Carliarluki nakernaten. - Nakciquten. Take care of your talisman. You will be lucky.
Oral tradition suggests that irat were dangerous as they were hungry for human flesh. A story from Prince William Sound tells of a woman who ran away from her village. A year later a hunter and his wife traveling nearby encountered the woman. She had tattered clothing and said she was hungry. They recognized her, but realized she had become an evil spirit because her head was pointed. While his wife cooked some food for the woman, the man carefully snuck his boat back into the water. While the woman ate, husband and wife escaped. They paddled away quickly, evading the spirit as she yelled, “I want you two. I will eat you up”. For many years the people of the village would not travel past this spot, till a shaman sought the spirit and killed her.
Other stories suggest a link between irat and Alutiiq shamans. Elders recall that shaman took advantage of the power of evil spirits to travel to other worlds, see distant events, and send messages. One elder remembers a shaman who could communicate with other villages by sending a fire devil–a message that traveled with an evil spirit in a ball of fire.
Photo: Long-headed, whistling mask, 988-2-182, Pinart Collection, Château-Musée, Boulogne-sur-Mer, France
The rufous hummingbird has the longest migration of all hummers in the United States. These solitary fliers arrive in Alaska by early May. They spend just three months in the north laying eggs and raising their young. In the fall, they return south, flying thousands of miles to warmer climates. Some travel to Mexico. Others head for places like Florida, an annual round trip of roughly 8,000 miles!
Kodiak lies at the far western limit of the rufous hummingbird’s range, but birds are known to visit in the fall. Local birders believe that many of these individuals are immature birds, inexperience migrators who stray accidentally into the archipelago. Perhaps due to their rarity, Alutiiq hunters prized hummingbirds, and their tiny nest and eggs, as amulets. Dead birds were dried kept in hunting bags for luck, beside bits of bear hear, colorful stones, and other personal talismans.
Kodiak Alutiiq speakers refer to humming birds as kumlurngaq. However, in other parts of the Alutiiq world speakers may use the term megtarpak–from the word megtaq for bumblebee. This word reflects the tiny, buzzing-like characteristics of the hummingbird.
Photo: Rufous Humingbird, courtesy the USF&WS National Digital Library.
Giinan tang'raqa! – I see your face!
Like masks, the human face was also a canvas. Here, identity, emotion, and social circumstance were symbolized in classical Alutiiq society. Face paint, tattoos and jewelry were more than just decorations, they transformed a person’s image into a social statement. Mourners cut their hair and blackened their faces. Participants at winter festivals wore headdress and face paint to symbolize their home village. Girls tattooed their chins to symbolize readiness for marriage. Warriors painted their faces in preparation for a raid.
Photo: Ivory fastener with a carved face, Karluk One site, ca. AD 400, Koniag, Inc. Collection.
Suuget ilait niu'uqurtaarait Nanwam suugi ell'uni.–Some people always talk about there being a 'lake person.'
Stories of unusual creatures associated with water are ancient and found in many cultures. Greek myths talk of the sirens, birds with women’s faces whose sweet songs lure sailors to their death. The Scottish tell tales of the beautiful Selkie, gentle beings who swim the oceans as seals and shed their skins to walk on land as people.
In Alutiiq legends, creatures move between the human and animal worlds by putting on and taking off skins that retain animal characteristics. A boy escapes harm by wrapping himself in an otter skin and swimming away. A swan removes her feathers to become a woman. Bears are descended from people. These tales highlight the Alutiiq belief that all creatures have an inner, human-like consciousness. Inside animals are fundamentally human. It is not surprising, therefore, that Alutiiq Elders tell stories about human-like sea creatures.
Clyda Christiansen remembered Elders speaking of mermaids and relating that people would be turned into beings that were half human and half fish at the end of the world. This legend combines Bible stories with Alutiiq concepts of the universe where the boundaries between people and animals are fluid.
Lucile Davis recalled a creature that lived in Karluk Lake and was associated with sightings of dead people. The creature would appear in the lake, or in the river or swap below the lake. These were the places where the dead showed themselves to the living, so they would not be forgotten. Here, Lucille’s youngest brother Moses saw the spirit of Phillip Vasili, a man who drowned in nearby Larsen Bay. To protect themselves, people said blessings and sprinkled holy water across the area.
Photo: View across Karluk Lake in spring. Karluk Lake Survey Colleciton, AM620.