught me the prayer songs since I was a young boy. He said one day you’ll be walking in the wilderness and you’ll hear singing coming from the ground. When you find where the singing is coming from, gift the singer this drum and teach him how to drum, sing, and dance again, so they could once again pray and give their gift to the Creator, thanking the animals for giving themselves up.'”

Auluturta called the other villages together in a great gathering near what is now Bethel. Everyone who had been warring came.

“So the people from upriver, the Athabascans, the Yup’iks, Inupiaqs, they came downriver with their moose and their caribou. The Yup’iks and Cup’iks from the coast, they come upriver with their seal and walrus and whale," Lieb described. "And of course, we had the birds, the fish, and the berries. We welcomed them, and we shared all the different foods, and we feasted. Then we drummed, sing and dance, sharing the stories, getting out our aggression by teasing and dancing, making people smile.”

The spirit mask Lieb designed tells this story. The four dots on the chin represent the tribes from all four corners coming together. The four dots rising from his head represent the leaders of those tribes. The holes in the hands show that Auluturta was a healer, holding gateways to the spirit world. The eye of awareness sits on his forehead. The five feathers around the head are to carry prayers up to the Creator and represent the various types of creation, so that when a prayer is said with the mask, all creation is included. The two eyes carved into the mask are portholes, looking out into the spirit world.

Lieb sees this year’s Cama-i as another gathering, where people from all over come together from all four corners to dance, to feast, to tease, to sing, for the good of all living things.