Sugpiaq Puppet "Exenia"

Created by Mary Babic from Cordova, this puppet is adorned in a sea otter parka and dentalium shell headdress, modeling traditional women's attire.

This puppet was adapted and adorned by Mary Babic. Named Exenia, this puppet is modeled off of a Sugpiaq woman and wears a traditional parka made out of sea otter fur. The fur is known for its thickness and soft texture, with approximately 1 million hairs per square inch. The parka tassels are made out of dyed skin and sea otter fur, and are accented with red cloth and white ermine tufts. Sugpiaq crafters made practical parkas for working in a harsh environment and also decorative parkas to wear at winter ceremonies. The craftsmanship of beautiful parks served as a symbol of respect for the animal that enveloped the clothed person. The design of parkas for men and women were very similar -- both parkas were loose fitting and did not have a hood. The puppet's mittens are made of seal skin and sea otter trim. The headdress is made out of dangling pendants on the sides and long beaded tails in the back, and would have mainly been worn at dances and feasts. The beads were known as "trade beads" because they would have been traded for sea otter hides: a hunter would lay a sea otter pelt on a table and stack beads to the height of the sea otter fur. They were paid maybe two to three glass beads per hide. Exenia’s headdress would have been traded for at least twenty sea otter hides -- making it extremely valuable. She wears earrings which were tied through perforation, sometimes six or eight strands on each ear. Her tattoos were sewn into skin with a bone needle and soot blackened thread. Her tattoos were a symbol of a change in her life, or of her wealth or status in the village. (Description adapted from Mary Babic’s Lesson “Storytelling with Your Own Chugach Puppet”).