Ritual Vessel

Udege (Siberia, Amur)

The Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography

“This ritual vessel is called sufulyachi mafa-gilyamani. This is a cylinder-shaped vessel made of a rectangular piece of birch bark that was purified and boiled down in water. The neck and the bottom are decorated with a spiral pattern and symbolic images of birds painted in black and red paint over a carved outline. Fifteen bear penises are attached to the upper part of the vessel. It is designed for keeping ritual spoons used to serve boiled bear meat during a bear feast. In the mythical beliefs of the Udege people, as well as of many other peoples of the Amur region, the bear was viewed as the ancestor of people, their relative and totem, as well as the master of forests, mountains and animals and the patron of hunt. Bear hunting and the feast that followed it was accompanied by numerous rituals that played an important role in the sacral life of the peoples of the Amur region. This feast is usually referred to in literature as the “bear festival”. When a bear carcass was cut, the hunter who killed the animal received its penis and handed it over to his wife or another close female relative. This organ symbolized the relation between the man and the bear and was considered a powerful charm that could help heal infertility or alleviate childbirth.”