Unuarpak angli aRastuup'kaalillianga. - This morning I made alot of kindling.
Starting a fire in wet, windy Kodiak requires both skill and help from some good tinder. Alutiiq families use a variety of natural materials to capture a flame. In forested parts of the archipelago, the small, dead lower branches of spruce trees stay dry in the rain. They are easy to gather and make excellent kindling. Other good sources of tinder include dry grass, birch bark, spruce bark, and even spruce pitch and bird down. Some Alutiiqs also make fine shavings of wood for kindling. Any dry wood can be used, although cottonwood works especially well. The practice of igniting wood chips is quite old. Russian histories note that Alutiiqs used hand-held fire drills to ignite wood shavings.
Gathering tinder is often a job for women and children. While men harvest larger wood, and may travel far from home to collect it, women and children gathered kindling and small pieces of wood from nearby beaches and thickets. In the forests of northern Kodiak and Afognak, women gather dried bark or cut it from spruce trees. They place this material in burlap bags and carry it home for kindling to start fires that heat the steam bath.
Photo: Elder John Pestrikoff makes firestarters from driftwood. Photo by Priscilla Russell, KANA Collection.
Paas’kaami kulic’aalitaartut. - At Easter they always make Easter bread.
Kulic’aaq is the Alutiiq word for the sweet bread baked, decorated, and eaten by the Orthodox faithful every Easter. Similar to Italian panettone, this rich bread contains milk, eggs, butter, sugar, nuts, fruit, and a variety or flavorings like vanilla, rum, orange zest, cardamom, and saffron. Kulic’aaq, like perok (fish pie), is one of the foods that reflect Kodiak’s Russian heritage.
People bake these distinctive loaves in tall cylindrical tins, sometimes using a coffee can. They are made in many different sizes, but the loaves are typically tall and rounded on the top, a shape that symbolizes the domes of Russian Orthodox churches. Like cakes, loaves of kulich are often frosted or glazed then brightly decorated with candies or flowers.
Families begin baking kulich the week before Easter, and each has their own recipe. You can ask about their list of ingredients, but not everyone will share! Most people do not eat this rich bread until breaking their Lenten fast. Families may take their bread to church for a blessing and then enjoy the loaf with a large dinner after Easters services. The loaf is cut in half lengthwise and then each half sliced. Some people serve it with cheese pashka, another Easter food. Others like their kulich toasted and buttered.
Kulich consumption typically continues over the forty-day Easter season, until Pentecost. This seventh Sunday after Easter commemorates the decent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples and marks the end of Easter celebrations.
Some Kodiak Islanders recall that they were making kulich in 1964, when the Great Alaska Earthquake began. The trembling started on Good Friday as the faithful were preparing Easter foods.
Photo: Kulich loaves prepared for Easter in Port Lions. Courtesy Sara Squartsoff.
Laam’paaq kuarsgu. - Light the lamp.
From Kodiak to Greenland, Native people used stone oil lamps to heat and light their homes. On Kodiak, artisans formed lamps from beach cobbles of sandstone, granite, or a greenish-gray igneous stone called tonalite. Craftsmen formed lamps by sanding and pecking—banging one cobble against another. Although time-consuming, this technique produced many beautiful pieces. Some artists decorated their lamps with elaborate figurines and geometric designs. Sea mammals and human faces are some of the three-dimensional carvings that decorated Alutiiq lamps.
Alutiiq oil lamps come in many sizes. Household lamps were large, heavy pieces designed for stability. Travelers squatted over smaller, more portable lamps to warm themselves, and children played with tiny lamp replicas. Alutiiq Elders recall that lamps were filled with sea mammal oil and lit with wicks of twisted moss or cotton grass. Each lamp had a spirit, and when not in use, it was stored upside down to keep the spirit from escaping. Archaeologists often find upside down lamps in old houses. Today a burning oil lamp is a sign of prosperity and cultural endurance. The light of Alutiiq culture shines brightly as Elders and youth gather around a glowing lamp.
Photo: Ancient oil lamp lit for a modern gathering, 1997
Nukallpiat iqa’ianeq pingaktaan’tat. - Men don't like to do laundry.
The Alutiiq word for laundry comes from the word for dirt, iqaq, and literally means “dirties.” Anyone with a family knows that laundry is a never-ending chore, but in the days before modern washers and dryers, it was an exhausting, daylong project. Alutiiq women remember carrying water and lighting fires in their wood-burning stoves to heat it for washing. With a tub and a washboard they scrubbed clothing in hot water to remove the grime. For soap, they used Fels Naptha, a bar soap that when boiled and mixed with baking soda makes a gel detergent. After scrubbing, they twisted the clothing to remove the water or ran each garment through a ringer, before hanging it to air dry. The first mechanical washers—gas powered machines—appeared in Alutiiq villages in the late 1940s and were a huge work savings to those who could afford one.
Laundry bluing, a powdered chemical that helped to whiten clothes, was available in Alaska by the late 1800s. Although some Alutiiqs may have used bluing in their laundry, others appear to have turned the vibrant blue powder into paint. The nineteenth-century spruce root hat recently purchased by the Alutiiq Museum and the Anchorage Museum of History and Art is covered with a powdery blue substance that may be laundry bluing. Around the world, bluing was a popular source of blue pigment, particularly among Pacific Rim cultures in the 1880s and 1890s.
Photo: Photo: Children hanging laundry on Woody Island, ca. 1938. Helen "Sunny" Knight collection, courtesy Ruth Ann Harris.
Akgua’aq kemegtullianga. - I ate meat last night.
Meat has been a mainstay of the Alutiiq diet for millennia. Like their forefathers, modern Alutiiqs are accomplished hunters who fill their freezers with sea mammal, deer, and even bear meat. But successfully slaying an animal is only the first step in feeding a family. Animal carcasses have to be processed and the meat they produce transported, stored, and cooked.
In classical Alutiiq society, animals were butchered with stone tools. Hunters used cobble spalls, sharp flakes of stone knocked off of beach cobbles, as well as ulus and flensing knives ground from slate, to skin, dismember, and deflesh carcasses. Bundles of meat were then wrapped in skins or placed in woven knapsacks and transported home. Hunters traveling on foot might place a layer of fresh grass on their backs to prevent meat carried on their shoulders from bloodying their clothing. At home, hunters often aged fresh meat, hanging it for a week or two to tenderize the flesh and mellow its flavor.
Fresh meat was cooked by stone boiling. Families dropped red-hot rocks into watertight containers—baskets, wooden boxes, hollowed out logs, and even animal stomachs—to heat their contents. They often added wild berries, particularly cranberries, to enhance the flavor of meat dishes. Roasting was another common cooking method. Alutiiq people used a flat stone slab heated in a fire to cook their meat, or they placed a roast on a skewer by the fire, turning it occasionally to help the meat cook evenly. Until the historic era when smoking, salting, and canning became popular, families air-dried meat not intended for immediate consumption. They stored this meat in wooden boxes and dipped it in oil before eating.
Photo: Frying bear meat for a potluck, 2013.
Akinka nangluki tamaakenka. - I lost all of my money.
With the development of a cash economy in the historic era, Kodiak Alutiiqs found opportunities to earn money. Until the turn of the twentieth century, Alutiiq families sustained themselves largely through subsistence activities, earning small amounts of money through trapping and reinvesting these funds in hunting and fishing equipment.
This pattern changed with the development of canneries and cannery stores. As people spent more time working in canneries, families became more dependent on the fishing industry for cash and credit. Canneries rented Alutiiqs the equipment they needed to catch and sell fish, and they provided processing jobs. In return, wages provided money to purchase the food, clothing, and supplies needed for the coming year. Because canneries were a source of both income and goods, people moved to be near them, focusing the Alutiiq population around commercial enterprises. Kodiak’s current Alutiiq villages have all been associated with canneries at one time.
Today, many Alutiiq families continue to earn money through the fishing industry, although tourism-based jobs are becoming more common. There are a limited number of wage-earning positions in rural communities, but residents work seasonally in canneries, staff post offices, work at community schools, act as public safety officers, complete administrative work for their tribal councils and Native corporations, and generate income by producing artwork.
KaRauwamek muluk’uungtaartutkut. - We get milk from a cow.
Milk is a relatively recent addition to the Alutiiq diet, a fact illustrated by the Russian derivation of the Alutiiq words for milk. Although midwives brewed a tea from pineapple weed to stimulate the production of a new mother’s milk, and mothers nursed their babies for several years, cow’s milk was not widely used in Alutiiq communities until the twentieth century.
In the early decades of the twentieth century, a few Alutiiq families kept dairy cows. Most families, however, purchased canned milk along with staples like flour and sugar. Akhiok Elders remember hot cereal breakfasts with canned milk. Milk was also used to make pacifiers. Parents mixed milk with bread, sugar, and seal oil or butter and placed this mixture in cheesecloth. They tied the cloth closed with a string and nailed the string to the wall by a baby’s crib. When the baby cried, they offered the homemade pacifier.
Today, Alutiiq families purchase both fresh and preserved cow’s milk from grocery stores. Boxed and canned milk remain popular in rural areas, where groceries arrive by airplane. Milk has also been added to some traditional dishes. Alutiiq people eat tender young willow shoots with milk and sugar and mix milk into their akutaq, a desert made today with mashed salmonberries, sugar, and Crisco. Others enjoy dipping an alatiq (N) oralaciq (S), Alutiiq fried bread, into canned milk.
Photo: Cows on the beach in Ouzinkie. Smith Collection, courtesy Tim and Norman Smith.
Katie carliangkutartuq. - Katie is going to have a baby.
Among the Alutiiq people, babies are signs of luck. In traditional society, women gave birth with the help of a healer, who functioned both as a midwife and a community doctor. Pregnant women began visiting the midwife when they were three to five months pregnant. Prenatal care took place in the banya or steam bath. Here a midwife monitored the baby’s growth and worked with their hands to position the infant and avoid complicated deliveries.
Babies were born in small, temporary huts adjacent to their mother’s homes. Here a laboring woman was secluded to prevent contamination of her husband’s hunting gear. A midwife tended to those in labor, holding the expectant mother in a sitting position for delivery. Herbal medicines soothed labor pains and assisted the production of milk. Seclusion lasted five to ten days after birth, and then mother and child were reintroduced to their household with a steam bath. At this time, the infant’s labret holes were pierced. Until they could walk, babies were strapped to cradleboards with supports woven from beach ryegrass. Moss was used for diapers, and infants were affectionately tended. Mothers never left a baby to cry.
Photo: Mrs. Riley and baby, Woody Island Station. Sather Family Collection, courtesy Melvin H. Sather.