Nukallpiat ruuwartaallriit agayuwim tunuani. - The men used to shoot arrows behind the church.
Alutiiq hunters carried a variety of arrows: powerful, accurate weapons launched with a stout wooden bow. Each arrow had a slender wooden shaft carved from spruce, cedar, or hemlock and was painted red and fletched with eagle feathers. This shaft supported a sharply pointed head fashioned from bone, wood, and even copper obtained through trade with Athabaskan people. Arrows for land hunting had fixed heads and people carried them in a skin quiver. In contrast,
arrows used to hunt seas otters and ducks had detachable heads attached to the shaft by a line. People carried them in cylindrical wooden quivers that could be lashed to the deck of a kayak.
Toy bows and arrows are common finds in Kodiak’s well preserved archaeological sites. Elders recall that boys used these miniature versions of adult implements to improve their hunting skills. When migratory birds returned to the archipelago each spring, signaling the rebirth of the year, youth were allowed to take their toys from storage and engage in competitions on the beach. Adult men would often challenge boys to shooting matches. Players aimed their arrows at wood or kelp targets while spectators cheered for their favorite archers.
Photo: Arrow shafts, Karluk One Site, Koniag, Inc. Collection.
Tamamta ruuwartaallriakut Paaskaami. - We used to all play bow and arrow at Easter time.
In the Alutiiq language, the word for “arrow”—ruuwaq—has a variety of meanings. It can be used as a noun to refer to the wooden-shafted, feather-fletched projectiles fired from hunters’ bows. Alternatively, this word can be used as a verb to mean the action of shooting with a bow. For example, the Alutiiq dancers sing a paddling song that says, “We are coming by kayak, paddling—arrow, arrow, arrow!” This sentence makes little sense if you interpret the word “arrow” as a noun. However, if you think of the word “arrow” as a verb, the singers are urging the hunter to shoot.
Ruuwarluni refers to a target shooting game traditionally played in the spring and fall. To play this game, archers took turns aiming arrows at a kelp bulb suspended from a stick in front of a sod backstop. Each archer had one arrow with his mark. In each round, a player earned two points for hitting the kelp bulb. If no one hit the kelp bulb, the player whose arrow was closest earned
one point. The object of the game was to accumulate sixteen points. Scores were kept with the aid of small wooden sticks, or in more recent times, empty evaporated milk cans!
Photo: Boys learn to shoot a bow and arrow, Akhiok Petroglyphy Camp, Cape Alitak.
Paulartuu'uq p'litaami. - There's a lot of ashes in the stove.
The Alutiiq word for ash—paulaq or peluq—usually refers to wood ash. This is the fine, grey sediment found in the bottom of a fire pit or a wood burning stove after a hot fire. Cleaning the wood ash out of the household stove was a common task in decades past, before Alutiiq families adopted oil burning and electric stoves. Wood ash is also a common find in archaeological sites, in and around the rock-lined hearths where people cooked. However, it is just one of the types of ash Kodiak researchers encounter. Volcanic ash is the other.
Although Kodiak has no volcanoes, it lies adjacent to the volcanically active Alaska Peninsula. Over the millennia, the Gulf of Alaska’s strong winds have transported quantities of this ash to Kodiak, creating distinctive layers. These layers help scientists interpret the past. A good example is the ash deposit from the 1912 eruption of Mt. Novarupta, known locally as the Katmai ash. Any materials found below this layer, which covers roughly half the archipelago, date prior to March 27, 1912: the date the ash began to accumulate.
Layers like these are known as stratigraphic markers. Although digging animals and people can rearrange the position of ash deposits relative to cultural remains, stratigraphic markers are still an excellent research aid, because they provide a limiting date. They also document major environmental events that impacted the lives of Kodiak’s first residents.
Photo: Layer of volcanic ash (yellow) in an excavation on Woody Island, 2008. Courtesy Mark Rusk.
Siilaq ipegtuq. - The awl is sharp.
An awl is a sharp, pointed tool used to punch holes in leather. In prehistoric times, Alutiiqs fashioned awls from wood, bone, and ivory. Archaeological data indicate that bird bone was the most common material. To create an awl, a carver removed the knobby ends from the hollow wing bone of a large bird. This created a tube from which long narrow slivers of bone were cut. The slivers were then ground to a sharp point with a piece of pumice or sandstone.
Awls were an important component of sewing kits. Using an awl, a seamstress would punch multiple holes in the skins she was working. Then, she used her needle to pass strands of sinew through the holes to create stitches. This kept her delicate needle from breaking.
In addition to clothing, women sewed skin covers for traditional boats. Each spring, groups of women worked together to mend old covers and create new ones from sea-mammal hides. An older woman might lead the group, creating pieces of thread from porpoise sinew while directing the sewers. When finished, the cover was oiled, pulled over a wooden boat frame, and stitched closed.
Photo: Bird bone artifacts demonstrating the process of creating an awl. Uyak collection, courtesy the Larsen Bay Tribe.