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Word in Alutiiq: ARatukaq (N); Puwisaq (S)
In a sentence:

ARatukamek tang'rakameng suut nata agayuliteng. - When you see a rainbow, you're to make a sign of the cross.

MP3 File: rainbow

Combine sunshine and raindrops and the result is a luminous arc of colors commonly known as a rainbow.   This vivid display of light has a prominent place in the beliefs of many cultures.  Some people see the rainbow as lucky, or as a sign of an important, upcoming event.  In some spiritual traditions, the rainbow signals the birth of a baby and the reincarnation of a recently passed soul.  Others consider rainbows to be divine.  The Norse believed that rainbows were a bridge to the world of the gods.  Among Australian Aborigines the rainbow is a serpent that battles the sun to replenish Earth’s essential water.

Alutiiqs use several words for rainbow.  ARatukaq, a word derived from Russian, comes from the northern subdialect of the Alutiiq language.  Puwisaq comes from the southern subdialect and also means belt.

The word puwisaq also refers to the strip of cloth or ribbon that Orthodox godparents once gave to babies at baptism.  This piece of fabric was usually white with an embroidered cross, and was worn over the chest – between a person’s shirt and undershirt.  For Easter, people wore a brightly colored versions on the outside of their clothing.  These puwisat were worn across the body like a sash and knotted around the waist. One Elder remembered that when an honored person died, their death shroud would be torn into strips to use as puwisat for the community’s next generation of babies.  Historically, people wore puwisat all the time, but only a few Elders still have their baptismal band stored away.

Elders report that rainbows are sometimes called, Puwisiim Maman lintaa - literally the Virgin Mary's puwisaq cloth.  When the faithful see a rainbow, they make the sign of the cross, as a sign of respect and remembrance for the Virgin Mary.

Photo:  A rainbow over the King Salmon River, western Alaska Peninsula, 2011.

Podcast Available: Rainbow
River; Stream
Word in Alutiiq: Kuik
In a sentence:

Kuigmen iqallugsullriakut. - We went to the river to fish.

MP3 File: rivercreek

Despite its wet environment, Kodiak’s has few large rivers. The archipelago’s drainage systems are simple, reflecting its glacial history. Throughout the islands, short, steep, clear-water streams flow through glacially carved valleys draining small areas. Most streams are less than ten miles long and descend swiftly out of the mountains into adjacent bays. Rivers and larger streams tend to occur in bay heads and in a few valleys in southwestern Kodiak that were not completely filled with ice during the last glacial epoch.

For Alutiiq people, rivers are not only an important harvesting environment where salmon, trout, ducks, bears, and otters can be taken, but a means of travel. They provide avenues through Kodiak’s mountainous interior. The Portage River on northern Afognak Island provides an overland route to southern Afognak’s Kazakoff Bay, and from the head of Larsen Bay, it is an easy hike down the Karluk River to Karluk village at the river’s mouth. Alutiiq people once moved logs across larger lakes and rivers by tying them into rafts and paddling across. Elders remember paddling logs across Karluk Lagoon and Afognak Lake.

According to Alutiiq legend, the first woman formed rivers and lakes by spitting into ditches and holes. Like all features in the Alutiiq landscape, rivers have spirits that can be manipulated. One Alutiiq legend tells how an evil shaman captured a young woman searching for her lover. The shaman bewitched a river, which delivered him victims by sweeping them over a powerful waterfall. When the young woman succeeded in killing her captor, the shaman’s grip on the river was released. The treacherous falls disappeared, and she was able to paddle home safely.

Photo: Fall time along the Ayakulik River, Kodiak Island.

Word in Alutiiq: Yaamaq
In a sentence:

Isuwiq yaamamen mayallria. - The seal climbed up the rock.

MP3 File: rock

The Kodiak Archipelago is formed of intrusive igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks many millions of years old. Slate and shale, greywacke and granite are the stones that make up the island’s core, and they provided raw material for many traditional tools. Harpoons and arrows were tipped with small points fashioned from local cherts, knives were ground of hard black slate, and oil lamps were pecked from cobbles of hard grey-green tonalite. Rocks were also important for cooking and bathing. Stones heated in a fire were dropped in baskets to warm food, and hot rocks splashed with water created steam for steam bathing. Collecting the right type of rock was an art. Some stones shatter readily when heated, producing dangerous flying debris. Alutiiq people continue to collect specific types of cobbles for use in the steam bath.

Yaamaq is also the name of a popular children’s game played by individual competitors or teams of players. Children erect stakes on the beach, each in a shallow depression about two hands wide. Next, players select smooth, hand-sized rocks to throw at the stakes and line up behind one stake to take turns throwing at the other. Contestants score two points by hitting the stake or one point by tossing the rock that lands closest to the target. Bouncing the rock into the stake is not allowed, and a team must accumulate sixteen points to win a match. The game ends when a team wins two consecutive matches.

Photo: A circle of rocks may represent the remains of an ancient hunting blind at the Amak site, 2011.

Word in Alutiiq: Qaniq (falling); Aniuq (on ground)
In a sentence:

Qaninguq. - It is snowing.

MP3 File: snow

Although the Kodiak Archipelago does not receive large quantities of snow, snow cover is present between December and March and remains in the region’s high interior mountains throughout the year. For Alutiiqs, frozen landscapes presented both opportunities and challenges.

Winter in the Alutiiq homeland is a great time to travel overland. Wind-packed snow can make walking easier than in the warm season when people on foot must wrestle through a thick tangle of brush and tall grasses. Overland travel across frozen lakes was easier. Elders remember walking great distances in the winter, traveling between communities with the help of temporary snowshoes woven from green alder branches or a flexible spruce bough. More permanent shoes were carved from alder branches and fitted with a webbing of whale sinew.

Although overland travel is easier in winter, snowdrifts bury wood and brush, making it more difficult to collect firewood. Alutiiq people used hand-pulled sleds to move drift logs and cut timber in the snow. These sleds had narrow runners, sometimes made of spruce roots, to prevent sinking. One man would push the sled while another pulled. However, people did not employ dogs in pulling sleds.

To many Alutiiq Elders, a heavy snow cover is a sign of future prosperity. Some believe that a snowy winter will bring a good berry crop, while others say that heavy snows foretell strong salmon runs.

Photo: Joyce Smith and Larsen Bay children with a snow man.  Smith Collection, courtesy Tim and Norman Smith.

Word in Alutiiq: Ugnerkaq
In a sentence:

Ugnerkartuq awa’i. - Spring is here.

MP3 File: spring

Spring is an unpredictable season in the Kodiak Archipelago. Some years, calm weather ushers in longer days and milder temperatures, but in others, winter storms pound the coast and snow falls well into April. For Alutiiqs, spring is a time of waiting as the subsistence cycle renews itself. People collected shellfish from the intertidal zone during low spring tides, while they watch for whales and sea mammals to return to nearshore waters. In late March and early April, grey whales begin to reappear and halibut and cod move closer to shore. By mid-April, marine birds flock back to rookeries to lay their eggs and herring spawn in protected bays. And in May, king salmon arrive, initiating the salmon fishing season.

Spring was a time of community renewal. Alutiiq people cleaned their houses and cut fresh dry grass to cover house floors and fill mattresses. Men oiled their kayak’s skins to protect them from rotting, and children took their toys from storage and played on the beach. Boys and girls floated model boats, tested their skills with bows and arrows, and played with dolls as soon as migratory birds returned, signaling the rebirth of the year.

Photo:  Spring in Horseshoe Cove, Uganik Bay, 2004.

Podcast Available: Spring
Word in Alutiiq: Agyaq; Mit’aq (in Karluk)
In a sentence:

Agyat unugmi antaartut. - The stars come out at night.

MP3 File: star

In the Alutiiq universe, stars live in the first of five consecutive sky worlds, closest to earth. This world is also home to the moon and northern lights, and the place where people go after dying for the fifth and final time. Like earth, this world has forests, rivers, and animals. Stars are believed to be the eyes of spirits, peering down at the earth through holes in the ground. Legend says each star is a man with one bright eye who lies face down on the ground.

An Alutiiq story tells of a girl who married a star. A chief kept his daughter in seclusion, and in her sadness, she refused to marry any of her suitors. One night, a man crawled through her window and convinced her to leave with him. She agreed, but the man mistreated her, keeping her hungry and cold. An old woman came to her aid, secretly feeding the girl and urging her to marry her son. The girl agreed and was taken by basket to the woman’s home in the sky. The old woman’s son was a star man. He had moss on his head, twigs for hair, and one bright eye in the middle of his forehead. He provided well for the girl and made her happy. In time, they had a star child. But the girl was homesick, so the old woman lowered her to earth to visit her father’s village. The villagers were scared of her, thinking that she was dead, so she returned to her home in the sky.

Photo:  Whalebone carving that may represent a one-eyed star person.  US Fish & Wildlife Service Colllection, AM606.

Word in Alutiiq: Kayunguq
In a sentence:

Kayunguq, eh? - It’s stormy, eh?

MP3 File: stormy

Despite mild temperatures, Kodiak lies in one of the most meteorologically active regions on earth. From September to April, a storm crosses the Gulf of Alaska every four to five days, bringing intense rain, high winds, and heavy seas. Kodiak’s location guaranties exposure to the complete force of these storms, which build to their fullest stage by the time they reach the central Gulf. For Alutiiqs, stormy weather presented special challenges. Storms pushed subsistence foods farther away from shore and limited kayak travel. In winter, hunters could not always access foods and raw materials by boat.

To prevent food shortage, Alutiiqs stockpiled large quantities of summer resources for winter use. Fish and sea mammal meat were dried, oil rendered from blubber, berries preserved, and fish pickled. Stores hung from the rafters of sod houses or were kept in containers and special rooms. During stormy weather, Alutiiq families gathered to work and socialize. Men repaired their hunting tools, women stitched clothing, children played with toys, and everyone participated in traditional games.

Photo: Storm at Afognak village, 1964. Shepherd-Hansen digital image collection, courtesy Susan Short.

Podcast Available: Stormy
Word in Alutiiq: Kiak
In a sentence:

Kiakutartukut. - We are going to have summer pretty soon.


MP3 File: summer

Summer in the Kodiak Archipelago comes slowly. In April and May, low pressure systems generated in the Aleutian Islands shift westward into the Bering Sea and Kodiak’s weather begins to moderate. Warm, foggy conditions replace cold winter winds as the days lengthen and the sun rises high above the horizon. By June, temperatures are mild and the hillsides green.

For Alutiiqs, summer has always been a time of work. The resources critical to a subsistence lifestyle are abundant and most easily obtained during the warm months. In June and July people hunt sea mammals and sea birds, fish for cod and halibut, and collect fresh greens from coastal meadows. Salmon fishing and berry picking follow in August and September.

In the distant past, summer was also the time for travel and trading. During the warm, light months, villagers regularly paddled to the Alaska mainland to visit their neighbors and obtain foods and raw materials not locally available.

Photo: Summertime at Ocean Bay, Sitkalidak Island. Courtesy the Don Clark collection.

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