The aghula is a traditional dance of the Eskimo. It provides preventative medicine for the community and an inner
journey for the dancers back to the roots of the people’s origin and memory of the time before time when the spirit
and human worlds were one.
The Eskimo live simultaneously in the world of daily tasks and hunting and the world of spirit power and magic.
These worlds are distinct but equally real, intimately interconnected, and each profoundly affected by the other.
The Eskimo move easily between these worlds in the aghula. The dancer’s movements, the beat of the heart, and the sound of the drum together create a passage for the dancer to move between the worlds.
The drummers, all men, are the caretakers of the past. They keep separate from the participants, avoiding conversation and direct contact before the ritual. They begin the aghula, playing the one-two kallengneq beat in unison in a steady rhythm. The saguyak drums are made from the stomach of the walrus, the giver of life. Each drum has a power of its own. It is a valued possession and a sacred tool.
Some dancers dance sayugh, ancient ritualized patterns involving complex sets of movements and nuance. The
women tend to dance from direct inspiration and spontaneous trance states. In contrast the men often dance the
story of their hunting exploits and village life. Older men dance the teaching stories from the shaman’s visions and journeys recounting how the animals taught the humans to survive.
One by one, the dancers enter an altered state of consciousness, allowing their consciousness to enter the spirit
world under and around the sea. The dances begin to dance the dancers. The spirits enter and the dancers become
beings of mythical times. The aghula is much more than ritualized drama or creative release. It is a sacred gathering of power, invoked by the chanting and drumming and made manifest in the dancer through the dance.
See also Yup’ik.