PatRiitairng. - Take a photograph of me.
The world’s first photographs were taken in the 1830s, when French scientist Louis Daguerre captured images on copperplates treated with silver and mercury. Twenty years later, in the1850s, photography became popular in the United States with the invention of a less-expensive process that fixed images to glass or tin.
As Americans spread west, so did photography, recording picturesque landscapes and Native American communities. For those interested in history, these images are a valuable source of information. They illustrate traditional life and document the effects of western culture on Native societies. Photographs often preserve small details about the past that are not present in written accounts.
Scientists studying Alaska’s Native peoples and natural resources took some of the first photographs of Kodiak Alutiiq people. In 1872, French anthropologist Alphonse Pinart took a small number of shots of Afognak and Kodiak. These may be the earliest photographs from the Kodiak archipelago. In 1889, Tarleton H. Bean, a fisheries biologist, took photos of Karluk as part of his study of Alaska salmon, and in the 1890s, the staff of the steamer Albatross, a vessel studying river systems, took photographs of Old Harbor.
These invaluable images demonstrate that although Alutiiqs had adopted western clothing, most families continued to live in traditional-style sod houses and travel by kayak at the onset of the twentieth century. However, these sod houses were not exactly like their prehistoric counterparts. Photographs show that Alutiiqs entered their homes through western-style hinged doors, rather than crawling in through the once-traditional entrance tunnel.
Photo: Old Harbor residents with kayak, ca. 1890. Albatross Collection, National Archives.
Caqiq una patRiitami? - What is this in the picture?
Art is often a means of storing information, particularly among people without a written language. In addition to expressing cultural values, songs, dances, carvings, paintings, and even clothing can record family stories, historical events, and legends. Pictures are particularly important in preserving history. Like books, they create a physical record that reminds viewers of events, and helps storytellers to pass details forward-beyond the living memory of a community. Graphics arts are one way of keeping cultural information alive in the present.
In classical Alutiiq society, there were at least three forms of graphic art. People painted images on wooden objects. These included hats, paddles, boxes, masks, and many other implements. They pecked pictures into stationary boulders creating petroglyphs. They incised designs into stone and bone hunting implements.
Some of these images became family symbols. If a hunter killed two seals with one harpoon strike, this very lucky event might be symbolized in paintings on his household implements. When people saw the implements they were reminded of the story, recalled the hunter’s skill and good fortune, and knew that the objects belong to his family. The picture preserved a story, celebrated the hunter’s talent, and expressed ownership.
Today, Alutiiq artists create pictures with modern mediums — watercolors, acrylic paints, inks and pastels — to illustrate the people and places they love. Like ancestral pictures, these images are both aesthetic and historical. They express personal experiences and passes forward knowledge of the Alutiiq world.
Photo: Box panel from Karluk One with a painting of people traveling in boats. Koniag, Inc. Collection.
Una aRam’aas’kaaq caayuq piturnirtuq. - This chamomile tea tastes good.
Pineapple weed (Matricaria matricarioides) is a widespread, low growing herb with pale green, berrylike flowers and a fruity scent. It thrives in open fields and disturbed areas, and grows particularly well around human settlements. European settlers introduced Pineapple weed to North America and it is now found across the continent. Also known as wild chamomile, the Alutiiq word for pineapple weed—aRam’aas’kaaq—comes from the Russian word for chamomile —romashka.
Alutiiq people use the leaves, stems, and flowers of the pineapple weed. Islanders add the edible flowers to salads or pick them for a snack. Others steep the leaves and stems in boiling water to make a medicinal tea. The plant is potent fresh or dried and may be steeped for up to an hour, depending on the desired strength of the tea. Alutiiqs use pineapple weed tea for relaxation. It is said to soothe nerves, prevent nightmares and promote sleep. It is also a remedy for nausea and a mild laxative. A few drops will help a newborn baby move its bowls.
And if smelly hands are a problem, rub the plant’s fresh leaves on your skin. Pineapple weed has a deodorizing effect.
Amartut angitut. - The pink salmon (humpies) are coming back.
Pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha), also known as humpbacks or humpies, are the most abundant variety of Pacific salmon. In North America these three- to four-pound fish range from California’s Russian River to Canada’s McKenzie River. The Kodiak Archipelago has more than three hundred known pink salmon streams. Each year millions of fish return to these waterways, spawning in river gravels between late July and mid-October. According to Alutiiq folklore, when the salmonberries are abundant, pink salmon runs will be strong.
Pink salmon have long been a focal resource for Alutiiq families. Archaeologists find ancient fish camps on many Kodiak pink salmon streams. Here fish were caught with nets, trapped behind weirs, speared with leisters, or captured with special salmon harpoons. They were taken in large quantities, processed, and stored for winter use, particularly in the late prehistoric period.
Today, Alutiiqs harvest pink salmon both commercially and for the dinner table. The thinner, less fatty filets are perfect for smoking and drying. The hump of a spawning male, which is eaten raw, is considered a great delicacy. To add flavor, some people wipe the hump with fresh cow parsnip leaves. Pink salmon are also cut into steaks and boiled, or added to fish soup, head and all.
Photo: Freshly caught pink salmon on a Kodiak Island beach.
Ata tRuup’kaaq. - Let’s see the pipe.
Although tobacco was popular in the historic era, smoking tobacco was not. Historic sources indicate that Alutiiq people preferred to create snuff by adding tobacco to a mixture of wood ash, black tea, and dried crushed nettle leaves. This produced iqmik, a substance held in the mouth. Smoking tobacco gained popularity later, perhaps in the last decades of Russian rule.
By the 1840s, tobacco pipes were among the trade goods imported to Kodiak. Manufactured in western Europe, the earliest pipes were inexpensive objects imported both for use by colonists and for trade to Native people. These pipes were made of kaolin, a soft, white clay. They featured a small, deep, outwardly sloping bowl with a narrow, tapering stem. The stem was often very long, allowing the user to continue smoking the pipe if this fragile part broke.
For archaeologists, kaolin pipes provide a means of dating historic sites, because their styles and designs changed quickly. Pipes from the early nineteenth century, for example, have wide bowls decorated with geometric designs and even faces. In contrast, older varieties tend to have smaller, unadorned bowls. Around Kodiak, kaolin pipes fell out of use in the late-nineteenth century as wooden pipes and cigarettes gained popularity.
Photo: McDougall / Glasgow koalin clay pipe, late 19th century, made in Pennsylvania. Alutiiq Museum collections.
Ilait naut’staat yaatutaartut. - Some plants are poisonous.
Qantaq asircaru. - You fix the plate.
In classical Alutiiq society, dishes were made from wood, grass, and bone. People ate from decorated bowls carved from a solid piece of wood or food containers created by pegging a bentwood rim to a wooden base. Drinking cups were woven from grass or spruce root, and some archaeologists think that Alutiiqs used pieces of whale bone as cutting boards or plates.
Western-style dishes, including “china” plates, were introduced to Alutiiq households in the historic era. Native people adopted tea drinking from Russian fur traders, along with English ceramics and Chinese porcelains. Many of the ceramics that made their way to Kodiak were purchased from English manufacturers by the Hudson’s Bay Company and then sold to the Russian American Company, which distributed them in Alaska. The value of these early ceramics is illustrated by the care Alutiiq people took to mend broken pieces. Craftsmen drilled holes in ceramic fragments to literally tie cracked and broken plates back together.
For Kodiak archaeologists, ceramics fragments can be very helpful in dating historic Alutiiq settlements. Each of the distinctive patterns printed on plates, bowls, cups, saucers, and teapots has a unique history. For example, the Spode and Copeland Company’s blue rose pattern was manufactured between 1825 and 1833, but their ivy pattern dates to the period spanning from 1845 to 1865. After 1868, the Alaska Commercial Company imported a distinctive, brightly painted, thick ware often featuring a cornflower design.
Photo: Historic plate fragements, Leisnoi, Inc. Collection, Mikt'sqaq Angayuk Site, Womens Bay.
Wamqutartut. - They are going to play.
Education in Alutiiq communities focused on training children the essential skills of adult life. Young people learned these skills by listening to stories and legends, helping their Elders, and imitating adult activities with toys. Archaeological sites in the Kodiak Archipelago have produced many miniature items—tiny duplicates of full-sized objects. Small-scale oil lamps, bowls, scoops, ulus, and skin-stretching boards helped little girls learn domestic tasks, while boys learned boating, hunting, and ceremonial responsibilities with toy kayaks, bows, harpoons, clubs, and drums.
Children also played with toys designed simply for fun: tops, dart games, and dolls are remembered fondly by Elders and are found in archaeological sites. Examples of dolls include peg-like figures of men in hunting hats designed to fit into toy kayaks, and larger dolls with carefully carved faces and body tattoos, which may have been dressed in skin clothing.
Alutiiq Elders recall strict rules on playing with toys. Toys were carefully stored during the winter season to avoid bad luck. Children were allowed to play again in the spring, when migratory birds arrived signaling the rebirth of the year.
Photo: Larsen Bay children at play, 1940s. Smith Collection, courtesy Tim and Norman Smith.