ALUTIIQ MUSEUM  215 Mission Road, Kodiak, Alaska 99615   |  844-425-8844  |  view calendar > | search >
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Word in Alutiiq: Nasquq
In a sentence:

Nasquqa allrani anq’rtaartuq. - My head sometimes hurts.

MP3 File: head
Covering the head is an important part of staying warm in cold, wet, or windy conditions, like those found on Kodiak. Alutiiq people designed a great variety of hats to protect their heads and retain heat. Unlike the skin clothing of far northern Alaska, Alutiiq parkas did not include a hood. People wore long robes with a short, loose-fitting, standup collar, like a mock turtleneck. The one exception was the gut skin rain jacket, a waterproof, hooded garment designed for protection from rain and sea spray. These jackets had a closely fitting, lightweight hood that covered the head and neck. Equipped with a string, the jacket’s hood could be drawn tightly around the wearer’s face so that the head was entirely covered. In addition to keeping your hair dry, this design prevented water from running down the back of your parka!

Alutiiq people fashioned other headgear from wood, spruce root, and animal tissues. In their kayaks, men wore elaborately decorated hats and visors bent from wood. In addition to shielding their faces from rain and glare, these hats were a type of amulet, an object that provided spiritual assistance with the hunt. Helmets carved in the shape of a seal’s head were another type of hunting hat. Shaped like a hard hat, these hats featured a seal’s head on the crown, as if the animal were poking its head out of the water. Wooden figurines from archaeological sites depict hunters wearing these helmets, and illustrate that this type of hat is hundreds of years. 

Alutiiq women made other hats by weaving spruce roots into round-rimmed caps, or stitching skins into tall, narrow headdresses. Like wooden hats, these garments were colorful and elaborately decorated. Spruce root hats were painted with geometric designs or animal faces, and embellished with beads and dentalium shells. Skin hats featured a stunning mix of bird and mammal tissues, with decorations of puffin beaks, tufts of hair, and embroidery. And in the historic era, Alutiiq ladies crafted beautiful gutskin hats modeled after the caps of Russian seafarers.
Photo:  Seal helmet carving by Lena Amason, 2005.  Purchased for the Alutiiq Museum collection with support from the Rasmuson Foundation.
Word in Alutiiq: Talataq
In a sentence:

Talatangq'rtuq. - He has cataracts.


MP3 File: Cataract
CataractCataracts are a common problem among older people. As we age, proteins build up in the clear discs, or lenses, that form the center of our eyes. This slow process gradually reduces the amount of light that reaches the eyes, clouding vision. It also alters people’s perceptions of color, increases the effects of glare, and enhances nearsightedness. Cataracts can develop from an eye injury or disease. Infections, diabetes, and exposure to toxic substances or intense light can all cause this degenerative condition. A few people are even born with cataracts.
Cataract surgeries are thousands of years old. From ancient Egypt to the Roman world, Japan, and Native America, people sought ways to restore sight by removing cataracts. Historic accounts from Alaska indicate that eye problems were common among Native people. Eye irritations, infections, and injuries were widely observed, as was clouding of the eyes. This clouding may have been from cataracts or from disease of the cornea, the outer surface of the eye. Alutiiq peoples treated this problem in an ingenious way.
In 1805, Archmandrite Iosaf Blotov, the Russian cleric who led the first Russian Orthodox mission to American, wrote about the use of lice in eye surgeries. According to his account, people fastened a live louse to a fine hair and lowered it into a person’s eye. When the insect attached its-self to the film in the eye, it was yanked out and the process repeated. Some people interpret this as a technique for removing cataracts. It is more likely that the practice helped to remove an opacity from the cornea. The Inupiaq people of northern Alaska also used this procedure.
Podcast Available: Cataract
Bog; Swamp
Word in Alutiiq: Maraq
In a sentence:

ARapagka nag'art'lliik mararmi. – I lost my (2) boots in the bog.

MP3 File: bog

BogThe Alutiiq word maraq can be used to talk about any low lying, wet piece of land–a swamp, bog, marsh, or even a muddy meadow. The rainy Kodiak Archipelago is unofficially full of such places, but if you consult a map of Kodiak habitats, maraq is particularly common on the south end of Kodiak Island. The Ayakulik river flats are a good example. Here, numerous shallow ponds are surrounded by grasses, sedges, and small shrubs, forming a habitat classified as wet tundra.

Kodiak’s bogs contain a multitude useful plants harvested by Alutiiq people. These include a variety of berries collected for food, a coarse ‘swamp grass’ once woven into mats, and the medicinal plant narrow-leaf Labrador tea (Rhododendron tomentosum Harmaja).

Known in Alutiiq as atsaqutarpak, or by the newer word nunallaq caayuq (wild tea), Labrador tea is a low-growing, evergreen shrub with narrow, leathery leaves. It is commonly used to treat lung and throat ailments–from coughs, colds, and fevers to asthma and tuberculosis. Alutiiq families brew tea from the plants aromatic leaves. They boil the leaves in water, steep them in hot water, or even chew the raw leaves and swallow the juice. People use the plant fresh and dried, but are careful to consume it in moderation. Large quantities of Labrador tea can be toxic.

Photo: Wet lowlands of southern Kodiak Island.

Podcast Available: Bog; Swamp
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