Whale Amulet

Ivory Íxt’ amulet made from a whale tooth depicting a sea monster.

Items like this were placed with an Íxt’ s body so to obtain them they had to be stolen from the Íxt’s grave. This piece and other very similar pieces were taken from a Hoonah Íxt’s grave. The location is a place locally called the “Tunnel”. G.T. Emmons asked locals to help obtain these Íxt’ objects and was quickly turned down nobody wanted to desecrate an Íxt’s grave so he took these items without help or consent. The items eventually wound up in museums or private collections.

Looking at the main figure on this piece has pectoral fins, teeth, whale tail and the face in the position of the blowhole. The human faces are depicting either death or being in a trance. The iconography is classic Tlingit Íxt’. The amulet is approximately 5.375 or 13.65cm long.

Cultural Narrative: 

This object was worn by an Íxt’. It could be worn separately or with other amulets either around the neck or waist. Because it was an Íxt’ object it would not have been used by a commoner.

Traditional Knowledge: 

This object contains spirit helpers to the Íxt’. The main figure is a whale with human faces in a trance. On the opposite end of the piece is the whale’s tail. To determine the meanings from just the object is difficult as the meanings of these objects would only have meaning to the Íxt’ that owned them. If the Íxt’ did not explain directly to someone what his designs meant no one would know what the meanings the iconography represented by simply looking at it, especially hundreds of years later.


Ivory Shaman's Charm (section of whale tooth) representing a raven


Hoonah (Gaudekan, Gand-Ah-Kan); Port Frederick; Alexander Archipelago; ; Chicagof Island; [N20619]; Carved whales tooth, longest 5 3/8"; [S02344]; Shaman's charms of carved ivory. 5", 4" and 3" long