Kiagmi laptuugtaartukut. - We play baseball in the summertime.
In classical Alutiiq society, community gatherings were an opportunity for games, particularly those played outdoors. Both men and women enjoyed participating in athletic challenges, including everything from swimming, boating, and running races to wrestling, high jumping, target throwing, and team sports. Competitions were a way to show off one’s strength and endurance and to compete in a friendly arena.
Outdoor games continue to be popular in Alutiiq communities, particularly during the long, warmer days of summer. Children play a variety of games, from familiar Western favorites like hide and seek to Alutiiq games like laptuuk, a type of baseball.
Laptuuk, derived from a Russian batting game, resembles American baseball with some interesting differences. Alutiiqs typically play this game on the beach, using a soft rubber ball, two bases, and any number of people. Just divide your group in half and get ready for lots of laughter. To start, one team takes the field while the other bats. The pitcher tosses the ball gently, allowing the batter to hit. When the ball is hit, everyone on the batter’s team runs to the opposite base, and if they can, back to home plate to score a run. Each batter has three chances to hit before it’s a teammate’s turn at bat. However, there are no strikeouts. A player can only be out if a fielder catches the ball he hit or if a fielder holding the ball tags him. A fielder can also throw the ball directly at the runner. Hit a runner with the ball and he is out! Just one out retires the side, and the opposing team is up to bat. With many people running the bases at once, laptuuk is full of both confusion and excitement. Often people are having too much fun to keep score.
Photo: Children playing Laptuuk outside Ouzinkie School, 1965. Courtesy Tim and Norman Smith
Inartamek piliyuq. - She’s making a basket.
Very few classic Alutiiq baskets are preserved today. Museums around the world hold just a handful of ethnographic and archaeological examples of this beautiful and functionally important art. Despite their rarity, baskets were an integral part of Alutiiq household equipment. They held small objects; were used as cooking, drinking, and eating vessels; and functioned as containers for food storage and collecting. Very large baskets, fitted with leather straps, even acted as backpacks for travelers to carry clothing and bedding. The tight weave of these baskets protected their contents from rain and sea spray.
In the Kodiak Archipelago, Alutiiqs wove much of their basketry from spruce roots that were dug from the forest floor, cleaned of their outer coverings, and split into flexible strands with a fingernail. Other common weaving materials included beach rye grass and baleen. Spruce-root baskets were woven upside down, with concentric rings of extra twining to reinforce their base. Some were painted or finely decorated with overlays of other weaving materials, for example, maidenhair fern. Today, basket weaving is experiencing a revival. Elders are passing the art to their families, and artists are studying museum collections to learn ancestral techniques and to share their knowledge at community workshops. Traditional forms are reappearing but have been supplemented with tiny baskets made into popular forms of jewelry: necklaces, pendants, and earrings.
Photo: Basket by Fedosia Inga, KANA collection, Alutiiq Museum
Aliktaanka keneryat. - The bats scare me.
Bats are not widespread in Alaska. There are just five species of these small flying mammals found mostly in forested areas of southeast and south central Alaska, where trees provide good roosting places. The most common Alaskan variety is the little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus), which lives year-round in the Kodiak region.
Little brown bats live in small colonies. They are nocturnal animals that feed on insects at night and roost during the day in rock overhangs, trees, abandoned buildings, and chimneys. Biologists believe the little brown bat was one of the early animal colonizers of the Kodiak Archipelago. These animals are common in the region’s northern spruce forests, but can also be seen beyond the limits of coniferous trees. Residents of Larsen Bay report that bats may roost in their attics and campers encounter them in the Karluk drainage.
The Alutiiq word for bat—keneryaq—comes from the word for fire—keneq. Elders say this is because bats are known to circle a fire. One Elder tells a story about a powerful shaman who caused a young woman to become very ill. The shaman took the shape of a bat to spy on the woman, but was captured in his bat form and placed into a container of urine. Here he died. After his death, the young woman recovered from her illness.
Photo: Little brown bat. Courtesy the USFWS National Digital Archives.
Una muRutuumasqaq yaamaq giinangq'rtuq. This pounded rock has a face.
People made pecked stone objects from a variety of commonly available, local stone–granite, greywacke, and sandstone. Stone pecking is slow, time consuming work. Recent experiments suggest that the best way to shape a cobble is with two stones, using a hammerstone to drive a pecking stone. Many pecked stone objects also took advantage of the natural shape of a cobble as part of the tool design. For example, to create a sinker for deep sea fishing, craftsmen pecked grooves into a spherical beach cobble to form a channel for attaching a line.Alutiiq people made pecked stone artifacts for thousands of years. Some of the archipelago’s earliest assemblage, those over 7,000 years old, hold pecked stone sinkers and oil lamps. However, about 2,000 years ago, pecked stone artistry flourished, as craftsmen shaped and decorated stone oil lamps. Some examples have sunken designs pecked into the bowl or outer edge of the lamp. Others have sculptural elements that appear in relief along the lamp rim or rise from a lamp’s bowl. These small, intricate carvings are particularly astounding when you consider they were made by pecking.
Photo: Prehistoric stone sculpture from Chirikof Island, USF&WS collection.
PaRaguutaq kangiyamen iluwartuq. - The boat is coming into the bay.
Kodiak’s many fjords, inlets, and estuaries reflect its glacial history, when tongues of ice carved valleys out of the island’s granite core. As the earth’s climate warmed twelve thousand years ago, the ice receded and rising sea levels filled these valleys with ocean water. This process created a coastline that is long in comparison to the archipelago’s land mass. Kodiak has more than 2,410 miles of shore and no interior location is more than 18 miles from the ocean. This complex coast provides habitat for an abundance of marine creatures as well as a sheltered environment for hunting and fishing.
The ways Alutiiq people used bay environments are preserved in the location and character of hundreds of past settlements. By locating and mapping these sites, archaeologists can reconstruct patterns of land use and the economic systems they represent. For example, we know that Kodiak’s earliest foragers made their camps in protected lagoons and mid-bay environments, harvesting resources from small camps and moving frequently. As the region’s population grew and there was more competition for resources, people began to build larger, more permanent settlements at bay mouths. These centrally located settlements allowed people to monitor many resources at once and to bring foods and raw materials to their families rather than moving their families to these resources. However, by the late prehistoric era, no coastal area was unused. Large settlements are even found in the most active outer coast, where the residents of villages watched for migrating whales.
Arnat qutmi et’ut. - The women are at the beach.
The place where the ocean meets the land is a diverse, productive environment, close to many resources. From the first occupation of the Kodiak Archipelago, Alutiiq families took advantage of this environment, building their homes behind quiet beaches where they could launch boats, harvest shoreline foods, and watch for sea mammals. Today, the beach remains a popular place for collecting and processing food, storing gear, camping, picnicking, and relaxing.
Kodiak has many types of beaches. The outer coast is covered in rocky headlands and high-energy cobble beaches. Quieter bays feature gravel shores, sandy bights, and even mud flats. On all of these beaches, beachcombing is a favorite pastime. The currents that sweep northward into the Gulf of Alaska from the central Pacific carry debris from far away. Glass net floats and plastic soda crates are among the Asian flotsam that reaches the archipelago’s shores.
Archaeologists believe that Kodiak’s prehistoric residents also collected objects from the beach, salvaging metal from fragments of Asian shipwrecks, collecting driftwood, and picking up artifacts. Water-worn stone tools from ancient deposits show up in more recent archaeological sites. They suggest that Alutiiq people of the past occasionally collected their ancestors’ tools.
Photo: The beach at Cape Alitak - looking northwest.
PaRag’uutateng culurtaarait. - Sometimes they beach their boat.
Most fishermen who know Alutiiq words are familiar with culu’ulluku, a term that means to beach your boat. Whether intentional or accidental, beaching is an age-old way of reaching the shore. In classical Alutiiq society, paddlers who wished to bring their skin-covered qayat or angyat to land would select an appropriate beach, wait for the right wave to carry them landward, and use special strokes to pull their boats safely through the surf. Archaeologists note that many ancient coastal villages were built behind a good landing beach: a protected length of sand or gravel shoreline.
While beaching a boat is a convenient way to unload, it can also be an important safety choice. By bringing your boat to land in a storm, you can avoid being smashed against rocks and thrown into the water. This was a particular concern in the past, when Alutiiq hunters paddled lightweight, skin-covered boats that could easily be torn by the jagged slate that lies along Kodiak’s shores. Kayakers who couldn’t get to shore in a storm lashed their boats together to create a raft or tied inflated sea mammal stomachs to each side of their boats to improve stability.
Photo: Sunken boat, Whale Pass, 1968. Courtey Tim and Norman Smith.
PitRuusqarsurlita. - Let’s get some beach loveage.
Beach loveage (Ligusticum scoticum) is perennial member of the parsley family found widely across the north in Europe, North America, and Asia. Around the Kodiak Archipelago, it thrives along sandy and gravely shores. This plant features long-stemmed clusters of leaves, each with three shiny, rough-toothed leaflets. Like a number of other common coastal herbs, beach loveage produces an umbrella of small white flowers. However, this plant can be distinguished by the color of its stems. The bottom of its leaf stalk has a purplish tint.
Alutiiq people begin gathering beach loveage in May and harvest the plant throughout the summer until its leaves turn yellow. It is often air-dried by hanging bunches of the plant upside down. Like parsley, people use this herb both fresh and dried, especially to flavor fish soup, fish patties, baked fish, and many other fish dishes. Beach loveage is especially relished with the first red salmon of the season. Some people eat the boiled herb as a vegetable. Others add it raw to salads.
Illustration: Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. Vol. 2: 648.