StaaRistam agayuwik carliartaaaraa. - The church warden takes care of the church.
Many of Alaska’s Russian Orthodox communities share clergy. Clergymen typically live in the largest community in a parish and serve smaller, outlying communities periodically. In the Kodiak region, for example, clergy stationed in the city of Kodiak and in Old Harbor travel to surrounding villages several times a year. The absence of a resident village priests does not limit the life of the Orthodox Church. The faithful worship and celebrate with the help of local church officers: a lay reader and a church warden.
The lay reader, a liturgical officer, is selected by the church and trained by a predecessor or a priest. Lay readers were once responsible for teaching Slavonic to village children, and they continue to lead Sunday services with instructions from a priest. Although they cannot perform all parts of the service, they can read scripture and lead songs. In recent decades, Alutiiq women have often filled the position of lay reader.
In contrast, a community appoints a church warden to maintain records, assist the lay reader, and manage the physical care of the church building with money collected from parishioners during services. The warden lights candles before services, builds and maintains crosses in the community cemetery, cleans the church, maintains the church walkway, and records baptisms, marriages, and deaths. In the past, the warden also made sure people attended church and kept children quiet during the services.
In the early decades of the twentieth century, the lay reader and the church warden were also important political figures. They acted as part of the village council, working with a community’s chief to govern and care for residents.
Image: Three Saints Church, Odl Harbor, watercolor by Helen J. Simeonoff, AM459
Qikumek asulitaartut. - They make pots out of clay.
Clay, a substance found in most types of soil, is made up of minute particles of silica and alumina bound together by water. This sediment forms as the surface of the earth weathers, breaking rocks into smaller and smaller pieces. In the Kodiak Archipelago, weathering of the islands’ slate and granite core during the last glacial epoch created distinctive deposits of blue clay. This clay is widely available, particularly in areas once covered by glacial lakes.
Throughout the world, craftsmen mine clay to mold this supple material into useful shapes. Alutiiqs are no exception. They once created clay-lined cooking features around household hearths. Archaeological data suggests that small clay-lined pits held water and acted as cooking vessels for soups and stews heated with hot rocks. Clay-lined troughs leading into these pits may have captured the oil exuded by chunks of blubber set by the fire to melt.
Alutiiqs also lined underground pits with thick layers of clay. These large depressions, dug into the soil beneath household floors, acted like root cellars. Here, foods could be stored or fermented in the cool ground. People sealed some of the pits with a clay cap. Others had a stone or wooden lid.
Alutiiqs also used clay to manufacture fired ceramic pots. There are no historic descriptions of this process, but it has been determined from the study of pot fragments and a few complete pots from archaeological sites. These finds suggest that people mixed clay with beach gravel and formed it into large, thick-walled, conical pots with a flat base. These vessels were hardened by firing, and then used for cooking and rendering oil. Some of these ceramic pots were finished with decorated applique rims.
In the nineteenth century, Alutiiqs adopted a variety of European items made from clay. These included English ceramics and delicate tobacco pipes made in Europe of white kaolin clay.
Photo: A clay-lined pit uncovered at the Outlet site, Buskin River area.
Plit’aaq eprirturu. - Clean the stove.
In classical Alutiiq society, house cleaning was both a daily activity and a scheduled spring event. Historic sources and the accounts of Elders indicate that people swept their sod houses with brooms made of eagle wings and covered their floors with clean, dry grass. Alutiiqs also restuffed their mattresses with dry grass, organized food stores in their rafters and side rooms, and carefully stowed gear not in use.
House cleaning is evident in ancient village sites. Archaeologists studying prehistoric dwellings find few artifacts or animal remains on their dirt floors. Only objects that slipped between floorboards, were pressed into the earthen floors, fell into drainage ditches, or were carefully stored away remain.
In addition to physical cleaning, houses were spiritually cleansed with smoke. The smoke from burning grass purified indoor air before festivals, after the birth of a baby, or at the death of a family member.
Maintaining a tidy house is in keeping with Alutiiq views of respect. By caring for one’s house and the objects in it, Alutiiqs show respect for natural resources—for the plants and animals that provided the raw materials necessary for human life.
Photo: Father Gerasim with brooms, Afognak Village 1918, photo by Clara Helgason. Courtesy Gene & Phyllis Sundberg.
Naken taimallrianga penat qus'igtut. - In place where I came from, the cliffs are high up.
Over the past hundred thousand years there have been three distinct periods of glaciation in the Kodiak Archipelago. Streams of ice from Cook Inlet and from Kodiak’s own mountains carved deep, narrow valleys into the region’s bedrock. As the ice retreated and sea level rose about twelve thousand years ago, the sea inundated these ice-carved valleys, forming the archipelago’s irregular coastline with its fjords, inlets, straits, estuaries, rocky headlands, and dramatic cliffs.
Alutiiqs took advantage of Kodiak’s rough topography, even its precipitous cliffs. Hunters scaled rock walls with thick ropes of sea mammal hide to collect birds and eggs from nests on cliff faces. People gathering brush for firewood and fish smoking tied bundles of sticks together and dropped them over cliffs to the beach, where they could be collected by boat. And in late prehistoric times, entire communities retreated to villages built behind sheer cliffs to protect themselves from invaders. Here people perched logs secured with kelp lines on the cliff edge, ready to release on top of enemy invaders.
Alutiiq legends also mention cliffs. According to one tale, the first man and woman who entered the world paddled between two cliffs. When the cliffs closed in on their boat, they broke one end, creating the curved prow that has since characterized Alutiiq kayaks.
Photo: Kodiak Island ocean side cliff.
Agunanek piliyuq. - She is making clothes.
Sewing in classical Alutiiq society was often a social activity. Women enjoyed each other’s company as they produced clothing and covers for skin boats. Girls began participating at the age of six, making thread and braiding line. Some communities recognized a young woman’s coming of age with a public festival where her mother gave away her sewing tools. This act symbolized the family’s preparation for their daughter’s new adult life.
In addition to providing protection from the weather, clothes symbolized an Alutiiq person’s place in society. A garment’s animal skins and decorative elements reflected their wearer’s age, gender, and social position. Members of the wealthy ruling class wore elegantly decorated parkas of sea otter, fox, or ground squirrel pelts, or furs imported from the mainland. Jewelry and tattoos added to the appearance of prestige imparted by these rich materials. In contrast, the less affluent wore simple clothes sewn from bird or seal skins. Whatever your status, your clothes provided a spiritual link to the animal world. Alutiiq people kept their garments clean and well repaired to show respect for the creatures that supported human life.
Photo: Cormorant skin parka. Etholen Collection. National Museum of Finland.
Qilaruartuq ernerpak. - It’s kind of cloudy today.
Cloud cover, precipitation, wind, and fog are persistent features of Kodiak’s environment that reflect the continual passage of storms through the region. The Gulf of Alaska is almost always partly cloudy, and there are usually less than seven clear days a month. The city of Kodiak is completely overcast fifty percent of the year, with an average daily cloud cover of about seventy percent. Although many people associate cloudy weather with the stormy winter season, summer days often have lingering low clouds and rain.
For Alutiiq people, cloud cover and the bad weather that accompanies it influence daily life. In the dark days of winter, clouds further limit the daylight available for outdoor activities and hide the moon that can provide light for evening chores. In spring, heavy cloud cover can block the solar radiation needed to increase air and water temperatures and stimulate plankton blooms. This can delay the arrival of spring resources— the fresh fish, sea birds, and sea mammals that Alutiiqs anticipate after a long winter of relying on stored foods.
In classical Alutiiq society, a person’s behavior was thought to influence the weather. On Kodiak, menstruating women were secluded in special huts. One reason was to shield their eyes from the sky, so they would not invite bad weather. In Prince William Sound, a woman who wished for good weather might take a wooden bowl to the beach and beat on its bottom with two sticks. Then she would lie down, wish for good weather, and pretend to sleep. On waking, she would look at the sky and say, “I was dreaming it would be fine weather tomorrow.”
Photo: Clouds in the sky over Karluk Lagoon.
Akagwingq’rtuten-qaa? - Do you have cloudberries?
The cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus), also known as the lowbush salmonberry, is an herbaceous plant that grows in Kodiak’s meadows and bogs. These plants produce juicy, pale-orange berries that look like plump raspberries. Cloudberries are some of the first plants to fruit in the Kodiak region. They can often be gathered as early as late June and remain available through mid-August. Many people prefer to harvest them early in the season, when they are firm and easiest to pick. These berries can over ripen quickly and become mushy.
Cloudberries are a favorite wild food among the Alutiiq people. They are gathered in large quantities because they store well, and they were once kept in seal stomach containers filled with seal oil. These containers were hung from the ceilings of sod houses and their contents used throughout the winter. Today, cloudberries are eaten raw, stored in the freezer, or cooked into a tempting selection of jams, jellies, and desserts. This popular berry is also a favorite addition to akutaq, a traditional dish made by mixing berries with combinations of fat, fish eggs, mashed potatoes, and sugar.
Drawing: 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: 276. Courtesy the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database.
Just as fishermen today protect themselves from large, thrashing fish with a gaff, or sometimes even a handgun, Alutiiq fishermen once used stunning clubs. With a swift blow to the head, a fisherman could still a writhing fish. This was essential to keeping the creature from escaping the hook, and to protect one’s kayak from damage. A few blows to the head and the fish could be tied to the boat and towed home.
Clubs were also used to dispatch small game caught in snares, like fox or ermine. As a part of their education as trappers, Alutiiq Elders recall learning to club animals.
About 40 cm long, the length of a forearm, Alutiiq clubs featured a thick rounded head and a narrow handle. They look like a small baseball bats. Today, the Alutiiq word for club is also used for baseball bat.
Photo: Fish stunning club, Karluk One site, courtesy Koniag, Inc.