Cingarnga. - Kiss me.
Anthropologists have long speculated about the origins of kissing. Some believe it is learned behavior, a popular invention that spread widely in Roman times. Others think kissing is innate, a genetically encoded behavior that humans use to express affection and concern. Some biologists argue that when animals press their faces together it provides reassurance and signals connectedness, and that this is the evolutionary basis for kissing.
Whether you believe kissing is learned or innate, it is a widespread human practice, found among most modern cultures, including the Alutiiq people. Like many people, Alutiiqs recognize different types of kissing. The Alutiiq language reflects these differences with at least three distinct words for kiss. The first, meluuwaq, signifies a respectful kiss. This is the kind of kiss people use in church to greet friends and share forgiveness. It is also used in kissing icons, the images of important religious figures that adorn Alutiiq homes and churches. A cingaq is a sniffy kiss, where the kisser inhales. This is also a gentle, respectful kiss, the kind a grandparent gives to a baby to breathe in their sweet smell. In contrast, a romantic kiss on the lips is known as pucuurluku.
Photo: A mother kisses her baby.
WiRafkuuq ilag'ngauq. - The rope is knotted.
The Alutiiq verb for tying a knot–Ilagluni–is related to terms used for tangled, confused, or impassable. The sentence WiRafkuuq ilag'ngauq can mean either that a rope is secured with a knot or that it is tangled.
In classical Alutiiq society, sturdy, knotted ropes, cords, and lines were essential parts of many common tools. People secured harpoon points to shafts with twined cordage, towed sea mammal carcasses home with ropes tied to their kayaks, hunted birds with braided nooses, tied nets from nettle fiber, and retrieved fish from the ocean floor with hooks secured to long lines. In their homes, people suspended gear from the rafters with line, tied seal stomach containers closed to hold oil and plant foods, carried baskets with braided handles, and used cords in manufacturing clothing and jewelry.
Making line was a job undertaken by women, and one of the tasks little girls practiced. Historic accounts suggest that Alutiiq ladies preferred whale sinew for cord, but archaeological finds suggest that they also manufactured cords of grass, spruce root, and baleen. Fragments of these lines show that people created both three and four string braids, and that they used a box stitch to make sturdy lanyard-like cords.
Knotted fibers not only tied tools together, they helped repair broken items. An ancient water scoop, from Karluk illustrates this technique. A hole drilled in each side of a crack in the scoop allowed a craftsman to tying the crack shut with thin strips of baleen.
Photo: A man works to untangle a knotted seine. Photo by Mike Rostad, courtesy the Rostad.
Qaku-mi angiciqsit Sun’amen? - When will you come back to Kodiak?
Established by fur traders in 1793, Kodiak was the second major Russian settlement on Kodiak Island and the first capital of Russian America. It was originally called Pavlovskaia Gavan, Paul’s Harbor, or St. Paul’s Harbor. Although archaeological sites indicate that Alutiiq people lived in the area around the current city for millennia, the historic era Native village, Tangirnaq, was on nearby Woody Island.
Today, many Alutiiq families live in Kodiak because it is the economic center of the archipelago with job opportunities, stores, and other conveniences. However, they maintain strong connections with their ancestral villages, returning seasonally to hunt and fish and on holidays to visit family. In 2010, the city of Kodiak was home to 6,130 people, 594 of them Native. Many of the city’s Alutiiq residents work in the region’s major industries: fishing, logging, and tourism.
Kodiak’s Alutiiq people belong to a variety of Native corporations and tribal councils. Those who have ancestral ties to the Chiniak Bay region are enrolled in either Leisnoi, Inc., or Native of Kodiak, Inc.—regional corporations formed under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. These corporations are economic entities, designed to administer a portion of the lands and funds returned to Native people by the settlement. In contrast, tribal councils, including the Woody Island Tribal Council and the Sun’aq Tribal Council, tend to the political, social, and cultural affairs of their members.
Image: Watercolor of historic Kodiak by Helen Simeonoff, Alutiiq Museum collections.
Paas’kaami kulic’aalitaartut. - At Easter they always make Easter bread.
Kulic’aaq is the Alutiiq word for the sweet bread baked, decorated, and eaten by the Orthodox faithful every Easter. Similar to Italian panettone, this rich bread contains milk, eggs, butter, sugar, nuts, fruit, and a variety or flavorings like vanilla, rum, orange zest, cardamom, and saffron. Kulic’aaq, like perok (fish pie), is one of the foods that reflect Kodiak’s Russian heritage.
People bake these distinctive loaves in tall cylindrical tins, sometimes using a coffee can. They are made in many different sizes, but the loaves are typically tall and rounded on the top, a shape that symbolizes the domes of Russian Orthodox churches. Like cakes, loaves of kulich are often frosted or glazed then brightly decorated with candies or flowers.
Families begin baking kulich the week before Easter, and each has their own recipe. You can ask about their list of ingredients, but not everyone will share! Most people do not eat this rich bread until breaking their Lenten fast. Families may take their bread to church for a blessing and then enjoy the loaf with a large dinner after Easters services. The loaf is cut in half lengthwise and then each half sliced. Some people serve it with cheese pashka, another Easter food. Others like their kulich toasted and buttered.
Kulich consumption typically continues over the forty-day Easter season, until Pentecost. This seventh Sunday after Easter commemorates the decent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples and marks the end of Easter celebrations.
Some Kodiak Islanders recall that they were making kulich in 1964, when the Great Alaska Earthquake began. The trembling started on Good Friday as the faithful were preparing Easter foods.
Photo: Kulich loaves prepared for Easter in Port Lions. Courtesy Sara Squartsoff.