Yapuun’saat taillriit Attu-men. - The Japanese came to Attu.
The Alutiiq word for a Japanese person, Yapuun’saaq, comes from the English word Japan. This word may have entered the Alutiiq language at several points during the twentieth century. The Russian American Company had a Japanese employ in Kodiak. Japanese people have long participated in Alaska’s fishing industry, and in the early 1900s they worked at canneries in Alutiiq communities like Chignik. A Japanese family also settled near the community of Kaguyak, in a place known as Jap Bay. They eventually moved to the Alutiiq community of Aiaktalik where their descendants married into Alutiiq families.
Yapuun’saaqwas also a familiar word during WWII. Kodiak Islanders feared Japanese attacks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December of 1941 and attacks on the Aleutian Islands in 1942. Residents of even the smallest Alutiiq communities had to maintain blackout conditions and to respond to air raid sirens by fleeing their homes. Families had to run into the hills and hide in the bushes every time the sirens blasted.
Today Yapuun’saat are a vital part of Kodiak’s fish processing industry, where they process, preserve, and package chum salmon roe for Asian markets. Specially trained Japanese technicians remove salmon eggs from their skeins, rub them with brine, and air-dry them for shipment. In Japan, people season the eggs with soy sauce to make ikura, a popular dish.
Photo: World War II era bunker on Kodiak Island.
Kenaayut taugkut. - Those are Kenai Peninsula people.
Although it is separated from the Kodiak Archipelago by miles of open ocean, the Kenai Peninsula shares many features with the Kodiak region. Geologically, the two are formed of the same rocks, squeezed and folded into a continuous set of mountains. The Kodiak Mountains are the westernmost extension of the Kenai-Chugach Mountains, the steep-sided ridges that form the spine of the Kenai Peninsula and her fjorded southern coast. As on Kodiak, glaciers carved deep narrow valleys out of the Kenai’s bedrock, creating its rugged topography. Glacial ice is also responsible for separating the Kenai from Kodiak. Massive tongues of ice cut channels between the regions, which the sea flooded when the earth’s climate warmed and the glaciers retreated.
The biological and cultural histories of the region are also similar. Although the Kenai has been forested much longer than Kodiak and supports a wider variety of terrestrial mammals, its sea life is quite similar. Salmon, shellfish, sea mammals, and sea birds abound, especially along the southern coast. Archaeological data suggest that Alutiiq ancestors colonized this region, particularly Kachemak Bay, at least six thousand years ago. They were not alone, however. Indian societies also thrived on the Kenai, although in more northerly regions. Today there are two Alutiiq villages on the Kenai Peninsula: Nanwalek and Port Graham. Alutiiq people also live in Seldovia, Homer, Kenai, and Soldotna.
Image: Map of the Alutiiq world showing Kenai Peninsula communities.
April-rem winga Jeremy-mek atengr'tuq. - April's husband's name in Jeremy.
In classical Alutiiq society, marriages were either arranged or formed by mutual consent. A couple might approach their parents for permission to marry, or parents might plan their children's engagement. Marriages were formalized with valuable gifts. Prospective in-laws exchanged items to symbolize their acceptance of a union. With the gifts bestowed, the young husband went to live with his bride, working with her father to prove his abilities. When children were born, couples often started their own households. There was no formal ceremony at the time of marriage, although some unions were recognized with celebrations at winter festivals. After marriage, a woman might add additional tattoos to her body or hands as a sign of love for her husband.
Marriages were usually monogamous, with one man married one woman. However, polygny - marriage to multiple spouses - did occur. Chiefs and shaman were particularly likely to have multiple wives. One historic source tells of a chief who married eight women. Similarly, wealthy women would sometimes marry a second husband. This person functioned like servant, conducting household chores.
Photo: John and Julia Pestrikoff, husband and wife, Port Lions, Alaska.
Cukaluten, paapuskaaq iwa’aru! Carliangqutartuq. - Hurry, get the midwife! She’s going to have a baby.
Each Alutiq community had at least one midwife, a healer versed in herbal medicines and the arts of bloodletting, surgery, and childbirth. Appointed by her community at a young age and apprenticed to an older midwife, this woman tended the sick, provided prenatal care, and delivered babies. Midwives are remembered fondly for their great knowledge, kindness, and ability to help people.
Healers were believed to have spiritual powers. In addition to learning skills from older women, they were imbued with special knowledge. They simply knew how to diagnose and treat illness—a divine gift. Women worked with their hands to locate sickness and used herbs, steam baths, and touch as therapies. But they were also recognized as helpers for offering domestic assistance. After the birth of a baby, for example, a midwife often stayed in the new mother’s home to help with chores for several weeks.
Midwives delivered most of the babies born in Alutiiq communities until the 1950s, when western practitioners began urging expectant mothers to deliver in hospitals far from home. Today, the role of midwife has evolved into the publically funded position of community health aide (CHA). CHAs work as liaisons between their villages and the western medical world. Most are women, and many are descended from traditional healers.
Photo: Girl holds a new baby sibling, Afognak village, ca. 1960. Chadwick Collection.
Aanama qunukaanga. - My mother loves me.
Motherhood in classical Alutiiq society began at an early age. Alutiiq girls were considered adults at the time of their first menstruation, ready for marriage and child rearing after the completion of a ritual seclusion. This seclusion took place in a special hut, or in later time, a girl's bedroom. It lasted from several weeks to several months, conspicuously marking the passage out of childhood.
Children were highly coveted in Alutiiq society. Russian reports suggest that it was common for Alutiiq women to have four or five children, and women with babies were thought to be lucky. Women who failed to get pregnant were said to have dark insides. Such women consulted shamans who offered fertility charms and spiritual intervention. A doll from an archaeological site in Karluk may be such a charm. It features a very pregnant woman with her hands at the small of her back and enlarged genitals. The doll appears to be in labor. A Russian source also indicates that women who wanted children carried dolls, caring for them like babies.
Mothers had many special roles. A boy gave his first kills to his mothers, which she displayed at a celebratory festival. Mothers also helped their children arrange marriages. A boy's mother would approach the mother of the girl he wished to marry, to ask permission for the union. In turn, the girl's mother would question the boy's mother to determine if her son was a good provider.
Photo: LaRita Laktonen with her baby daughter at the Alutiiq Museum.
lliya’ateng carlia’artaarait. - They used to always take care of their orphans.
In classical Alutiiq society, young people who lost their parents were adopted into wealthy families as laborers, working in return for food, clothing, and shelter. This treatment of orphans is indicative of the importance of family to Alutiiqs. A person’s lineage was not only essential to defining their identity but to maintaining it. Without a family, a person had few social or economic resources and was easily disregarded. This perception of orphans is not unique to Alutiiqs. Alaska’s Athabaskan and Iñupiat societies also used orphans as laborers.
The treatment of orphans is recorded in traditional Alutiiq stories. One tale from Prince William Sound tells of three orphan boys. After being badly abused, they take revenge on their village. Escaping imprisonment in an empty sod house, the boys find weapons, kill the community chief and his family, chase away the other villagers, and then leave the community to live by themselves.
In 1893, the word orphan took on a new meaning, when the Baptist Mission founded a home for needy children on Woody Island. This organization cared for children whose parents had died or were unable to support them. Unfortunately, the orphanage forbade the practice of Russian Orthodoxy—the predominant religion of their Native residents—and in some cases took children against their parents’ will. Children came from the Kodiak area and from adjacent areas like the Aleutian Islands. By 1900, there were forty-eight children in the home. In addition to academic studies, girls learned household chores and boys received instruction in agriculture.
Photo: Children at the mission home in Ouzinkie with new clothes, ca. 1940. Smith collection, courtesy Tim and Norman Smith.
Allanertakiinga akgua’aq. - An outsider came to see me yesterday.
Traveling in prehistoric times, before letters and telephone calls could publicize your arrival, was dangerous. Alutiiq stories are filled with warnings about traveling through foreign lands, trespassing, and encountering strangers. A careful reading of these tales illustrates that strangers were unpredictable: they could help you or hurt you, and they were often deceptive. While it is still considered good manners to extend hospitability to a stranger, particularly one in need, one must also be wary. Some strangers are actually spirits in disguise and their kindness may conceal treachery. The meaning of the word allanertaq expresses this duality. Alutiiqs use the term as the word for both stranger and guest.
In one Alutiiq story, two inquisitive men travel to an island in the middle of the sea to meet a legendary cod fisherman. While they are enjoying a steam bath at the fisherman’s home, he ties a line to their kayak. Each time the men try to paddle home, the crafty fisherman pulls them back to his island. Finally, the wind overturns their kayak, and the men are cast upon the shore where they become two rocky capes.
To protect against such treachery, Alutiiq families sewed highly recognizable designs into their clothing and wore distinctive styles of hats and jewelry. Thus, even if an individual was unknown, the cut of his parka, the line of his boat, or the tattoos on his face might indicate membership in a particular family or community and the individual would be treated accordingly.
Some Alutiiqs also have trading partnerships: lifelong friendships with unrelated people in distant communities. Across Alaska, trading partners provided important links to resources in different environments, allowing people to access distant food and raw materials and gain assistance in times of need. Trading partners also provided a means of safe travel outside one’s home territory. A person traveling to meet his or her trading partner was socially connected and thus respected, not feared.
Photo: A view of the Alaskan mainland from Karluk.
Kicarwigmi sugyartuq. - There are a lot of people in Anchorage.
Today, the Kodiak Archipelago is home to about 1,800 Alutiiq people. Although this is not the smallest Native population the islands have sheltered, it is much smaller than in the prehistoric era. However, the number of Native people that once occupied the archipelago remains a source of debate. Russian fur trader Grigori Shelikov claimed a population of 30,000 residents. Historians believe that this is a gross overestimate, one that reflects Shelikov’s desire to claim a large number of subjects for the Russian crown and further his political ambitions.
Other population estimates are more modest. Based on the distribution of village sites, archaeologists estimate that the late prehistoric population may have been about 10,000 people. However, historic records, maps showing the location of villages, and Native place names suggest that the Kodiak region was home to about 6,500 people in the decades following Russian conquest.
Although Kodiak was the most heavily occupied region of the Alutiiq homeland, perhaps due to its wealth of economic resources, significant numbers of Alutiiqs also lived in adjoining regions. Although their exact numbers are unknown, anthropologists believe there were up to 900 Alutiiq residents of the Alaska Peninsula, and perhaps as many as 1,500 Alutiiq people in Prince William Sound at the time of Western contact.
Photo: A crowd gathered in Old Harbor to watch a pie eating contest. Violet Abel Collection, courtsey the City of Old Harbor.