Katie carliangkutartuq. - Katie is going to have a baby.
Among the Alutiiq people, babies are signs of luck. In traditional society, women gave birth with the help of a healer, who functioned both as a midwife and a community doctor. Pregnant women began visiting the midwife when they were three to five months pregnant. Prenatal care took place in the banya or steam bath. Here a midwife monitored the baby’s growth and worked with their hands to position the infant and avoid complicated deliveries.
Babies were born in small, temporary huts adjacent to their mother’s homes. Here a laboring woman was secluded to prevent contamination of her husband’s hunting gear. A midwife tended to those in labor, holding the expectant mother in a sitting position for delivery. Herbal medicines soothed labor pains and assisted the production of milk. Seclusion lasted five to ten days after birth, and then mother and child were reintroduced to their household with a steam bath. At this time, the infant’s labret holes were pierced. Until they could walk, babies were strapped to cradleboards with supports woven from beach ryegrass. Moss was used for diapers, and infants were affectionately tended. Mothers never left a baby to cry.
Photo: Mrs. Riley and baby, Woody Island Station. Sather Family Collection, courtesy Melvin H. Sather.
Isuwim carlia’a ineqsunartuq. - The seal’s baby is cute.
Harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) are year-round residents of Kodiak’s nearshore waters. Biologists consider them sedentary because they tend to stay in one area throughout their lives, visiting the same spots to feed, rest, breed, and pup. Like sea lions, harbor seals give birth on land. Pupping takes place between late May and early July. Pups weigh approximately twenty-four pounds and double in size in about a month. Seal pups are less shy than adults and spend more time on land. For Alutiiqs, this meant that baby seals could easily be hunted on land in the summer.
Although Alutiiq people are famous for their skill in hunting sea mammals from kayaks, seals of all sizes were taken on land for meat, bone, oil, and hide. In Prince William Sound, the soft hides of baby seals were also used to fashion an apron worn as underwear. One historic account tells of Alutiiq people harvesting seals with nets. At high tide, hunters would stretch a net more than fifty feet long and seven feet wide near a rookery with sleeping seals. When it was tight, they would wake the seals and scare them into the net. In more recent years, Elders recall stalking seals at rookeries. Covered with a sealskin, a hunter might creep up on to the rookery, crying like a baby seal. When an adult came to investigate, the hunter would shoot it.
Photo: Seals in the waters off Cape Alitak, May 2010. Courtesy Sven Haakanson Jr.
Aturtuq inqumek carliani. - She’s singing a baby song to her baby.
In the Alutiiq language, inqeluni means to amuse a young child by rocking or playing or to sing to a loved one, particularly a baby. Nouns derived from this verb include inqun, inquq, and inequteq, which refer to baby songs. These are special tunes sung to a baby by a loved one. Alutiiq baby songs are not like American lullabies, widely known and sung by many people. Among Alutiiqs,each song is a unique composition, written for a specific child by someone who loves or favors that child. Parents, grandparents, and godparents often author these private tunes, which commonly include nonsense words. A person whosings such a song is said to be sweet-talking a child.
One Elder recalls a baby song that belonged to a little girl who loved tea and soup. Her simple song went, “Suupama-ho-hoooo . . . Sarsanga-ho-hoooo!,” which means “Soup-ho-hoooo . . . have tea ho-hoooo!” When they were older, he would tease the girl by singing the song to her.
Songs for babies are common throughout Native Alaska. Many cradle songs and lullabies are found among the Indian societies of southeast Alaska. Some of these are individually composed for specific children, while others are family-owned songs sung to all the infants in a particular household.
Photo: LaRita Laktonen with her baby daughter at the Alutiiq Museum.
Iqsaka narya’aliyaqa. - I'm putting bait on my hook.
We often think of bait as something fishermen use on hooks to catch fish or in pots to lure crab, but Alutiiq hunters once used bait to capture birds. In Prince William Sound, hunters placed sinew nooses on the surface of the water, filled the centers with tempting pieces of crushed clam, and then made gull noises to attract diving birds. A quick tug on the noose secured the line around the unsuspecting bird.
A gorge was another simple and effective bird-hunting device. A hunter sharpened a sliver of bone or wood on two ends, then attached a length of sinew near the middle, and baited the sliver with something tasty. Then he placed the baited gorge in an open spot and hid behind a rock, holding the end of the line. When a bird swallowed the bait, the gorge became stuck in its throat, and the hunter had his prey on a string.
Alutiiqs also hunted birds with snares, staking loops of leather or baleen in spots where birds congregated. The loops would catch the head, foot, or wing of a bird, tightening as the animal struggled. People even caught eagles with snares, using salmon heads as bait.
Photo: Historic halibut hook from Old Harbor. Purchased with support of the Old Harbor Native Corporation.
Inartat kag'it'ruamek pilitaallriit. - They used to make baskets out of baleen.
For centuries Native Alaskans have used baleen to make containers, scoops, sled runners, line, nets and other useful objects. In the early 20th century, Inupiaq men in communities from Barrow to Point Hope began weaving baleen into baskets for the tourist trade. They followed traditional patterns for willow root baskets and often embellished their containers with small ivory carvings. Weaving baleen is difficult, as the material is flexible but stiff and plastic-like, and Inupiaq baleen baskets were thought to be the earliest examples. However, studies of archaeological materials from Karluk One indicate that baleen weaving was once an Alutiiq tradition.
The Karluk One site contains the remains of an Alutiiq village dating from about 600 years ago to the historic period. Baleen is common throughout the site’s prehistoric layers, both as raw material and as a part of finished objects. Karluk residents used thin strands of baleen to lash handles to tools, stitch the ends of bentwood vessel rims together, tie suits of wooden armor, join the pieces of model kayaks, braid cords, and weave baskets. There are pieces of three, open weave baleen baskets from the site. Thick vertical strands of baleen spaced about 1 cm apart were secured with thin horizontal bands of twining. One of the baskets is quite large, suggesting that it was used for collecting or storing items.
Photo: Baleen basket fragment, Karluk One site, ca. AD 400, Koniag, Inc. Collection.
Uqgwik qelltairu. - Strip the bark from the alder.
Bark was once a widely used resource in the Kodiak Archipelago, despite the fact that the islands’ spruce forests are relatively recent. The coniferous woodlands of Shuyak, Afognak, and northern Kodiak began developing about 900 years ago, almost seven thousand years after people first inhabited the islands. For most of Kodiak’s human history, people collected bark from cedar and spruce driftwood; harvested it from deciduous plants like cottonwood, Kenai birch, mountain alder, Pacific red elder, salmonberry, and devil’s club; or obtained it in trade with the Alaska mainland.
Bark had many uses. People once employed spruce bark as roofing and siding material for homes and smokehouses. For construction purposes, Alutiiqs cut sheets of this material from the tree’s thick inner bark. Alutiiqs also fashioned cottonwood bark into a variety of items, including toys, gaming pieces, fish net floats, and even small masks. The bark of the mountain alder could be steeped in water to create a reddish-brown dye for coloring grass and wood, and dried spruce bark and Kenai birch bark were sources of kindling.
Bark also has medicinal qualities. It is particularly useful for wound care. Kenai birch and alder bark can draw the infection out of cuts and boils. Elders report that you can soften fresh pieces of bark in water and place them on a sore with the inner bark against the skin. Bandage the area and leave it to heal. Dried salmonberry bark can also help to heal wounds. People sprinkle the wound with a power ground from salmonberry bark then bandage it.
Photo: Bark maskette, Karluk One, Koniag, Inc. Collection.
Qaugtat ilait allrani angtaartut. – Some barnacles are sometimes large.
Barnacles are one of the oldest living species on earth and a familiar resident of Alaska’s shores. These filter-feeding crustaceans typically live in shallow waters and will grow on just about anything–rocks, shellfish, docks, boats, marine debris, and even sea mammals. Whales are especially prone to barnacle colonization. Where do these whale riders come from? As whales swim through plankton rich waters, floating barnacle larvae attach themselves to the animals’ skin with feathery arms and a sticky, cement-like substance that hardens into a shell.
Barnacles are typically found on a whale’s head, flukes, and flippers, and individual whales can carry hundreds of pounds of these crustaceans. Although they burrow deeply into the animal’s skin, and are permanent colonists, barnacles rarely harm their hosts. In fact, whale barnacles can help to protect whales from predators, and they are species specific. Each type of whale barnacle is found only on one type of whale.
Although barnacles are not considered a source of food, they do appear in archaeological sites and provide important cultural information. At Mikt’sqaq Angayuk, a historic Alutiiq settlement at Cliff Point, researchers found examples of whale barnacles, but not whale bone. These barnacles are most likely from a humpbacked whale, indicating that whale meat was present at the site.
Photo: Humpback whale barnacles found in the Little Friend archaeological site, Womens Bay. Courtesy Molly Odell.
Puuc’kaat saRayami et’ut. - The barrels are in the shed.
The Alutiiq word for barrel—puuc’kaaq—comes from the Russian word bochka, also meaning barrel. This link reflects the use of barrels for bulk storage on sailing ships in the early historic era. Russian traders imported grain, beads, and many other commodities to Alaska in wood barrels. Assembled from wooden staves bound with a series of hoops, barrels were strong, air and watertight, and good at protecting their contents from vermin. They could also be rolled easily on and off ships.
In Kodiak, Sitka, and California’s Fort Ross, the Russian American company employed coopers, skilled craftsmen who made and refurbished wooden barrels. In the 1850s, Russian traders on Kodiak began filing barrels with salted salmon for use in other colonies. However, salting techniques were poor and the fish often spoiled.
In the American era, Kodiak entrepreneurs perfected salting salmon, establishing salteries in productive fishing locales. These operations were fairly simple, but they required a cooper to fashion the barrels needed to hold the salted fish. As such, barrel parts are among the artifacts that appear in Kodiak’s historic sites. In Karluk lagoon, for example, coopers made barrels with lumber imported from Afognak Island.
Alutiiq Elders recall playing with barrel hoops as children, amusing themselves by rolling and chasing the hoops. In the mid twentieth century, the use of wooden barrel faded as salting salmon became less common. However, a new type of barrel began appearing in Alutiiq communities, oil barrels shipped to villages with fuel for oil-fired furnaces.
Photo: Children playing on empty fuel barrel, Armstrong Collection.