Ayaa, CiRpuumek pit’ua! - Wow! I got a rockfish!
A variety of rockfishes (Sebastes spp.), including the Pacific ocean perch, yellowmouth, and rougheye, live in the marine waters surrounding Kodiak. These colorful fish grow up to eighteen inches long and can be found from the Aleutian Islands to southern California. In the Kodiak region, rockfish, particularly perch, concentrate in deep ocean waters of 300 to 2,600 feet. However, they may range closer to shore from May to September, feeding on the proliferation of food in warmer coastal water. Rockfish mate in September and then disperse over deep marine waters for the winter. Subsistence fishermen typically harvest them in the summer months. Like other marine fish, rockfish were captured with fishing rigs carved from wood, bone, and stone lowered into the ocean with kelp line.
Rockfish are members of the larger order of fish, the Scorpaeniformes. This group includes greenlings and sculpins. Archaeological data indicate that all of these fishes have been captured in small numbers by Alutiiqs for at least two thousand years, probably by fisherman jigging for the more popular and widely harvested cod. Fish remains from the Settlement Point site, a five-hundred-year-old winter village in Afognak Bay, illustrate this pattern. Salmon remains are most abundant (60 percent), followed by cod (36 percent), with notably smaller numbers of rockfish, greenling, and sculpins (3 percent), and a few flounder (1 percent). Halibut remains are rare in many archaeological sites, perhaps because these large fish were not butchered in villages.
Photo: A rock fish from Kodiak waters.
April-rem qelempaq caayuq pingaktaaraa. - April likes the rose hip tea.
The Nootka rose (Rosa nutkana) is a spindly shrub that grows in open areas throughout coastal Alaska. It is commonly found along streams and shorelines and in meadows, thickets, and open forests. These prickly bushes flower with pink blossoms each July and then produce hips. This dark red fruit is seedy and dry, but rich in vitamin C. The Alutiiq word for rose hip, qelempaq, is an old word meaning “bag.” This term refers to the shape of the fruit, which looks like a small purse with drawstrings.
Alutiiq people collect both rose petals and rose hips. They flavor tea with the aromatic petals and use the nutritious hips for food and medicine. The hips are typically gathered from September to November, when they have been sweetened and softened by frost. Alutiiq chefs add the fruit to jellies and syrups and occasionally desserts. They also create medicinal teas by steeping the hips in hot water. This tea is said to cleanse the system and can be used to treat a cold, a cough, or a case of bronchitis. Elders recall that sitting on rose hips soaked in hot water helps a laboring mother deliver her placenta.
Photo: Dora Aga and grandchild collecting rose petals. Photo by Priscilla Russell, KANA Collection.
Mayaciik akagngauq. - The ball is round.
In the Alutiiq language the suffix -sqaq, meaning “thing,” can be added to an intransitive verb to create a noun. For example, add -sqaq to akagngaluni, a verb meaning “to be round,” and you get akagngasqaq, “a thing that is round.”
To Alutiiq people the circle is a meaningful shape. Like their neighbors the Yup’ik people, Alutiiqs believe the universe is round, with distinct circular layers. The circle may also represent the annual movement of a community around a central village to which they returned each winter. Within this world, circles, or holes, formed passageways from one layer of the world into the next.
Archaeological data suggest that this circular concept of the universe is ancient. Artifacts with concentric circle designs appear in sites up to about 2,700 years old. More than two thousand years ago, Kodiak sea mammal hunters decorated their harpoons with a circular motif common from the western Gulf of Alaska to the Bering Sea. They also carved sets of concentric circles in some coal labrets, pieces of jewelry that were worn in the face. In later times, circular designs appear as bands of embroidery on baskets and clothing, in paintings on wooden implements, and as the hoops that surround ceremonial masks.
Photo: Round faced mask, Pinart Collection, Kodiak Island ca. 1872, Courtesy the Châteaux-Musée, France.
Uswiillraraat cecengtaartut. - Kids are always running around.
In classical Alutiiq society, runners passed important news from one village to the next. Elders recall young men running along the beach to carry messages to neighboring communities. When they arrived, a fresh runner would take the message to the next village, and in this way information would travel up the coast from community to community. Some villages had two or three swift boys who were designated runners. To send messages quickly across water, Alutiiq people used signal fires. These often warned of warfare, and different numbers of blazes provided different details. Runners watched for these fires to carry the news overland.
Running was also a popular sport in Alutiiq communities. At gatherings, young people participated in activities designed to test their strength and endurance. These included boat races, swimming and diving contests, wrestling matches, rope-jumping competitions, and running races. Races remain popular in Alutiiq villages, particularly at Fourth of July celebrations, where villagers hold sack races, buoy races, and even mountain marathons.
Photo: Fourth of July sack race in Old Harbor. Courtesy the Rostad Collection.
Cuumi Kasaakat Sun’ami amlerta’umallriit. - Before in Kodiak there were (reportedly) a lot of Russians
The Russian era in Alaska began in the early eighteenth century, when explorers and traders sailed east from Siberia in search of new lands and resources. In addition to a wealth of sea mammals, fish, and birds, Russian colonists found Native people: a source of skilled labor for harvesting this bounty. Over the following century, Russian traders conscripted Native workers to harvest everything from sea otters to ground squirrels, bird eggs, and plant foods. Although most of this work took place in and around Native settlements, Russian ships also transported workers far from home, as far south as California.
At Ft. Ross, an artel established on the northern coast of California in 1812, Alutiiq men and women were the main part of the Russian-led work force that included Aleutian Islanders and local Kashaya and Miwok Indians. Alutiiq men hunted sea mammals for the Russian American Company and served as tradesmen. They worked as carpenters, sawyers, coopers, tanners, miners, fishermen, porters, and laborers, living in their own village adjacent to the fort’s stockade. Some brought their families, others raised families with local Indian women. In 1820, there were 126 Kodiak Alutiiqs living at Fort Ross. Personnel lists name their home villages.
The Farallons, a desolate cluster of rocky volcanic islands at the entrance to San Francisco Bay, held another distant Russian outpost. Here, a Russian overseer managed Alutiiq and Indian workers who hunted seals and birds and gathered bird eggs from about 1811 to 1831. When the Russians left the California coast in 1841, most of the Alutiiq workers returned to Alaska.
Image: Water color painting of the Russian Orthodox Church at Little Afognak, by Helen Simeonof, Alutiiq Museum collections.