Kakangat wamqutaqtaakai Larry Matfay-m. - Larry Matfay used to play disc games.
In the Alutiiq gambling game kakangaq, players throw disks at a small wooden target placed on a sealskin ten or twelve feet away. The object is to cover the target with a disk. This game can be played by two people, or by four players working in teams of two. Players take turns throwing their disks, trying to cover their opponent’s pieces or knock them away from the target. Two points are scored for covering the target, or one point for being the player who lands a disk closest to the target. Twelve points wins the game and two games make a match.
Kakangaqdisks are typically made of wood, bark, bone, or ivory. Sets were once carved with different symbols in the top to distinguish the pieces tossed by different players. A crescent, a dot, an X, a notch, or even a carved human face might indicate a set of pieces. Disks were carved in a variety of shapes and ranged from very large pieces the size of a dinner plate to palm-sized tokens. Some were weighted with pebbles, and miniature sets were carved for children.
This popular game is centuries old. Russian fur traders who visited Alutiiq communities described kakangaq in their journals, and archaeologists find gaming disks in sites up to five hundred years old. In classical Alutiiq society, throwing games were part of annual hunting ceremonies held each winter to honor animal spirits and ensure future prosperity. Men played vigorously, often betting valuable equipment on their matches. Today the game is enjoyed by people of all ages.
Photo: Boys playing kakangaq. Rostad collection.
Tuyum llangcaraa. - The chief is lecturing him.
Historic sources agree that there was little crime in Alutiiq villages before the 1950s. Detailed rules managed both the ownership and inheritance of personal property and the use of prime fishing and hunting locations. Similarly, customs governing the distribution of food ensured that anyone who needed meat or fish could share in the catch or take food from another’s stores. A needy person was not even required to pay for or replace the food they borrowed. Under this system, people rarely stole or trespassed.
Despite a social system that provided for community needs, interactions between villagers were occasionally antagonistic. Russian traders report that murder and wife stealing occurred and that Alutiiqs avenged such insults by killing the offender. Less serious crimes like fighting or carousing carried less serious punishments. The Alutiiq word for discipline, llangcarluku, literally means to “bring him to his senses,” and the term can be used to describe a stern talking to or lecture. This word also refers to the point in childhood when one gains awareness—when children accumulate enough knowledge to become capable of thoughtful, intentional action.
Before the establishment of Alaska’s statewide judicial system in 1959, Alutiiq communities dealt with misbehavior internally. The village chief and his council acted as both the local police and court system. They watched the community carefully, rounding up those who misbehaved. First, the council met privately to discuss the situation and design a punishment. Then they convened a community meeting to announce their decision. A first-time offender might be required to make a public apology, a tactic designed to embarrass the person into better behavior. People who made repeated or more serious mistakes might be made to kneel on rock salt at church, do chores for the elderly, or labor in the community. They could even be banished. This system encouraged people to respect their Elders, because the Elders not only kept order in the village but determined disciplinary actions.
PaRaguutat pRiistananun taitaartut. - The boats come to the dock
In Alutiiq communities, where boats are essential for travel, subsistence activities, and work at sea, docks are a necessity. Although Alutiiqs once landed their skin-covered boats on the beach and stored them around their houses, docking facilities are now a common part of rural communities. For example, in Larsen Bay, residents can tie their boats up to a large pier maintained by Kodiak Salmon Packers or use a slip in the new small boat harbor, completed in 2002. The city of Old Harbor maintains docking facilities that can accommodate barges from Kodiak and Seattle, as well as fifty-five smaller vessels. Port Lions has eighty-two boat slips and a pier large enough to accommodate the state ferry Tustumena.
In addition to being a central community facility, Old Harbor’s community dock is the setting for an annual summer gathering. Each Fourth of July, following a Russian Orthodox Church service dedicated to local fishermen, residents walk down to the boat harbor. Here they watch a procession of purse seiners participating in a blessing of the fleet. Boats pass along the big ship dock, where a priest sprinkles each with holy water. The audience sings and waves flags. Then the ships line up for a race back to the dock. The ritual is intended to ensure a safe journey and a quick return for those who make their living at sea.
Photo. Children on the dock in Ouzinkie, ca. 1960. Smith Collection, courtesy Tim and Norman Smith.
April mal’ugnek piugtengq’rtuq. - April has two dogs.
Archaeological sites in Alaska illustrate that dogs (Canis familiaris) have been a part of Native communities for at least two thousand years, although the presence of dogs in Siberia eleven thousand years ago suggests that it may be much longer. On Kodiak, dog bones illustrate that Alutiiq people kept two varieties of dogs: a large, wolf-like breed similar in size to the working dogs used by northern Alaskans and a smaller, lighter dog. These animals probably guarded communities against bears and acted as companions, but apparently they were not used for transportation, for carrying loads or pulling sleds.
A legend collected in the early nineteenth century tells of the colonization of Kodiak Island by the children of a woman and her lover, a dog. The daughter of a chief, who lived on the AlaskaPeninsula, was banished by her father after having five children with her lover. The lover tried to find his family but was drowned in the search. When the children grew up and learned of their grandfather’s harsh treatment, they tore him to pieces and fled to distant areas. Some of the children went north, while others came to Kodiak and started their own families, creating the island’s population.
There are many ways to interpret this dog-husband story. It may be about banishment. Elders say that long ago, incestuous people were called dogs and were sometimes forced to leave a community. It may also be a story that an unfriendly neighbor told to explorers to make fun of Kodiak Islanders. People from different areas often traded insults. Or maybe this is a story about a sua, the human spirit that lives in all things. This spirit looks like a person. It can leave its owner’s body at any time and live on its own. Whatever the answer, this story illustrates the deep ancestral ties between Alutiiqs and their coastal neighbors. Similar dog-husband stories are found across the Eskimo-Aleut world.
Photo: Dogs watching beach seiners in Karluk. Smith Collection, courtesy Tim and Norman Smith.
Alimat kuigmen asgurtaartut. - Dog salmon always go up the stream.
Chum salmon, also known as dog salmon (Oncorhynchus keta),are the most widely available species of Pacific salmon. These large fish live in marine waters from southern California to the Arctic Ocean and the Sea of Japan. Chum can reach over thirty pounds,but more commonly weigh between seven and eighteen pounds.
In Kodiak waters, chum salmon are the third most abundant species of salmon. They are broadly distributed and spawn in many of the same streams as pink salmon, particularly the island’s larger watercourses. There are more than one hundred dog salmon streams around the archipelago and about 1.7 million chums return to the island each year. Like king salmon, chums may inhabit near-shore ocean waters for weeks before moving into freshwater. However, once they enter streams, they spawn rapidly, developing distinctive vertical bars of green and purple. Around Kodiak, chum salmon spawn in the greatest numbers from mid August through early October.
Chum salmon are not as widely eaten as other varieties of salmon. Many people find their pale-colored flesh less appealing,perhaps because it contains less oil than other varieties of salmon and has a firmer texture. Some Alutiiq Elders note that they have never eaten much chum salmon, although others report that the fish is tasty when boiled and that it makes good smoked salmon.Across northern and interior Alaska, dried and smoked chum salmon have long been staple winter foods. Chum salmon are also an economically important species. Sport fishermen seek out these fish as they fight a hook energetically, and commercial fishermen prize them for their large, flavorful roe.
Illustration: Male dog salmon, Goldsborough, Edmund Lee (1907) The Fishes of Alaska, Washington, D.C.: Department of Commerce and Labor Bureau of Fisheries
Nutaan suarualitaartut ineqsunasqanek. - Nowadays they make beautiful dolls.
Dolls were once signs of spring in Alutiiq communities. Elders recall that most toys were stored through the dead of winter, beginning at Russian Christmas, and could only be removed from storage when signs of spring signaled the rebirth of the year. The sounds of migratory birds told children that it was time to play on the beach. Elders fondly recall playing outdoors around Easter time.
Dolls are a common find in Alutiiq village sites. Made of wood, bark, bone, or ivory, most have carefully crafted faces, torsos, and legs, but lack arms. Arms may have been represented with the doll’s clothing. At Karluk One, a well-preserved Alutiiq village at the mouth of the Karluk River, archaeologists identified at least three types of human figurines. Male and female dolls appear to be children’s toys, as do tiny model hunters designed to sit in the hatch of toy kayaks. Shamans may have used a third type of doll. Shamans were believed to put spirits into human carvings that could help people or cause great harm. Some of these dolls have human hair and may represent ancestors, because hair was a resting place for the human soul.
Photo: Old Harbor children with doll. Violet Able Collection, courtesy Old Harbor Native Corporation.
Nanwam ancii miktaartut. - Lake trout are always small.
Dolly Varden (Salvelinus malma Walbaum) belong to a group of fishes called char. The light spots on their sides distinguish dollys from most trout and salmon, which are usually black spotted or speckled. There are two varieties of Dolly Varden in Alaska waters. The southern variety ranges from southeast Alaska to the tip of the Aleutian Chain, and the northern variety occurs from Bristol Bay to Alaska’s northern coast.
In Alutiiq, the words nanwam ancia mean lake trout, referring to the common habitat of Kodiak’s Dolly Varden. However, Alutiiq people also use the word anciq meaning trout, for these small fish. However, these fish should not be confused with Kodiak’s two varieties of arctic char — rainbow trout and steelehead trout.
Kodiak’s dollys are available most of the year, from September through mid-May. They reach maturity between age five and six, at a length of twelve to sixteen inches and a weight of up to a pound. Although small, these fish are an important subsistence resource because they can be harvested in winter. They are a source of fresh food that can be harvested from lakes and streams when weather makes it difficult to fish and hunt in ocean waters. Dollys are also abundant and easy to catch. Historic sources suggest that Karluk residents dried Dolly Varden alongside salmon.
In Alaska’s territorial days, Dolly Varden were also a source of cash. Westerners considered them a pest, because they were seen to prey on salmon eggs and fry. Between 1921 and 1941, the federal government set a bounty on these small fish, paying two cents for every Dolly Varden tail.
Photo: A string of Dolly Varden and salmon. Nekeferof Collection.
Mangat kiagmi amlertaartut; paRaguutami maligkaturtaakiikut. - There are always a lot of dolphins in the summertime; they always follow us in the boat.
The Pacific white-sided dolphin (lagenorhynchus obliquidens) is a common resident of the deep waters surrounding Kodiak. The average adult is about seven and a half feet long, weighs three hundred pounds, and has a black back and beak, grey sides, and a white belly. These acrobatic sea mammals are gregarious. They travel in large groups, often with Dall porpoises and occasionally with baleen whales. Dolphins eat small schooling fish and squid and can live up to forty-five years.
Archaeological data and historic accounts indicate that Alutiiq people have hunted dolphins for millennia. However, they were among the most difficult sea mammals to capture. Dolphins are fast swimmers that range far from shore and only surface for a few seconds to breathe. Although they are noted bow riders and like to play around boats, they frighten easily. Historic accounts indicate that hunters pursued dolphins from kayaks. They used throwing boards loaded with special darts or bows and arrows to wound the animals. These weapons were designed to penetrate the animal’s skin and fat. A struck animal dove immediately and the others in its pod disappeared.
Alutiiqs no longer hunt dolphins, except symbolically as carved miniature targets in a traditional dart game. One Elder says emphatically, “Don’t shoot dolphins because they help you.” This belief may come from Scandinavian folklore. Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish mariners who married into Alutiiq communities believed that dolphins were good luck and could guide a boat to safety in the fog.