Land Otter Amulet

A Hoonah Íxt’s amulet made from a whale’s tooth depicting a Land Otter.

This piece is 5.75 inches or 14.6cm long and is made from a whale tooth which is a type of ivory and tends to be softer than other types of ivory so it’s easier to carve. The iconography is chosen by the íxt’ and can be based on visions, dreams, actual experiences, community events, etc.

Some pieces these types of objects were commissioned from artists and others were produced by the íxt’ themselves. Usually, these amulets were pierced so they could be worn either around the neck or waist. Since it shows sign of wear it was probably contained in a medicine pouch or bag.

Cultural Narrative: 

This amulet was worn by an íxt’ during ceremonies to cure the sick. Curing the sick was one of the main functions of an íxt’. They had many other functions that benefited the members of their village.

Kóoshdaa (Land Otter)

Traditional Knowledge: 

The Land Otter, while a real animal, were the most powerful of all supernatural spirits and feared the most amongst the Tlingit. Their ability to shape shift and look like loved in addition to their supernatural powers made them dangerous as they were always looking for souls to take and possess. The most powerful íxt’s could control and make Kóoshdaas work for them. On this amulet are other creatures that serve the íxt’ so combined with the Kóoshdaa this amulet carries a lot of power which it could tranfer or absorb on behalf of the íxt’s wishes.

Even after the death of the íxt’ these objects were still charged with power so special protocols had to be followed to safely handle them until they were placed with the íxt’s body in specially prepared ossuary.

Shaman's charm of section of whale's tooth, carved to represent a mythical land otter.

Formerly in the collection of and probably collected by Lieutenant George T. Emmons (1852-1945, US Navy 1881-1899) at an unknown date; purchased by MAI from George T. Emmons in 1920 with funds donated by MAI trustees James B. Ford (1844-1928) and Harmon W. Hendricks (1846-1928).

NOTE: OTHER HANDWRITTEN: As described in Emmons' object notes (see 1920.0164 Source Catalog.pdf): "Shamans spirit charm of a section of whale tooth carved to represent a mythical land otter or animal of this character, seen by the shaman in his dream. Wore by the shaman suspended around his neck or attached to his skin blanket and only used when practicing about the sick. From a decayed shaman's grave."

Hoonah (Gaudekan, Gand-Ah-Kan); Port Frederick; Alexander Archipelago; Chicagof Island