Elltuwaqa aa’icagamek ap’rtaaqa. - I call my granddaughter “little cute one.”
The Alutiiq word aa’icagaq is a common term of endearment that means “little cute one”—similar to “sweetie” or “cutie pie” in English. People use this word when speaking to or describing children. You might say, “Come here aa’icagaq” to your sister’s chubby toddler, or tell a friend “Oh! Your baby is such an aa’icagaq.” And in Alutiiq communities, where people often acquire nicknames as children, there are those who are called Aa’icagaq throughout their lives.
Although most frequently used to refer to children, the word aa’icagaq can be applied to anything you might call cute in English, from baby seals to stuffed animals or even a good-looking woman. With a twinkle in his eye, one Elder calls almost every woman he meets aa’icagaq!Similarly, because this term refers to small, attractive things, and it is a word that many students of the Alutiiq language learn, it is also used as a name for objects. For example, the rowboat used at Dig Afognak, a local culture camp, is called the Aa’icagaq.
Photo: Two examples of Aa’icagaq an Old Harbor boy and his puppy.
Ikuk kasuutkutartuk unuaku. - Those two are going to get married tomorrow.
In classical Alutiiq society, preparation for marriage began at puberty. At the onset of her menstrual period, a girl was secluded in special hut for at least ten days. Menstrual blood was considered so extremely offensive to animals that great care was taken to avoid contamination. This prevented her new, powerful life-giving abilities from diminishing the hunting luck of her father and brothers. This ritual separation also marked a young woman’s transition into adulthood. When she emerged from seclusion, her chin was tattooed with fine black lines to signal her readiness for marriage. At festivals she could now wear long beaded headdresses to attract suitors.
Marriages were either arranged or formed by mutual consent. A couple might approach their parents for permission to marry, or parents might plan their children’s engagement. Marriages were formalized with valuable gifts. Prospective in-laws exchanged items to symbolize their acceptance of a union. With the gifts bestowed, the groom went to live with his bride, working to assist her family. There was no formal ceremony at the time of marriage, although some unions were recognized later with celebrations at winter festivals. After marriage, a woman might add tattoos to her body or hands as a sign of love for her husband.
Everyone married, from shamans to slaves. Marriages were usually monogamous: one man married one women. However, polygyny—marriage to multiple spouses—did occur. Wealthy women would sometimes marry a second husband to assist with household chores. Similarly, men could have two or more wives. Chiefs and shamans, in particular, were known to have multiple spouses.
Divorce was possible, but not common. When a couple decided to split, the man simply moved out of the house. Any children remained with their mother, and both parents were free to remarry immediately without social stigma. In the historic era, as Alutiiq people adopted the Russian Orthodox faith, they began to practice Christian marriage customs.
Photo: Martin & Norrell Wedding, Karluk Church, Knagin Collection.
April-rem winga Jeremy-mek atengr'tuq. - April's husband's name in Jeremy.
In classical Alutiiq society, marriages were either arranged or formed by mutual consent. A couple might approach their parents for permission to marry, or parents might plan their children's engagement. Marriages were formalized with valuable gifts. Prospective in-laws exchanged items to symbolize their acceptance of a union. With the gifts bestowed, the young husband went to live with his bride, working with her father to prove his abilities. When children were born, couples often started their own households. There was no formal ceremony at the time of marriage, although some unions were recognized with celebrations at winter festivals. After marriage, a woman might add additional tattoos to her body or hands as a sign of love for her husband.
Marriages were usually monogamous, with one man married one woman. However, polygny - marriage to multiple spouses - did occur. Chiefs and shaman were particularly likely to have multiple wives. One historic source tells of a chief who married eight women. Similarly, wealthy women would sometimes marry a second husband. This person functioned like servant, conducting household chores.
Photo: John and Julia Pestrikoff, husband and wife, Port Lions, Alaska.
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.
Gui atqa Sophie. - My name is Sophie
In classical Alutiiq society, children were often named for a beloved and recently deceased relative. Before birth, a child’s father would choose two such names, one for a boy and one for a girl. The child was not thought to resemble its namesake or to be the reincarnation of that person. The name simply paid homage to a dear family member. With the exception of certain ceremonial occasions, the names of deceased people were not spoken until their name had been given to a child. This tradition may reflect a belief that speaking the dead person’s name might summon his or her spirit.
In addition to a person’s given name, people often acquired nicknames during their lives. A person might be titled for a great deed or after an ancestor who had accomplished a similar feat. For example, a man with extraordinary hunting success might be named for a great hunter from his family’s past, as long as that man’s name had not been given to someone else. Other names came from friendships. Sometimes people exchanged names with their peers or created secret names to use only with their buddies.
Nicknames remain a common form of endearment in Alutiiq families, especially for children. Names may recall a favorite activity, a funny situation, or even a child’s early attempts at speech. These names often follow a person into adulthood and are both a source of humor and a fond connection to the friends and family members of youth.
Photo: Alutiiq Elder Sophie Shepherd.
Aalukaalitkiinga. - They named that person after me.
In classical Alutiiq society, people accumulated names over their lifetimes, adding new titles to commemorate a deed or reflect a change in their social standing. Many babies were first named for a relative—a namesake—a practice that continues today. In Alutiiq communities, children often bear a parent’s name. Fathers and sons have identical names, followed by Sr. and Jr. However, the eldest child is not always named for a parent. Today, Alutiiq children receive the name of a relative they resemble. Thus, a third son might be named for his father, or a girl for her grandmother.
Alutiiqs began adopting Russian names in the early decades of the nineteenth century as they joined the Orthodox Church. These names often came from a baptismal sponsor. Today, many Alutiiq babies receive an orthodox saint’s name eight days after birth. Parents choose the name of a saint who was born, baptized, martyred, or canonized near their baby’s date of birth, and the saint’s commemoration day becomes another birthday. For example, the parents of the late Elder Larry Matfay recorded his name day, April 10, the commemoration of Saint Hillarion, as his official birthday, not March 22, the date of his biological birth.
It was once traditional to host a party on your name day, inviting friends to your home for food, celebration, and reflection on the life of your saint. At such parties, the celebrant might read about the life of his or her namesake saint or sing the saint’s feast day hymn. Name day celebrations continue to be popular in some families, although some families have replaced them with secular birthday parties.
Photo: Birthday celebration in Old Harbor, Violette Able Collection, 1950s. Courtesy the Old Harbor Native Corporation.
Aanama qunukaanga. - My mother loves me.
Motherhood in classical Alutiiq society began at an early age. Alutiiq girls were considered adults at the time of their first menstruation, ready for marriage and child rearing after the completion of a ritual seclusion. This seclusion took place in a special hut, or in later time, a girl's bedroom. It lasted from several weeks to several months, conspicuously marking the passage out of childhood.
Children were highly coveted in Alutiiq society. Russian reports suggest that it was common for Alutiiq women to have four or five children, and women with babies were thought to be lucky. Women who failed to get pregnant were said to have dark insides. Such women consulted shamans who offered fertility charms and spiritual intervention. A doll from an archaeological site in Karluk may be such a charm. It features a very pregnant woman with her hands at the small of her back and enlarged genitals. The doll appears to be in labor. A Russian source also indicates that women who wanted children carried dolls, caring for them like babies.
Mothers had many special roles. A boy gave his first kills to his mothers, which she displayed at a celebratory festival. Mothers also helped their children arrange marriages. A boy's mother would approach the mother of the girl he wished to marry, to ask permission for the union. In turn, the girl's mother would question the boy's mother to determine if her son was a good provider.
Photo: LaRita Laktonen with her baby daughter at the Alutiiq Museum.
lliya’ateng carlia’artaarait. - They used to always take care of their orphans.
In classical Alutiiq society, young people who lost their parents were adopted into wealthy families as laborers, working in return for food, clothing, and shelter. This treatment of orphans is indicative of the importance of family to Alutiiqs. A person’s lineage was not only essential to defining their identity but to maintaining it. Without a family, a person had few social or economic resources and was easily disregarded. This perception of orphans is not unique to Alutiiqs. Alaska’s Athabaskan and Iñupiat societies also used orphans as laborers.
The treatment of orphans is recorded in traditional Alutiiq stories. One tale from Prince William Sound tells of three orphan boys. After being badly abused, they take revenge on their village. Escaping imprisonment in an empty sod house, the boys find weapons, kill the community chief and his family, chase away the other villagers, and then leave the community to live by themselves.
In 1893, the word orphan took on a new meaning, when the Baptist Mission founded a home for needy children on Woody Island. This organization cared for children whose parents had died or were unable to support them. Unfortunately, the orphanage forbade the practice of Russian Orthodoxy—the predominant religion of their Native residents—and in some cases took children against their parents’ will. Children came from the Kodiak area and from adjacent areas like the Aleutian Islands. By 1900, there were forty-eight children in the home. In addition to academic studies, girls learned household chores and boys received instruction in agriculture.
Photo: Children at the mission home in Ouzinkie with new clothes, ca. 1940. Smith collection, courtesy Tim and Norman Smith.