Nukallpiat ruuwartaallriit agayuwim tunuani. - The men used to shoot arrows behind the church.
Alutiiq hunters carried a variety of arrows: powerful, accurate weapons launched with a stout wooden bow. Each arrow had a slender wooden shaft carved from spruce, cedar, or hemlock and was painted red and fletched with eagle feathers. This shaft supported a sharply pointed head fashioned from bone, wood, and even copper obtained through trade with Athabaskan people. Arrows for land hunting had fixed heads and people carried them in a skin quiver. In contrast,
arrows used to hunt seas otters and ducks had detachable heads attached to the shaft by a line. People carried them in cylindrical wooden quivers that could be lashed to the deck of a kayak.
Toy bows and arrows are common finds in Kodiak’s well preserved archaeological sites. Elders recall that boys used these miniature versions of adult implements to improve their hunting skills. When migratory birds returned to the archipelago each spring, signaling the rebirth of the year, youth were allowed to take their toys from storage and engage in competitions on the beach. Adult men would often challenge boys to shooting matches. Players aimed their arrows at wood or kelp targets while spectators cheered for their favorite archers.
Photo: Arrow shafts, Karluk One Site, Koniag, Inc. Collection.
Iqsaka narya’aliyaqa. - I'm putting bait on my hook.
We often think of bait as something fishermen use on hooks to catch fish or in pots to lure crab, but Alutiiq hunters once used bait to capture birds. In Prince William Sound, hunters placed sinew nooses on the surface of the water, filled the centers with tempting pieces of crushed clam, and then made gull noises to attract diving birds. A quick tug on the noose secured the line around the unsuspecting bird.
A gorge was another simple and effective bird-hunting device. A hunter sharpened a sliver of bone or wood on two ends, then attached a length of sinew near the middle, and baited the sliver with something tasty. Then he placed the baited gorge in an open spot and hid behind a rock, holding the end of the line. When a bird swallowed the bait, the gorge became stuck in its throat, and the hunter had his prey on a string.
Alutiiqs also hunted birds with snares, staking loops of leather or baleen in spots where birds congregated. The loops would catch the head, foot, or wing of a bird, tightening as the animal struggled. People even caught eagles with snares, using salmon heads as bait.
Photo: Historic halibut hook from Old Harbor. Purchased with support of the Old Harbor Native Corporation.
Agasuut maani cali amlertaartut. - There are always a lot of cormorants around here.
Four varieties of cormorants (Phalacrocorax spp.) live in Alaska, three in the Kodiak Archipelago. These are the double-crested cormorant, the pelagic cormorant, and the red-faced cormorant. These birds gather in coastal colonies where they feed on fish and crustaceans captured by diving. Cormorants are often found nesting on precipitous cliffs. Although the location of their colonies changes from year to year, cormorants are widely available.
Alutiiqs once captured cormorants with nets braided from sinew or bull kelp. Like a gill net, people stretched these nets and left them near nesting locales to entangle birds as they moved to and from feeding areas. Alutiiqs also hunted cormorants at night with clubs. Cormorants were a source of food, and their feathered hides were valued for clothing, headdresses, and blankets. Alutiiqs prized the smooth throat skin of the cormorant, which has a green iridescent sheen, for ceremonial parkas.
In Prince William Sound, people believe that cormorants chatter at night when they return to their nests to tell each other where they have been. Another saying holds that a bald-headed person is someone who has had a cormorant vomit on his head!
Photo: Detail of cormorant skin parka. Etholen Collection, National Museum of Finland.
Aatat quiliutaartut. - Fur seals are (always) fat.
Each November, northern fur seals (Callorhinus ursinus) leave their summer home in the Pribilof Islands, swimming south to winter in the warmer waters off California. Until they return the following summer, these animals rarely touch land. Most fur seals live between ten and on hundred miles from land, near the edge of the continental shelf. In winter, however, some fur seals stray closer to shore and can occasionally be found in protected coastal waters. Large, older males, weighing up to six hundred pounds, often winter in the Gulf of Alaska.
Archaeological data illustrate that Alutiiqs harvested fur seals in small numbers. The remains of fur seals are scarce in village sites. Animals that ventured close to shore were probably hunted in February and March, because most fur seals have moved past Kodiak by April. In the historic era, however, fur seals seem to have been more common. Their remains occur more regularly in garbage deposits from this era, and Russian observers describe seeing them. The cargo manifests of trading vessels even list a small number of fur seal hides. The term fur seal comes from the animal’s plush under-fur, which has more than 350,000 hairs per square inch.
Photo: Fur Seal in the Alaska Maritime Wildlife Refuge, courtesy the USF&WS National Digital Archive.
Taatillka nutengq'rtaallia. - My late father always had a gun.
The Alutiiq word for gun, nutek, is closely related to the word nutegluku, “to shoot it.” The first firearms Alutiiq people encountered were flintlock muskets imported by Russian traders. Stephen Glotov, who wintered in Alitak Bay in 1763, used musket fire to scare Alutiiq warriors attacking his ship. The warriors fled but returned later with shields impenetrable to Russian musket balls. In 1784, Alutiiqs suffered the destructive power of cannons when entrepreneur Gregorii Shelikhov attacked the settlement at Refuge Rock off Sitkalidak Island. When musket fire failed to subdue the community, Shelikhov fired two half-pound cannons at their sod houses, killing many and crushing further resistance.
Some historic sources suggest that guns were not initially traded to Native people, that firearms were a limited, valuable commodity Russian traders kept for themselves. However, archaeological data suggests that guns were part of Alutiiq households in the early decades of the nineteenth century. At Mikt’sqaaq Angayuk, “Little Partner,” an archaeological site, archaeologists found lead shot, gun parts, and a gunflint in an Alutiiq sod house dating to the 1820s.
Although Alutiiqs apparently had guns in the Russian era, their arrows and lances were better hunting weapons. The loud report of muskets frightened game, and their iron parts corroded quickly in the rain and salt spray. Most muskets survived in Russian America for only a few years.
More widespread use of guns began in the 1860s, when muzzle-loaded percussion cap lock guns replaced flintlock muskets. Explosive caps, a valuable trade good, ignited the powder charge in these weapons. Like arrows and lances, Alutiiq hunters often fired percussion guns from double-holed kayaks. The person in the front seat operated the gun, while his partner used a paddle to steady the boat from the rear.
In the early years of the American era, traders imported surplus civil war .44 caliber rifles that fired small rim fire cartridges, as well as some .50 caliber rifles. Rifles that fired large center fire cartridges replaced these older-style guns.
Photo: Lead shot, gun part, and a gunflint from an Alutiiq sod house ca. 1820s,ikt’sqaaq Angayuk site. Leisnoi, Inc. collection.
Kuskaanaq ekllinartuq. - The hare looks delicious.
The varying hare or snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus) occurs widely throughout North America. This small furbearer is well known for its seasonally changing fur color. In winter, the snowshoe hare has a pure white coat and black-tipped ears, which provides camouflage in a snowy landscape. In summer, hares turn a reddish brown to blend with the loose soil and brush surrounding their nest. Snowshoe hares breed prolifically. They can bear four to eight litters a year, with as many as eight young in each. They are largely herbivorous, eating leafy shrubs, tree bark, and vegetables, although some adults will also feed on mice and carrion.
Kuskaanatare not native to Kodiak. In the past, Alutiiqs obtained their pelts in trade with the mainland and used them to make clothing, including hare parkas. In 1934, 558 snowshoe hares were captured along the railway in Anchorage and shipped to Kodiak for release. Their introduction was successful, and hares are now abundant in some areas of the archipelago. Although they can be hunted year-round, many hunters prefer to pursue them in fall and spring when their fur is changing colors and they are easier to see. Today, hares are taken with rifles and shotguns for both food and fur. Some Alutiiq Elders prefer not to eat them, however, because they are seen as nuisance animals, akin to cats.
Photo: Gilr in Ouzinkie with stuffed rabbit toy. Melinda Lamp Collection.
Ayaquq egtaakait cuumi arwanun. - They used to throw a harpoon at a whale before.
For thousands of years Alutiiqs used harpoons to hunt sea mammals in Kodiak’s rich marine waters. Harpoon points were carved from bone and fitted into a wooden shaft equipped with an air-filled float. Alutiiq people used two kinds of harpoon points: a barbed point that stuck directly into an animal and a toggling harpoon designed to turn sideways in prey. The float was made from an inflated seal stomach. It acted as a drag on the wounded sea mammal and made the animal more visible in the water.
Alutiiq kayakers hurled their harpoons with the help of a throwing board. This wooden tool acted as a lever, lengthening the arm and improving throwing distance. It also allowed hunters to throw with greater force. Once wounded, the sea mammal was followed until it could be dispatched with a slate lance. To save the animal’s blood, which was eaten, wooden plugs were inserted into the wounds. Then the animal was tied to the hunter’s kayak and towed home.
Photo: Bone harpoon head, ca. 1200 years old, Uyak Site, Larsen Bay Tribe Collection.
Qunukamken unguwatemnek. - I love you from my heart.
People who hunt and butcher animals regularly develop an excellent knowledge of anatomy. Butchering allows hunters to learn about internal organs, which improves their ability to capture game. It also helps them obtain special foods and raw materials. Alutiiq people eat many of the internal organs of the animals they harvest. Alutiiq people continue to prepare the heart, lungs, intestines, liver, and kidneys of seals in traditional recipes and to eat the liver, kidneys, intestines, and even the arteries of caribou.
In addition to their economic value, some internal organs have spiritual significance. In the Alutiiq universe, every animal possesses a soul that must be released at the time of its death. The spirit of a salmon resides in its intestines and the spirit of a sea otter is found in its bones. Returning these parts to the natural environment shows respect for the animal, allows its soul to be reincarnated in another animal, and ensures a future supply of game. It also guarantees that powerful animals will not harm the living.
To honor a dead caribou, Alaska Peninsula hunters cut off the tip of the animal’s heart and offer it to the four directions. Similarly, Kodiak hunters cut out a bear’s heart, remove the tip, and split the organ into four pieces to make sure the animal will not come back to life. Any other part of the bear that is not used must be returned to the kill site to appease the animal’s spirit.
Photo: Sven Haakanson butchers a seal.