Yapuun’saat taillriit Attu-men. - The Japanese came to Attu.
The Alutiiq word for a Japanese person, Yapuun’saaq, comes from the English word Japan. This word may have entered the Alutiiq language at several points during the twentieth century. The Russian American Company had a Japanese employ in Kodiak. Japanese people have long participated in Alaska’s fishing industry, and in the early 1900s they worked at canneries in Alutiiq communities like Chignik. A Japanese family also settled near the community of Kaguyak, in a place known as Jap Bay. They eventually moved to the Alutiiq community of Aiaktalik where their descendants married into Alutiiq families.
Yapuun’saaqwas also a familiar word during WWII. Kodiak Islanders feared Japanese attacks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December of 1941 and attacks on the Aleutian Islands in 1942. Residents of even the smallest Alutiiq communities had to maintain blackout conditions and to respond to air raid sirens by fleeing their homes. Families had to run into the hills and hide in the bushes every time the sirens blasted.
Today Yapuun’saat are a vital part of Kodiak’s fish processing industry, where they process, preserve, and package chum salmon roe for Asian markets. Specially trained Japanese technicians remove salmon eggs from their skeins, rub them with brine, and air-dry them for shipment. In Japan, people season the eggs with soy sauce to make ikura, a popular dish.
Photo: World War II era bunker on Kodiak Island.
Iraluruat tang’rniitaartut! - Jellyfish don’t look very good!
Jellyfish are plentiful in Alaska waters. These ancient marine creatures are not actually fish but invertebrates related to corals and sea anemones. Jellyfish have no brains, no heart, no eyes, and no ears, yet they are effective predators. To capture food, they use tentacles armed with poisonous, stinging cells. When their tentacles touch prey, thousands of tiny stinging cells fire, delivering a potent nerve toxin.
Some jellyfish are more poisonous than others. Around Kodiak, the lion’s mane jellyfish (Cyanea capillata), a large, bright-red species, delivers an intense sting that is much more painful than the sting of moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita), a small clear variety.
Jellyfish have long been a problem for Kodiak fishermen, particularly for beach seiners and those who work unloading purse seines on the decks of fishing boats. Fishermen report releasing entire nets full of fish when large quantities of jellyfish are hauled in with the catch, because they are so painful with which to work.
It is important to take care of a jellyfish sting immediately to minimize its impact. Alutiiqs wash the area and then apply a soothing agent. Some people use canned milk, particularly if the sting affects an eye. Others may employ vinegar or cool urine. Even with careful treatment, stings often produce red welts and may leave a scar.
Image: Jelly Fish, acrylic and oil paint on birch wood, by Lena Amason. Purchased for the Alutiiq Museum collections with support from the Rasmuson Foundation.
Aq’alartut iluani. - There are jumpers inside (the seine).
Jumping salmon are a conspicuous sign of summer around Kodiak. Scan the surface of the ocean in June and you will see pink salmon hurling themselves out of the water as they head for their spawning grounds. Jumping is an adaptation that helps salmon clear obstacles as they move upstream. As fish near freshwater they begin to leap. In Alutiiq, the word for jumper, aq’alartuq, literally means “it fell into the water.”
Different species of salmon have different jumping skills and patterns. While all Pacific salmon jump, even large kings, silvers are the most avid jumpers, often clearing the water completely. Pink salmon are also strong jumpers, although they tend to flop to one side as they land. Chum salmon are the poorest jumpers. Obstacles that will not impede other salmon can stop chum from migrating upstream.
Jumpers help Kodiak fishermen locate schools of salmon. Boat captains will drive slowly, scanning for acrobatic fish before making a set, and anglers will cast out in front of a jumper, tossing their line in the direction the fish is moving. Sometimes, jumpers will tell you when fish are present when you least expect it. Villagers know that kings will jump in winter as they feed in ocean waters near shore.
Photo: Jumping salmon. Courtesy Sven Haakanson, Jr.