Ata tRuup’kaaq. - Let’s see the pipe.
Although tobacco was popular in the historic era, smoking tobacco was not. Historic sources indicate that Alutiiq people preferred to create snuff by adding tobacco to a mixture of wood ash, black tea, and dried crushed nettle leaves. This produced iqmik, a substance held in the mouth. Smoking tobacco gained popularity later, perhaps in the last decades of Russian rule.
By the 1840s, tobacco pipes were among the trade goods imported to Kodiak. Manufactured in western Europe, the earliest pipes were inexpensive objects imported both for use by colonists and for trade to Native people. These pipes were made of kaolin, a soft, white clay. They featured a small, deep, outwardly sloping bowl with a narrow, tapering stem. The stem was often very long, allowing the user to continue smoking the pipe if this fragile part broke.
For archaeologists, kaolin pipes provide a means of dating historic sites, because their styles and designs changed quickly. Pipes from the early nineteenth century, for example, have wide bowls decorated with geometric designs and even faces. In contrast, older varieties tend to have smaller, unadorned bowls. Around Kodiak, kaolin pipes fell out of use in the late-nineteenth century as wooden pipes and cigarettes gained popularity.
Photo: McDougall / Glasgow koalin clay pipe, late 19th century, made in Pennsylvania. Alutiiq Museum collections.
Qantaq asircaru. - You fix the plate.
In classical Alutiiq society, dishes were made from wood, grass, and bone. People ate from decorated bowls carved from a solid piece of wood or food containers created by pegging a bentwood rim to a wooden base. Drinking cups were woven from grass or spruce root, and some archaeologists think that Alutiiqs used pieces of whale bone as cutting boards or plates.
Western-style dishes, including “china” plates, were introduced to Alutiiq households in the historic era. Native people adopted tea drinking from Russian fur traders, along with English ceramics and Chinese porcelains. Many of the ceramics that made their way to Kodiak were purchased from English manufacturers by the Hudson’s Bay Company and then sold to the Russian American Company, which distributed them in Alaska. The value of these early ceramics is illustrated by the care Alutiiq people took to mend broken pieces. Craftsmen drilled holes in ceramic fragments to literally tie cracked and broken plates back together.
For Kodiak archaeologists, ceramics fragments can be very helpful in dating historic Alutiiq settlements. Each of the distinctive patterns printed on plates, bowls, cups, saucers, and teapots has a unique history. For example, the Spode and Copeland Company’s blue rose pattern was manufactured between 1825 and 1833, but their ivy pattern dates to the period spanning from 1845 to 1865. After 1868, the Alaska Commercial Company imported a distinctive, brightly painted, thick ware often featuring a cornflower design.
Photo: Historic plate fragements, Leisnoi, Inc. Collection, Mikt'sqaq Angayuk Site, Womens Bay.
Iqallut nasqut asumi kallaut. - The fish heads are boiling in the pot.
Eighteenth-century fur traders in the Kodiak region noted that Alutiiqs made and used ceramic pots for baking, cooking meat, and melting blubber. Although this pottery has not been produced in more than two centuries, archaeological data illustrate that it was expertly made. Pieces of these pots also provide clues to their manufacture.
Alutiiqs fashioned pots from local glacial clays mixed with sand and gravel. A few early pots also show the use of grass as a tempering agent. Most were quite large, up to a foot in diameter and big enough to hold several gallons of liquid, although people also fashioned tiny toy pots. Alutiiqs created two shapes of pots, tall conical pots with a flat base, and another style with a more rounded base.
To start a pot, a craftsman formed the base with a round disc of clay. To this, he or she added strips of tempered clay, winding them around the base. Craftsmen used small paddles to blend the strips of clay as they formed the walls of the pot. Many pot were cone-shaped at the base and then straightened at a distinct shoulder to form a cylinder at the top. A decorative collar might be added to the opening of the pot, and its surface smoothed with a wash of clay and burnished. Craftsmen probably hardened their pots by placing them in fires.
It is likely that Kodiak Islander learned to make ceramics from their neighbors on the Alaska Peninsula, who produced pots for more than a thousand years before the technology was adopted in the Gulf of Alaska. Ceramic pots appear in Kodiak’s archaeological record at about eight hundred years ago. They are most common in settlements of the islands’ southeastern and southwestern coast. The mouths of these vessels are typically coated with a thick, black crust, which may be carbonized grease.
Photo: Linda Mullen popping corn, Port Wakefield, Raspberry Island. Juney Mullen Collection.
KaRtuugaarturtaartukut, iqallugmek cali. - We eat potatoes to go with the fish.
Derived from the Russian word for potato, kartofel, the Alutiiq word for potato, kaRtuugaaq, reflects the introduction of garden produce to Kodiak in the nineteenth century. Russian traders introduced potatoes and potato gardening, encouraging potatoes to become a staple winter food in Alutiiq communities. Potatoes were particularly valuable because they could be stored well into winter. Elders remember their parents buying sacks of potatoes in the fall, purchased from cannery stores with summer wages. Others helped their mothers tend family gardens, pulling weeds and eating fresh produce on the sly, including raw potatoes.
In the historic era, Alutiiqs began to add mashed potatoes to akutaq, a popular dessert made from berries, fish eggs, seal oil, and the starchy bulbs of the Kamchatka lily. Lily bulbs, which can be dug in the summer, resemble rice. Like potatoes, they can be mashed into a starchy paste. Thus, potatoes were a good garden substitute for this wild ingredient.
Other uses for potatoes include healing. The noted Kaguyak midwife Oleanna Ashouwak is said to have put socks filled with grated potato under sick people’s feet to lower their temperatures and draw out illness. Elders recall that if a potato turned grey during such treatment, it was having the desired effect.
Photo: Potato shack, Ouzinkie area. Simth Collection, courtesy Tim and Norman Smith.
Sun'ami qitengtaartuq. - It rains all the time in Kodiak.
From September to April, a winter storm crosses the Gulf of Alaska about every five days, bringing intense rain, high winds, and heavy seas. Surrounded by ocean and encircled by Alaska’s high coastal mountains, Kodiak is continually exposed to the full force of these storms. The archipelago receives about 79 inches of precipitation annually and has more than one hundred wet days. Most of this precipitation, about ninety percent, falls as rain.
Alutiiq people have always adapted their practices to this soggy environment. Hunters, travelers, and people working outdoors once wore waterproof garments stitched from the intestines of sea mammals and bears. These flexible, lightweight coats were easy to work in and kept the wearer very dry. Houses were also built to keep out the rain. A thick cover of thatch and sod over a wooden frame helped to shed winter’s constant drizzle. Archaeological data, however, suggest that water did eventually seep into sod dwellings, particularly through their earthenfloors. To combat this seepage, Alutiiqs constructed drainage ditches to direct water away from living areas. Home builders lined and covered these trenches with boards, forming a network of channels below the floor.
Rain also influences subsistence activities, because it can affect the harvesting and processing of resources. Even today, people tend not to pick plant foods in the rain. Heavy rain makes berries watery, and wet vegetables are difficult to preserve. Similarly, fair weather is necessary to dry the quantities of salmon and halibut that people eat all winter long. Too much rain and fish flesh will fail to dry and will spoil.
Photo: A storm approaches Old Harbor.
Mamaayat qasartaapet. - We eat clams raw.
There is a common misconception that the word Eskimo means “eaters of raw flesh.” Linguistic research, however, suggests that the word actually translates as “snowshoe netter.” Despite this mistranslation, northern peoples are known for their consumption of uncooked foods. The Chukchi and Sami peoples eat many part sof the reindeer uncooked, and the Canadian Inuit enjoy many kinds of raw fish. Not all uncooked food is unprocessed, however. Freezing and drying are common ways to preserve plant and animal foods in the north for later consumption.
Uncooked foods have some advantages over those that are roasted, boiled, baked, and fried. First, they are often more nutritious. Cooking can destroy some of the nutrients that foods contain. Drain the liquid from boiled foods, for example, and you lose some of the vitamins and minerals in your supper. Foregoing the cooking fire is also convenient when traveling or when it is difficult to make a fire. Eating uncooked foods saves time, and it conserves fuel in places where wood is scarce or needed for other purposes. Native people will also tell you that freshly harvested raw foods taste great.
Although firewood was not typically scarce in the Alutiiq homeland, raw foods were widely enjoyed. Families commonly ate whale, seal, and sea lion meat raw, as well as fish and fish eggs. A favorite way to eat fresh-caught fish is with cow parsnip leaves. Raw fish, particularly the hump of a spawning pink salmon, can be wiped with these leaves to add flavor, or pieces of fish or fish eggs rolled up in the leaves like sushi.
Alutiiq people still eat many wild plant foods raw, as vegetables, salads, and desserts. Some favorite fresh greens include willow shoots and leaves, the inner fleshy part of salmonberry stems, tender young hemlock parsley stems, fireweed shoots, sourdock stems and leaves, beach loveage, chives, and goose tongue. Even marine plants are a source of tasty raw vegetables. Alutiiq people collect both bull kelp stems and rockweed for immediate consumption.
Image: Cleaning a fresh salmon in Larsen Bay.
Caqit asiiyutaakameng, narlurtaapet. - When something spoils, we always smell it.
The human sense of smell pales by comparison to that of many animals, yet nature equipped people to recognize thousands of odors strong and faint. Biology isn’t the only determinant of the way we smell, however. Our cultural heritage influences everything from the scents we enjoy to how we use smells in our daily lives.
For example, historical records tell us that the early sailing ships that visited Kodiak smelled badly to Alutiiqs, as did the scent of Alutiiq villages to sailors. Each culture had different olfactory preferences.
Strong smells have long been a part of Alutiiq society. Elders remember the pungent odors of cooking bear meat, weasel skins stretched to dry, and fermenting salmon eggs. These aromas were not unpleasant, although an Alutiiq legend featuring a comical, smelly raven shunned by his wife, reminds people that smelling badly can cause problems!
Where there are strong smells, people often devise ways to eliminate them. Alutiiqs use steam bathing and deodorizing plants to manage odors. People still rub fresh pineapple weed on their hands to neutralize smells, hang alder branches in smokehouses and outhouses to refresh the air, and cover traps in grass to remove human scent. Hunters will also rub their hands with angelica before touching their traps to mask their scent.
Photo: Alutiiq Elder with yarrow, a plant whose ordor repells mosquitos. Photo by Priscilla Russell, KANA Collection.
Taryurtuu’uq una iqalluk. - This fish is salty.
Salt is an effective preservative because it can dehydrate plant and animal tissues and limit the growth of bacteria. This mineral was a valuable commodity during Kodiak’s historic era because it was used to process both animal pelts and fish. Early traders imported most of their salt. Although salt can be boiled out of seawater, the extraction process is time-consuming and labor intensive. It takes a great deal of fuel to create salt crystals from a kettle of saltwater.
During the Russian era, Alutiiq people air-dried most of the fish they harvested for winter consumption. However, Russian entrepreneurs experimented with salting small quantities of salmon for export. Salting operations took place in Barling and Afognak bays. Salt was also applied to sea otter pelts before their shipment to Asian markets.
Fish salting became more common in the early American era, with the development of commercial fishing. With several dories and a seine, companies harvested red salmon—drying the backs to feed Alutiiq people and salting the bellies for export. Alutiiq men staffed one salting operation on the Karluk River, catching, dressing, and preserving salmon, which they packed into barrels made from Afognak Island spruce.
Photo: Saltery at Port Hobron, ca. 1980. Albatross Collection, Courtesy the National Archives.