ALUTIIQ MUSEUM  215 Mission Road, Kodiak, Alaska 99615   |  844-425-8844  |  view calendar > | search >
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School
Word in Alutiiq: Skauluq (N); Skuuluq (S)
In a sentence:

Naata guangkuta skaulurluta. - We should all go to school. 

MP3 File: school

Russian entrepreneur Gregorii Shelikhov established the first European-style school in the Kodiak region in the 1780s. Young boys taken hostage by Russian traders or enrolled in the school by their fathers learned to speak, read, and write in Russian and studied mathematics, carpentry, and navigation with the goal of becoming sailors. In 1794, Russian Orthodox clergy took over the school.

 By the turn of the twentieth century, American missionaries also had established schools on Kodiak. The Baptist mission school on Woody Island is the best known, but there was also a mission school in Ouzinkie. Federally funded government schools, designed to educate children through the eighth grade, developed in the early twentieth century. Like mission schools, these institutions sought to acculturate Native youth, teaching a largely foreign, western curriculum and forbidding the use of the Alutiiq language.

Students who wished to continue their education beyond the eighth grade had to leave home for boarding school, most commonly the Mt. Edgecombe school in Sitka. Although the federal government paid for boarding school, many students did not have the money to return home for vacations and did not see their families for years. An entire an Alutiiq generation grew up far from their communities. When they returned home, they felt like outsiders. There were few jobs that required the skills students had acquired in school, and they had not learned the traditional skills that teenagers once acquired in village settings. Today there is a school in every Alutiiq community, allowing most children to complete their high school education at home.

Photo:  Karluk school house.  Clyda Christiansen Collection.

Podcast Available: School
Sea Lettuce
Word in Alutiiq: Kapuustaq
In a sentence:

Kapuustat aturtaarait naucestarwigmi. - They use kelp (sea lettuce) in the garden.

MP3 File: sealettuce2

Sea LettuceThe sea lettuce found in the Kodiak Archipelago (Ulva sp.) is a bright green, leafy, intertidal alga that thrives on rocky shores. This marine plant has smooth, transparent leaves with small holes that can grow up to a foot long. These leaves have a short stem, or stipe, that clings to rocks with a tough, fibrous hold on. This plant is widely available. It grows along the Pacific coast from Korea to California. It prefers calm waters in the mid intertidal zone, and can be found in Kodiak’s sheltered bays and inlets.

The Alutiiq word for sea lettuce may come from the Russian word for cabbage, perhaps as a reference to the leafy character of both plants. Today, Alutiiq people do not harvest much sea lettuce. However, one user notes that it can be dried and the resulting flakes added to soups and stews. Some people also fry dried sea lettuce to make tasty chips.

Anthropological information suggests that Alutiiq people used marine algae more frequently in past. Although these plants contain a lot of water, they are nutritious. They are a source of carbohydrates that can be eaten fresh or dried for later use. They are also a valuable source of emergency food and even medicine. One Elder recalls eating rockweed when he was traveling and out of food. Another Elder reports that ribbon kelp can be heated and applied to arthritic joints for pain relief.

Sick
Word in Alutiiq: Qenaluni
In a sentence:

Allrani suk qenataartuq. - Sometimes a person gets sick.

MP3 File: sick

Before contact with Europeans, injuries were the most common cause of pain, disability, and death in Native societies. People suffered from drowning, hypothermia, falls, animal attacks, injuries caused by other people, smoke inhalation, poisoning, insect bites, and infections, as well as degenerative conditions including cancer, arthritis, and periodontal disease.

Among Alutiiqs, two distinct types of healers combated sickness. Medical specialists treated physical injuries with herbal remedies, bloodletting, and even surgery. Their knowledge was considered secret but could be passed on to a special person. In contrast, shamans managed illnesses caused by misalignment with the spirit world. They prevented disease by ensuring that people acted correctly. When sickness was attributed to the supernatural, shamans worked with dances, gestures, and chants to divine the cause and develop a cure.

With the arrival of Westerners, Native people were introduced to infectious diseases from the Old World. Across the Americas millions of indigenous people, who had no immunities to these diseases, were killed by colds, influenza, tuberculosis, smallpox, and venereal disease. Epidemics were a grim fact of life during Kodiak’s early historic era. In the first half of the nineteenth century, there were four deadly outbreaks of respiratory illness and a devastating smallpox epidemic. In 1837, this smallpox epidemic killed 738Native people in the Kodiak region and spread to Prince William Sound and the Alaska Peninsula, where hundreds of others died.

Smoke
Word in Alutiiq: Puyuq
In a sentence:

Mecuusqanek kenerqat puyurnartuu’ut. - Wet firewood is very smoky.

MP3 File: smoke

In Alutiiq communities, wood smoke is best known for its ability to flavor and preserve fish. Each family has its own special recipe for creating savory smoked salmon. Some rely on cottonwood, as both the bark and the wood of this widely available tree create lots of smoke and impart a wonderful flavor. Others prefer alder branches with the bark removed, or birch wood. In the past, smoke was also used to process hides and fumigate houses. Burning branches will drive bugs from your home, and the smoke of seabeach sandwort will keep mosquitoes at bay.

Smoke was also used for medicinal and spiritual purposes. In Akhiok and Old Harbor, the leafy stems of crowberry shrubs were once burned in homes to prevent and cure illness. Visitors to these communities were asked to jump over burning plants and stand in their smoke. This destroyed diseases and chased away evil spirits.

Alutiiqs also used smoke to ritually clean contaminated objects. If a baby was accidentally born in a house or if a menstruating woman touched her husband’s hunting gear, it was fumigated with smoke to restore its potency. Similarly, winter hunting ceremonies began by purifying the air with the smoke of burning grass, and to clear the air, a smoking torch preceded a corpse as it was carried outdoors for burial.

Photo: A smokey camp fire, Cape Alitak.

Snuff; Chewing Tobacco; Snoose
Word in Alutiiq: Iqmik
In a sentence:

Tobacco, paulamek, cayumek ilaluku, taumi mililuku, tawaten iqmilitaallriit. - Add tobacco, ashes, and tea, then grind it. We used to make snuff like that.

MP3 File: snuff2

snuffBy 1840, trade goods from Asia and Europe were reaching Alaska in large quantities, supplied by merchants in Siberian ports and Hudson’s Bay Company outposts in the United States and western Canada. Russian colonists hoarded the finer goods—porcelains, iron tools, and gunflints—for their own use, but traded food and trinkets to Alutiiqs. Tea and sugar were distributed with tobacco, copper rings, kaolin pipes, glass beads, and English ceramics. Traders used these inexpensive commodities to pay Alutiiq hunters for valuable sea otter hides, which they sold for profit in distant markets.

With tobacco, Alutiiqs made snuff, a mixture held in the mouth. The most common additive was wood ash. On Kodiak, people ground leaf tobacco in a large hollowed-out whale vertebra, known as a kuRusuq, using a wooden pestle. Elders remember their parents mixing ashes from the woodstove, or from burned cottonwood bark, with long leaves of Black Bull tobacco. Other additives could include crushed dried nettle leaves or burned brown spruce cones. In Prince William Sound, hemlock and yellow cedar ash were preferred additions. A little moisture helped the mixture stay together. For this purpose some people uses water. Others moistened their snuff with cold brewed black tea.

Alutiiq people fashioned snuff holders from birch bark or alder wood. Hunters commonly carried these small containers. In embroidered skin bags, snuff could be found among the sewing gear, ammunition, and extra arrows carried by all kayakers.

In addition to its recreational uses, snuff had medicinal qualities. Elders recall using a mixture of tobacco and cottonwood ash to treat toothaches. People placed chew on or near the tooth to relieve pain.

Photo:  Snuff grinder made from a whale vertebrae, Sundberg Collection.

Podcast Available: Snuff
Steam
Word in Alutiiq: Arillaq
In a sentence:

Cainiik arillartuq, kallaqutartuq. - The kettle is steaming, it's going to boil.

MP3 File: steam

The traditional Alutiiq steam bath, commonly known by its Russian name banya (a form of sauna), remains important for bathing, socializing, healing, and spiritual cleansing. In a low-roofed shed heated with a woodstove, bathers splash hot rocks to create surges of prickly steam. Benches elevate bathers into the hot rising mist. Today bathing is done in age and gender groups. Men wash first, followed by women, and then children, and there is often friendly competition to see who can withstand the hottest banya.

Many ailments are treated in the steam bath, where steam enhances the potency of herbal medicines. Steam opens the body’s pores, improving the absorption of poultices and helping to shed toxins. Many medicinal treatments are preceded or followed by switching: swatting the body with leafy branches soaked in hot water. People commonly make switches from mountain alder, although birch branches, elderberry branches, beach ryegrass stems, angelica, yarrow, and even ferns may be used. Switching increases circulation, promotes greater sweating, and can relieve common aches and pains.

Steam is also spiritually cleansing. In classical Alutiiq society, steam baths helped to purify the sick, prepare hunters for the chase, strengthen warriors for battle, and ready pregnant women for delivery. Today steam bathing is a favorite way to relax and rejuvenate both physically and mentally.

Photo: Mitch Simeonoff steaming crab legs in Akhiok.

Steam Bath; Banya
Word in Alutiiq: Maqiwik
In a sentence:

Maqiwik uqnaarllia. - The banya was hot.

MP3 File: steambath

Alutiiq sod houses had a small side chamber designed specifically for steam bathing. This room had a low ceiling and a narrow, covered doorway that trapped steam. People carried hot rocks into the steam bath with special wooden tongs and piled them into a corner where they would not block the doorway. Bathers splashed these rocks with water stored in wooden tubs to produce sweat inducing steam. Bundles of roots were used for scrubbing and angelica leaves perfumed the air, providing relief from sore muscles. Steam bathing was also a spiritual practice. Babies born in seclusion huts were washed in the steam bath as part of their introduction to the family household, and warriors would bathe the night before a raid.

Although many people believe that Russian colonists introduced steam bathing, archaeological data illustrate that the tradition is ancient. Alutiiq villages more than three thousand years old contain quantities of rock reddened and cracked by fire. This rubble shows that this type of bathing has been an integral part of Alutiiq social and spiritual life for millennia. Known today by the Russian term banya, steam bathing remains a popular social activity.

Image:  Diagram of an Alutiiq steam bath or banya.

Steam Bath Scrubber
Word in Alutiiq: Taariq
In a sentence:

Taariq taisgu. - Bring me the steam bath scrubber.

MP3 File: steambathscrubber

Alutiiq sod houses had a small side chamber designed specifically for steam bathing. This room had a low ceiling and a narrow, covered doorway that trapped steam. People carried hot rocks into the steam bath with special wooden tongs and piled them into a corner where they would not block the doorway. Bathers splashed these rocks with water stored in wooden tubs to produce sweat inducing steam. Bundles of roots were used for scrubbing and angelica leaves perfumed the air, providing relief from sore muscles. Steam bathing was also a spiritual practice. Babies born in seclusion huts were washed in the steam bath as part of their introduction to the family household, and warriors would bathe the night before a raid.

Although many people believe that Russian colonists introduced steam bathing, archaeological data illustrate that the tradition is ancient. Alutiiq villages more than three thousand years old contain quantities of rock reddened and cracked by fire. This rubble shows that this type of bathing has been an integral part of Alutiiq social and spiritual life for millennia. Known today by the Russian term banya, steam bathing remains a popular social activity.

Photo:  Mrs. Chya with a bundle of roots.  Courtesy the Rostad Collection.

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