Bingo-mi pingneq pingaktaaqa. - I like to win at bingo.
“Pingua! I got it!,” you might shout while reeling in a big salmon. However, this Alutiiq word is most commonly heard in Alutiiq language bingo games in classroom settings. Alutiiq students shout “pingua!” instead of “bingo!” when they fill a card. This game, used to teach Alutiiq vocabulary, is not the only popular bingo game in Alutiiq communities.
Bingo has been popular in Kodiak communities since the 1950s. As other types of Alutiiq gaming declined in the twentieth century, bingo took hold. In Ouzinkie people began playing after community movies, and in Old Harbor, bingo often followed community dances.
Today, bingo halls are popular gathering places where people visit in the evening. An evening of bingo typically runs from seven o’clock to ten or eleven. In Kodiak, people play bingo four nights a week at the Sun’aq Tribal Center. In Old Harbor, bingo takes place several times a week in the community hall. Bingo often also follows other evening events, like a basketball games or a tribal council meeting, and coincides with community celebrations like the Fourth of July.
Tribal governments run bingo, providing community entertainment, funds for tribal activities, and part-time employment to community members. Each hall hires a cashier, a caller, and a card checker.
Cuumi kungkirtaallianga unuk nangpiarluku iraluwakan. - Before, I used to ice skate all night sometimes when the moon was out.
By December, many of Kodiak’s small ponds are often frozen over, strong enough to support ice skaters. Alutiiq Elders recall the joy of skating. As youths, many had homemade ice skates made from evaporated milk cans. Flatten the cans, tie them to your shoes, and away you go, sliding across the ice. You can even hold your coat open to get an extra push from the wind. Ice skating remains a favorite winter pastime in Kodiak’s villages. In Akhiok, young people enjoy gliding along the ice on the lake behind the church, particularly in the moonlight.
Fashioning skates from empty milk cans is one of many examples of thrift in Alutiiq culture. Alutiiqs believe that to demonstrate respect for the natural world, they must use everything given to them with great care, wasting nothing. This means taking only what they need, making full use of the plants and animals harvested, and recycling materials as they wear. For example, the broken base of a wooden bucket might be reshaped into items like skin-working boards, and old boat skins—the worn coverings from kayaks—were used to wrap the dead for burial. In more recent times, Elders remember making stoves from empty oil barrels, sewing pieces of worn-out clothing into blankets, using old T-shirts for diapers, and stitching underwear from the soft cotton cloth of empty flour sacks. Such practices were also an economic necessity given the shortage of imported materials.
Photo: Ice Skating in Ouzinkie, ca. 1960. Courtesy Tim and Norman Smith.
Mal'ugnek segnengq'rtua, kinam tenglukiinga! - I got two black eyes, somebody hit me!
There are many ways to get a black eye. Elders recall that men and boys working around swinging fishing gear were frequently bruised in the face. Others got shiners from fighting, particularly after school. Parents forbid such sparring and would punish them if they found out they were involved in a fight. Even those who were defending themselves were punished for fighting. Parents taught their children to walk away from fights. Similarly, if a woman got bruises from her husband, this behavior was whispered about and looked down upon by the whole village.
Although Alutiiqs discouraged fighting, they encouraged wrestling. Among the Chugach Alutiiq of Prince William Sound, wrestling matches occurred at community gatherings, where people tested their strength and agility. Players would grasp each other’s hands, or wrap their arms around each other’s waists, and try to knock their opponent off his feet. When a person fell, he lost. Other forms of wrestling included finger, arm, or leg wrestling, where participants hooked each other and pulled. Today, wrestling remains popular among Alutiiqs. Young men participate in competitive high school and college wrestling with support from Alutiiq corporations.
Wamqutartut. - They are going to play.
Education in Alutiiq communities focused on training children the essential skills of adult life. Young people learned these skills by listening to stories and legends, helping their Elders, and imitating adult activities with toys. Archaeological sites in the Kodiak Archipelago have produced many miniature items—tiny duplicates of full-sized objects. Small-scale oil lamps, bowls, scoops, ulus, and skin-stretching boards helped little girls learn domestic tasks, while boys learned boating, hunting, and ceremonial responsibilities with toy kayaks, bows, harpoons, clubs, and drums.
Children also played with toys designed simply for fun: tops, dart games, and dolls are remembered fondly by Elders and are found in archaeological sites. Examples of dolls include peg-like figures of men in hunting hats designed to fit into toy kayaks, and larger dolls with carefully carved faces and body tattoos, which may have been dressed in skin clothing.
Alutiiq Elders recall strict rules on playing with toys. Toys were carefully stored during the winter season to avoid bad luck. Children were allowed to play again in the spring, when migratory birds arrived signaling the rebirth of the year.
Photo: Larsen Bay children at play, 1940s. Smith Collection, courtesy Tim and Norman Smith.
Aiwiakaut paragautakun mangat taitaaartut, waamenguarluteng. - When you are going by boat, porpoises come and kind of play.
Two varieties of porpoise frequent Kodiak’s coastal waters: the harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) and the Dahl porpoise (Phocoenoides dalli). These swift, muscular animals are members of the cetacean family, a group of marine mammals that includes whales. Porpoises feed on fish and invertebrates in coastal waters and are known to follow boats. Porpoise bones in ancient coastal middens illustrate that Alutiiq people have been harvesting these animals for at least six thousand years.
Alutiiq people hunted porpoises in spring and summer. Men in kayaks carrying sharp-ended harpoons pursued them in the water. Like whales or sea otters, they had to be taken at sea and could not be ambushed at rookeries like seals and sea lions. Therefore, porpoise hunting was a much more difficult and risky undertaking. A traditional Alutiiq dart game, where kneeling players toss darts at a swinging porpoise model, highlights the enormous skill involved in killing and landing a porpoise. In addition to food, Alutiiqs coveted porpoise for their sinew, particularly the long fibers that run along the animal’s spine and tail. These were separated into thread for fine embroidery and into line for kayaks and hunting gear.
Photo: Porpoise target piece carved of bark, Malina Creek site, Afognak Joint Venture Collection.
Isuwiq yaamamen mayallria. - The seal climbed up the rock.
The Kodiak Archipelago is formed of intrusive igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks many millions of years old. Slate and shale, greywacke and granite are the stones that make up the island’s core, and they provided raw material for many traditional tools. Harpoons and arrows were tipped with small points fashioned from local cherts, knives were ground of hard black slate, and oil lamps were pecked from cobbles of hard grey-green tonalite. Rocks were also important for cooking and bathing. Stones heated in a fire were dropped in baskets to warm food, and hot rocks splashed with water created steam for steam bathing. Collecting the right type of rock was an art. Some stones shatter readily when heated, producing dangerous flying debris. Alutiiq people continue to collect specific types of cobbles for use in the steam bath.
Yaamaq is also the name of a popular children’s game played by individual competitors or teams of players. Children erect stakes on the beach, each in a shallow depression about two hands wide. Next, players select smooth, hand-sized rocks to throw at the stakes and line up behind one stake to take turns throwing at the other. Contestants score two points by hitting the stake or one point by tossing the rock that lands closest to the target. Bouncing the rock into the stake is not allowed, and a team must accumulate sixteen points to win a match. The game ends when a team wins two consecutive matches.
Photo: A circle of rocks may represent the remains of an ancient hunting blind at the Amak site, 2011.
Uswiillraraat cecengtaartut. - Kids are always running around.
In classical Alutiiq society, runners passed important news from one village to the next. Elders recall young men running along the beach to carry messages to neighboring communities. When they arrived, a fresh runner would take the message to the next village, and in this way information would travel up the coast from community to community. Some villages had two or three swift boys who were designated runners. To send messages quickly across water, Alutiiq people used signal fires. These often warned of warfare, and different numbers of blazes provided different details. Runners watched for these fires to carry the news overland.
Running was also a popular sport in Alutiiq communities. At gatherings, young people participated in activities designed to test their strength and endurance. These included boat races, swimming and diving contests, wrestling matches, rope-jumping competitions, and running races. Races remain popular in Alutiiq villages, particularly at Fourth of July celebrations, where villagers hold sack races, buoy races, and even mountain marathons.
Photo: Fourth of July sack race in Old Harbor. Courtesy the Rostad Collection.
Cuumi kaatartaallriit. - They used to play the stick game before.
Competitions were a common activity at social gatherings in classical Alutiiq society. Both men and women enjoyed participating in everything from swimming, boating, and running races to tests of strength and a variety of team sports. Competitions were a way to demonstrate one’s stamina and dexterity, and they allowed rivals to compete in a friendly arena. For example, the Alutiiq people of Prince William Sound invited neighboring Eyak and Tlingit peoples to compete in games.
In addition to their recreational qualities, some games had a spiritual component. Certain games were limited to a specific time of year because they were believed to affect the natural environment. Guessing games, like kaataq, were popular in the summer, because they were thought to slow the movement of the sun.
Kaataqis a favorite game of Alutiiq men, because it involves lots of singing and joking as well as careful slights of hand. In the past, men played this game in the two weeks before Lent, staying up all night to bet on the outcome of games. Old sod houses were an excellent place to play, because they were warm and private. Men never played kaataq around children; it was considered appropriate only for adults.
This simple guessing game requires two inch-long pieces of wood or bone. Men sometimes carve these gaming sticks from cedar. Although the sticks in a pair are the same size, each has different markings. One might be painted and the other not, or one might have grooves carved into it and the other not. The marked stick is the “wee” and the unmarked stick the “dip.”
To play kaataq, two men stand facing each other. One man holds the sticks behind his back, chanting at and taunting his opponent. The holder arranges the sticks in his fist, then brings one hand to his chest and leaves the other against his back. When he says, “pick,” the challenger must guess which stick rests in the fist on the holder’s chest.
If the challenger guesses correctly, he scores one point. If the challenger guesses incorrectly, the holder receives the point. The holder can change the game by putting both sticks in the hand behind his back. When the challenger guesses an empty hand, the holder wins the point. However, if an observer catches the holder’s slight of hand, the observer shouts “change,” and the holder must put the hand with both sticks on his chest for the challenger to select. In this case, the challenger wins the point. The first player to accumulate sixteen points wins.
Photo: Women playing the stick guessing game in Akhiol, Rostad Collection.