Bear Festival

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Bear Festival


a complex of rituals associated with bear hunting among numerous forest peoples of Europe, Asia, and North America. The bear festival is a manifestation of the bear cult that existed among these peoples. Generally, the bear festival was held in order to propitiate the bear that had been killed during the hunt. The meat of the bear, in this case, was eaten according to strict ritualistic rules.

Some peoples of Siberia and North America arranged dances during which the masked dancers danced before the carcass of the bear. Among the Khanty and Mansi these dances acquired the form of a primitive drama on hunting themes. The peoples living along the Lower Amur and on Sakhalin raised bear cubs especially for the bear festival. The similarities in the rituals of the bear festivals among different peoples are explained by the common characteristics of the conditions of the hunting economy and the religious and magical concepts associated with them. Among a number of modern peoples (for example, the Khanty and Mansi), the bear festival has lost its magical significance and has become a form of traditional folk entertainment.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Iyomante Matsuri (Bear Festival)

Among the Ainu people of the northernmost islands of Japan, especially on Hokkaido, the baiting and killing of a young bear was not considered a brutal act but a ritual send-off to the spirit world. The "divine" cub was ceremoniously fed and cared for, then killed and arranged with fetishes. Some of his own cooked meat and a dish of his own blood, along with cakes and dried fish, were laid before him. He was supposed to bring these gifts to his parents when he arrived in heaven. After a time, Ainu belief has it, he would be reincarnated and return to earth as another cub.
Ainu Museum
2-3-4 Wakakusa-cho
Siraoi, Hokkaido 059-0902 Japan
EncyRel-1987, vol. 1, p. 160; vol. 2, p. 86
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 681
JapanFest-1965, p. 207
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.
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