As favor with the kamuy could determine the success or misfortune of the village (kotan), performing the correct ceremonies to offer thanks was of the utmost importance. One of the grandest gestures of gratitude comes from the “sending ceremony.” It is traditionally thought that kamuy visit the human realm in different guises, such as in the form of owls, bears, and foxes, among others. During the sending ceremony, the kamuy would be released from their physical guise (hayokpe) through the ritual sacrifice of the animal they inhabit, and are returned to the spirit realm with great fanfare in order to thank them for their protection and secure their favor in the future (see two images of the fox sending ceremony below).
During the salmon ceremony, for example, prayers are offered to the kamuy in hopes of a bountiful harvest at the start of the fishing season. At the end of the season in the late fall, the ceremony would conclude when fishermen return a salmon jawbone to the river, releasing the souls of all the salmon they caught back to the spirit realm to thank them for their sustenance. Because salmon was one of the primary staples of the Ainu, honoring the spirits in this way was of crucial importance to the community.1 The work Ainu Hunters by Sōshiseki offers a glimpse into some of the ceremonies associated with salmon fishing. Two hunters are shown after returning from a successful fishing expedition with a fresh catch of salmon. On the ground the two men offer libations to the kamuy using a special lacquer cup called a tuki, and ikupasuy “prayer sticks” to thank the spirits and pray for future prosperity.
1.) Toshihiro Kohara, “Foods of Choice,” in Fitzhugh, Dubreuil, and Arctic Studies Center, Ainu: Spirit of a Northern People, 200-201.