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I Got It! (Bingo)
Word in Alutiiq: Pingua!
In a sentence:

Bingo-mi pingneq pingaktaaqa. - I like to win at bingo.

MP3 File: Igotit

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.

Podcast Available: I Got It!
Independence Day
Word in Alutiiq: Kasnaam ernera
In a sentence:

Ernerpak Kasnaam ernera. - Today is Independence Day.

MP3 File: independenceday

People often think of summer as a time when communities disperse, as people move to fish camps or travel. But where resources are abundant and predictable, communities often gather in the summer. Long, warm days offer opportunities to harvest foods and to socialize. Archaeological data from the banks of Kodiak’s salmon streams suggest that Alutiiq families gathered in large groups in late summer to harvest fish. Historic accounts suggest that these gatherings were filled with visiting, eating, and game playing.

Summer gatherings are still part of the rhythm of Alutiiq communities. The Fourth of July, for example, is a popular community celebration in Kodiak villages. In Old Harbor, residents gather for a morning church service dedicated to blessing the community’s many fishermen. A blessing of the fleet follows. Boats and their crews pass slowly by the community dock to be sprinkled by holy water by a priest, then line up in the bay for a wild race back to the harbor. The rest of the day is filled with contests for all ages. Pie-eating challenges, running races, arcade-style games, and boxing matches amuse children and adults, followed by an evening bingo game and sometimes a dance.

Photo:  Community members watching Juyly 4th festivities in Old Harbor. 

Podcast Available: Independence Day
Kiss
Word in Alutiiq: Meluuwaq; Cingaq; Pucuuq
In a sentence:

Cingarnga. - Kiss me.

MP3 File: kiss

Anthropologists have long speculated about the origins of kissing. Some believe it is learned behavior, a popular invention that spread widely in Roman times. Others think kissing is innate, a genetically encoded behavior that humans use to express affection and concern. Some biologists argue that when animals press their faces together it provides reassurance and signals connectedness, and that this is the evolutionary basis for kissing.

Whether you believe kissing is learned or innate, it is a widespread human practice, found among most modern cultures, including the Alutiiq people. Like many people, Alutiiqs recognize different types of kissing. The Alutiiq language reflects these differences with at least three distinct words for kiss. The first, meluuwaq, signifies a respectful kiss. This is the kind of kiss people use in church to greet friends and share forgiveness. It is also used in kissing icons, the images of important religious figures that adorn Alutiiq homes and churches. A cingaq is a sniffy kiss, where the kisser inhales. This is also a gentle, respectful kiss, the kind a grandparent gives to a baby to breathe in their sweet smell. In contrast, a romantic kiss on the lips is known as pucuurluku.

Photo:  A mother kisses her baby. 

Podcast Available: Kiss
Kulich; Easter Bread
Word in Alutiiq: Kulic'aaq
In a sentence:

Paas’kaami kulic’aalitaartut. - At Easter they always make Easter bread.

MP3 File: kulich

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.

Podcast Available: Kulich; Easter Bread
Labret
Word in Alutiiq: Kulutruaq
In a sentence:

Kulutruaq gua’i. - The labret is right here.

MP3 File: labret

Throughout Alaska, many Native people wore labrets: decorative plugs of bone and stone inserted through holes pierced in their cheeks and below their lips. Alutiiq men and women wore labrets singly or in pairs. At birth, babies were fitted with a tiny starter labret, often made of ivory. Over the course of an individual’s life, they enlarged their labret hole to hold a series of bigger plugs. A larger labret might be inserted to recognize a marriage, the birth of a baby, or another important life event. Some labrets were decorated with inlays of animal teeth, incised with geometric designs, painted with ochre, or embellished with strings of beads.

Craftsmen carved labrets in many different shapes. Some look like top hats, others like a whale’s flukes or a large spool. Anthropologists believe that labrets acted as symbols of personal identity, illustrating the status and family of the wearer. High-status individuals wore large, highly decorated labrets, and each family may have had its own style. Labrets first appeared in the Kodiak Archipelago about 2,500 years ago, at the same time that other forms of jewelry developed. Labrets disappeared rapidly in the historic era because of western intolerance and changing social circumstances. Explorers, merchants, and missionaries were unanimously horrified by a practice they believed caused facial disfigurement.

Photo:  Labrets from Kodiak Island, Alutiiq Museum collections.

Podcast Available: Labret
Laugh
Word in Alutiiq: Englarluni
In a sentence:

Englaneq asirtuq. - It is good to laugh.

MP3 File: laugh

Humor is an important form of communication. It relieves tension, helps people express their frustrations, and builds friendships. Alaska’s Eskimo societies are well known for their frequent laughter and abundant humor. From Alaska to Greenland, scolding, fighting, and displays of anger or aggression are considered extremely inappropriate, and difficult social situations are managed through avoidance and humor. The value of laughter is also expressed in joking partnerships. Among the Yup’ik and Iñupiaq people, these formalized friendships involved competition, horseplay, and exchanges of ribaldry.

Humor has a long and honored role in Alutiiq society. Elders continue to use humor in teaching Native history and ethics, and funny situations pervade traditional stories. Moreover, jokes, innuendos, and witty remarks are happily traded and greatly appreciated throughout daily life.

Humor was also part of traditional festivals. At these gatherings, women and girls dance in honor of deceased community members. Standing in tight lines, they crouched, swayed, and chanted rhythmically while men sang and beat drums. To lighten up these somber performances, old men in the audience would do everything possible to make the ladies smile or laugh. If they succeeded, the woman’s husband or father had to give a gift for the old or the poor. Even the smallest smirk was an infraction worthy of a sealskin.

Learned One
Word in Alutiiq: Lisngasqaq
In a sentence:

Gui lisngasqaq Alutiit’stun. - I am learned in the Alutiiq language.

MP3 File: learnedOne

The Alutiiq word lisngasqaq is a respectful term, used in reference to someone who is considered wise. You might use this word to talk about a teacher, a mentor, or an Elder with the ability to share valuable knowledge. For example, young adults who are currently learning the Alutiiq language by apprenticing to fluent Elder speakers call their teachers lisngasqaq.

The association of this term with efforts to revive the Alutiiq language illustrates its deeper meaning. A learned person is not simply an instructor but someone whose breadth of knowledge is to be respected. Through current language projects, community members are learning about Alutiiq history and traditions while they learn to pronounce Alutiiq words, memorize vocabulary, and build sentences. They are absorbing the wisdom of Elders. In addition to master-apprentice arrangements, learners also meet with Elders in the weekly Alutiiq language club, consult with speakers on the creation of learning materials, and practice conversations with Elders using immersion methods. Through these connected efforts, today’s learners of Alutiiq hope to become learned in their ancestral language.

Photo: Elders Florence Pestrikof and Mary Haakanson sharing their knowledge of artifacts, 2011.

Podcast Available: Learned One
Legend; Fairy Tale
Word in Alutiiq: Unigkuaq
In a sentence:

Cuumi unigkuarngutaallriit. - Before they always used to tell (legends) fairy tale stories.

MP3 File: legend

The Alutiiq word lisngasqaq is a respectful term, used in reference to someone who is considered wise. You might use this word to talk about a teacher, a mentor, or an Elder with the ability to share valuable knowledge. For example, young adults who are currently learning the Alutiiq language by apprenticing to fluent Elder speakers call their teachers lisngasqaq.

The association of this term with efforts to revive the Alutiiq language illustrates its deeper meaning. A learned person is not simply an instructor but someone whose breadth of knowledge is to be respected. Through current language projects, community members are learning about Alutiiq history and traditions while they learn to pronounce Alutiiq words, memorize vocabulary, and build sentences. They are absorbing the wisdom of Elders. In addition to master-apprentice arrangements, learners also meet with Elders in the weekly Alutiiq language club, consult with speakers on the creation of learning materials, and practice conversations with Elders using immersion methods. Through these connected efforts, today’s students of Alutiiq hope to become learned in their ancestral language.

Photo:  Painted box panel from Karluk One Site, Koniag, Inc. Collection, possibly showing the layers of the universe.

 

Podcast Available: Legend; Fairy Tale
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