Ayaquq egtaakait cuumi arwanun. - They used to throw a harpoon at a whale before.
For thousands of years Alutiiqs used harpoons to hunt sea mammals in Kodiak’s rich marine waters. Harpoon points were carved from bone and fitted into a wooden shaft equipped with an air-filled float. Alutiiq people used two kinds of harpoon points: a barbed point that stuck directly into an animal and a toggling harpoon designed to turn sideways in prey. The float was made from an inflated seal stomach. It acted as a drag on the wounded sea mammal and made the animal more visible in the water.
Alutiiq kayakers hurled their harpoons with the help of a throwing board. This wooden tool acted as a lever, lengthening the arm and improving throwing distance. It also allowed hunters to throw with greater force. Once wounded, the sea mammal was followed until it could be dispatched with a slate lance. To save the animal’s blood, which was eaten, wooden plugs were inserted into the wounds. Then the animal was tied to the hunter’s kayak and towed home.
Photo: Bone harpoon head, ca. 1200 years old, Uyak Site, Larsen Bay Tribe Collection.