ALUTIIQ MUSEUM  215 Mission Road, Kodiak, Alaska 99615   |  844-425-8844  |  view calendar > | search >
Laugh
Word in Alutiiq: Englarluni
In a sentence:

Englaneq asirtuq. - It is good to laugh.

MP3 File: laugh

Humor is an important form of communication. It relieves tension, helps people express their frustrations, and builds friendships. Alaska’s Eskimo societies are well known for their frequent laughter and abundant humor. From Alaska to Greenland, scolding, fighting, and displays of anger or aggression are considered extremely inappropriate, and difficult social situations are managed through avoidance and humor. The value of laughter is also expressed in joking partnerships. Among the Yup’ik and Iñupiaq people, these formalized friendships involved competition, horseplay, and exchanges of ribaldry.

Humor has a long and honored role in Alutiiq society. Elders continue to use humor in teaching Native history and ethics, and funny situations pervade traditional stories. Moreover, jokes, innuendos, and witty remarks are happily traded and greatly appreciated throughout daily life.

Humor was also part of traditional festivals. At these gatherings, women and girls dance in honor of deceased community members. Standing in tight lines, they crouched, swayed, and chanted rhythmically while men sang and beat drums. To lighten up these somber performances, old men in the audience would do everything possible to make the ladies smile or laugh. If they succeeded, the woman’s husband or father had to give a gift for the old or the poor. Even the smallest smirk was an infraction worthy of a sealskin.

Laundry (plural)
Word in Alutiiq: Iqa’iat
In a sentence:

Nukallpiat iqa’ianeq pingaktaan’tat. - Men don't like to do laundry.

MP3 File: laundry

The Alutiiq word for laundry comes from the word for dirt, iqaq, and literally means “dirties.” Anyone with a family knows that laundry is a never-ending chore, but in the days before modern washers and dryers, it was an exhausting, daylong project. Alutiiq women remember carrying water and lighting fires in their wood-burning stoves to heat it for washing. With a tub and a washboard they scrubbed clothing in hot water to remove the grime. For soap, they used Fels Naptha, a bar soap that when boiled and mixed with baking soda makes a gel detergent. After scrubbing, they twisted the clothing to remove the water or ran each garment through a ringer, before hanging it to air dry. The first mechanical washers—gas powered machines—appeared in Alutiiq villages in the late 1940s and were a huge work savings to those who could afford one.

Laundry bluing, a powdered chemical that helped to whiten clothes, was available in Alaska by the late 1800s. Although some Alutiiqs may have used bluing in their laundry, others appear to have turned the vibrant blue powder into paint. The nineteenth-century spruce root hat recently purchased by the Alutiiq Museum and the Anchorage Museum of History and Art is covered with a powdery blue substance that may be laundry bluing. Around the world, bluing was a popular source of blue pigment, particularly among Pacific Rim cultures in the 1880s and 1890s.

Photo: Photo: Children hanging laundry on Woody Island, ca. 1938.  Helen "Sunny" Knight collection, courtesy Ruth Ann Harris.

Learned One
Word in Alutiiq: Lisngasqaq
In a sentence:

Gui lisngasqaq Alutiit’stun. - I am learned in the Alutiiq language.

MP3 File: learnedOne

The Alutiiq word lisngasqaq is a respectful term, used in reference to someone who is considered wise. You might use this word to talk about a teacher, a mentor, or an Elder with the ability to share valuable knowledge. For example, young adults who are currently learning the Alutiiq language by apprenticing to fluent Elder speakers call their teachers lisngasqaq.

The association of this term with efforts to revive the Alutiiq language illustrates its deeper meaning. A learned person is not simply an instructor but someone whose breadth of knowledge is to be respected. Through current language projects, community members are learning about Alutiiq history and traditions while they learn to pronounce Alutiiq words, memorize vocabulary, and build sentences. They are absorbing the wisdom of Elders. In addition to master-apprentice arrangements, learners also meet with Elders in the weekly Alutiiq language club, consult with speakers on the creation of learning materials, and practice conversations with Elders using immersion methods. Through these connected efforts, today’s learners of Alutiiq hope to become learned in their ancestral language.

Photo: Elders Florence Pestrikof and Mary Haakanson sharing their knowledge of artifacts, 2011.

Podcast Available: Learned One
Legend; Fairy Tale
Word in Alutiiq: Unigkuaq
In a sentence:

Cuumi unigkuarngutaallriit. - Before they always used to tell (legends) fairy tale stories.

MP3 File: legend

The Alutiiq word lisngasqaq is a respectful term, used in reference to someone who is considered wise. You might use this word to talk about a teacher, a mentor, or an Elder with the ability to share valuable knowledge. For example, young adults who are currently learning the Alutiiq language by apprenticing to fluent Elder speakers call their teachers lisngasqaq.

The association of this term with efforts to revive the Alutiiq language illustrates its deeper meaning. A learned person is not simply an instructor but someone whose breadth of knowledge is to be respected. Through current language projects, community members are learning about Alutiiq history and traditions while they learn to pronounce Alutiiq words, memorize vocabulary, and build sentences. They are absorbing the wisdom of Elders. In addition to master-apprentice arrangements, learners also meet with Elders in the weekly Alutiiq language club, consult with speakers on the creation of learning materials, and practice conversations with Elders using immersion methods. Through these connected efforts, today’s students of Alutiiq hope to become learned in their ancestral language.

Photo:  Painted box panel from Karluk One Site, Koniag, Inc. Collection, possibly showing the layers of the universe.

 

Podcast Available: Legend; Fairy Tale
Lent
Word in Alutiiq: Pustaaq
In a sentence:

Pustaartaartut Paas’karpailata. - They always have Lent before Easter.

MP3 File: lent

In Alutiiq communities, the Lenten season covers the forty days preceding Orthodox Easter. The two or three weeks before Lent are often a time of celebration, in preparation for the fasting and quiet lifestyle expected in the days leading up to Easter. Before Lent, Alutiiqs eat lots of good food, hold dances, and play games that will be forbidden until after the holiday. Some people call this time “crazy week.”

Lent is a time of sacrifice and reflection, when the faithful are forbidden to hunt or eat meat. Elders describe Lent as a time when families work on their homes or join to clean up the community, repair buildings, and fix the church. It is also a time for quiet visiting. Akhiok’s Alutiiq Week, a community celebration of Native culture with arts activities, language lessons, and traditional foods, is often held during Lent.

During Lent, children are expected to play indoors. Akhiok Elders remember playing a game where they would cover themselves with blankets while a child tried to guess who was hiding under each one. These restrictions mirror those in classical Alutiiq society, where children were not allowed to play outdoors until the migratory birds returned, signaling the rebirth of the year.

Men also play games during lent, particularly augca’aq, a dart game, where kneeling adults throw spears at a swinging whale model, acting out hunts not allowed during the season. Although Lenten restrictions have eased in recent decades, gambling is still considered inappropriate, and a number of villages halt community bingo during the season.

Photo:  Augca’aq, an Alutiiq dart set.  Carved by Speridon Simeonoff, purchased for the Alutiiq Museum collections with assistance from the Rasmuson Foundation.

Lily Roots
Word in Alutiiq: Laagaq
In a sentence:

Laagat qatertaartut. - Lily roots are white.

MP3 File: lilyroots

The chocolate lily (Fritillaria camschatcensis) is a delicate flowering plant with lance-shaped leaves and clusters of dark purple or brown bell-shaped flowers. It is widely distributed throughout the coastal meadows of the North Pacific, ranging from the western United States to Japan. This perennial plant grows from a bulb of many rice-like roots and is sometimes called the rice lily. Despite its appetizing names, the flower emits an unpleasant, rotting odor that attracts pollinating flies.

The starchy root of the chocolate lily is edible and was traditionally collected by Alutiiq people in late summer. In August and September, people unearthed lily roots with digging sticks or collected them from vole caches. Many people preserved a portion of their harvest for winter use. Lily roots were ground into a flour or packed in seal stomach with oil and berries. The roots were eaten raw, roasted, boiled till tender and mixed with seal oil, or combined with sourdock and berries to create a tasty side dish. They were also added to Alutiiq ice cream—akutaq—a dish made by mixing fat, berries, and fish eggs with lily roots. In the historic era, mashed potatoes replaced lily roots in this popular dish.

Photo:  Akhiok woman with lily roots and Chocolate Lily flower.  Photo by Priscilla Russell, KANA Collection.

Limpet
Word in Alutiiq: Sawak’iitaq; Spuungqulaq
In a sentence:

Suupaligua sawak'iitanek. - I am making soup from limpets.

MP3 File: limpet

Limpets (Lottia spp.) are among the intertidal organisms that encrust the rocky shores of Kodiak. The archipelago is home to a variety of these small invertebrates: the keyhole limpet, the tortoiseshell limpet, and others. Limpets are grazing animals that form distinctive cone-shaped shells. They feed on algae by moving slowly across rocks on a single foot. They are particularly active at night and when covered by ocean water. At low tide, limpets clamp tightly to rocks to protect themselves from birds and sea stars.

Ancient shell middens illustrate that limpets were once a common part of seafood dinners on Kodiak. They were probably collected most intensively in the spring, during the lowest tides of the year. Spring is also the time when winter stores were exhausted and people depended on shellfish while they waited for other resources to become available. Alutiiq people continue to harvest limpets today, adding them to stews and chowders or simply eating them raw. Children sometimes collect them for a quick snack.

Kodiak Islanders sometimes refer to limpets as “China caps” because the shape of the animal’s shell is similar to the hats once worn by Chinese laborers. This comparison is probably passed down from the late nineteenth century, when salmon processors hired Chinese work gangs to run canning equipment in communities like Karluk.

Little Cute One
Word in Alutiiq: Aa’icagaq
In a sentence:

Elltuwaqa aa’icagamek ap’rtaaqa. - I call my granddaughter “little cute one.”

MP3 File: littlecuteone

The Alutiiq word aa’icagaq is a common term of endearment that means “little cute one”—similar to “sweetie” or “cutie pie” in English. People use this word when speaking to or describing children. You might say, “Come here aa’icagaq” to your sister’s chubby toddler, or tell a friend “Oh! Your baby is such an aa’icagaq.” And in Alutiiq communities, where people often acquire nicknames as children, there are those who are called Aa’icagaq throughout their lives.

Although most frequently used to refer to children, the word aa’icagaq can be applied to anything you might call cute in English, from baby seals to stuffed animals or even a good-looking woman. With a twinkle in his eye, one Elder calls almost every woman he meets aa’icagaq!Similarly, because this term refers to small, attractive things, and it is a word that many students of the Alutiiq language learn, it is also used as a name for objects. For example, the rowboat used at Dig Afognak, a local culture camp, is called the Aa’icagaq.

Photo:  Two examples of Aa’icagaq an Old Harbor boy and his puppy.

Podcast Available: Little Cute One
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