Modern tupilaks bear little resemblance to the originals; in fact, none of the originals exist anymore. Pre-contact, tupilaks were fashioned from perishable materials and released to seek and destroy an enemy. If the enemy had greater power, the plan could backfire, killing the original maker. At that time, tupilaks were powerful, secret objects, never intended to be seen.
The story goes that when explorers began asking for descriptions of tupilaks, some Inuit made models to demonstrate. These models evolved into the next generation you find all over Greenland today – some as art (like these photographed at the museum in Nuuk), some as trinkets.
So remember when you pick one up at the local shop, that these objects – now ubiquitous in some Greenlandic communities – are a re-imagining of an object originally bestowed with the power to kill.