Maani tang’rtaanitua parananek. - I never see mountain goats around here.
Mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus) are one of four large ungulate species introduced to Kodiak in the early twentieth century. These docile alpine grazers live on steep, rocky mountain slopes, where they eat grasses, herbs, and low-lying shrubs. The have pointed black horns, a thick white coat, and distinctive long hair along their backs, necks, shoulders, rumps, and legs. Mountain goats captured on the Kenai Peninsula were moved to Kodiak in 1952-53 and released in Ugak Bay’s Hidden Basin. Today there are more than 1,400 animals in the Kodiak region. A good hiker can get close to mountain goats, which rely on their rugged habitat for protection.
Although goats were not indigenous to Kodiak, Alutiiq people obtained their hair and horns in trade with the Chugach of Prince William Sound and the Dena’ina of the Kenai Peninsula. Alutiiqs used long goat hairs to embroider sewn objects and fashioned goat horn into elegant spoons. Craftsmen softened the horn with steam, bent it into shape, and carved it into intricate shapes. One of the Alutiiq words for mountain goat, paRanaq, is the same as the word for sheep.
A story from Prince William Sound indicates that Alutiiq hunters pursued goats with bows and arrows. To indicate ownership of a slain animal, a hunter might place an item of his clothing—a spruce root hat or a ground-squirrel parka—on the carcass. This gesture of respect also honored the goat’s spirit and welcomed it to the hunter’s village.
Photo: Mountain goat on northern Kodiak Island. Photo by Zoya Saltonstall.
Kayulut qanertutaartut. - Bullheads always have big mouths.
In Alutiiq art, portrayals of the human mouth carry a great deal of symbolism. This is particularly true with masks and dolls. According to anthropologist Dominique Desson, very few Alutiiq masks present strictly human features. Many seem to convey an “otherness” by mixing animal and human characteristics. This mix of features suggests the presence of spirits who have only partially revealed their human form.
Like the artwork on Alutiiq bentwood hunting hats, masks and dolls often incorporate bird imagery, particularly a beak-like mouth. A beak may be represented in many ways, from naturalistically to highly stylized. Similarly, the mouths of dolls are often portrayed as a narrow triangle, pointing downward toward the chin. This may symbolize a beak, the deformation of the mouth created by a pair of labrets (lip plugs), or both. Some anthropologists believe that labrets symbolically transformed the mouth into a beak.
Other portrayals of the human face feature circular mouths, representing an individual who is whistling. Like beak-shaped mouths, these mouths represent a tie to the spirit world. Whistling was the way that a spirit talked.
Image: Petroglyh face with an open mouth. Cape Alitak, Kodiak Island.
Suupalitaartut sliyaaparanek. - They make soup out of mushrooms.
Cool temperatures, darkening days, and wet weather are all signs of fall in Alaska, and of mushroom season. Mushrooms are fungi, the fruit of plants that grow underground and obtain their nourishment from decomposing matter rather than sunlight. These delicate plants reproduce quickly when temperature and rainfall are just right. In Alaska, mushrooms are most common in late summer and early fall and can be found as far north as the Arctic Circle.
Although mushrooms are colorful and fun to find, many are poisonous. For example, the fly agaric (Amanita muscaria), a common gilled mushroom with a white stalk and a speckled orange cap, is deadly. Never eat a wild mushroom unless you are certain of its identity and that it is safe to consume.
Although not widely collected by Alutiiqs today, Elders recall their parents gathering and cooking mushrooms. Some varieties were cooked with fish and onions. Others, like the bolete (Leccinum insigne), were fried in butter. In Larsen Bay, people once gathered and stored puffball mushrooms (Lycoperdon) for medicinal purposes. As the puffball ages, it darkens and its insides become powdery. Alutiiqs applied the powder to burns and skin infections to promote healing, particularly wounds that were slow to close. Puffball powder might also be applied to a fresh injury to prevent future infection. Mushrooms are still collected by Kenai Peninsula Alutiiqs, who snack on some varieties while walking in the woods.
Photo: A pair of poisonous fly agaric mushrooms.
Cauyat pingaqtaanka, asqignasqat. - I like music that has a good beat.
Music is a cultural universal. Every human society has a musical tradition. Although these traditions vary greatly, with unique styles, sounds, and ways of performing, music is an essential part of the artistic expression of all people.
Despite the universal presence of music in human life, many societies don’t have a unique word for music. This is true of the Alutiiq people. In the Alutiiq language, the word for drum and music are same: cauyaq. This situation probably reflects the fact that drums were the primary type of musical instrument in traditional performance. Alutiiqs also used rattles and whistles in musical presentations.
Like other forms of art, music encodes information on language, social practices, cultural values, and history. A recent compilation of Alutiiq music illustrates the evolution of Alutiiq music. Generations, a professionally produced anthology of Alutiiq language songs, includes traditional stories used to preserve and share history, church hymns that reflect the adoption and practice of Christianity, translations of contemporary songs, and new compositions that illustrate efforts to preserve and reawaken Alutiiq traditions.
Photo: Puffinbeak rattle. Etholén Collection, National Museum of Finland.