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Steam Bath Scrubber
Word in Alutiiq: Taariq
In a sentence:

Taariq taisgu. - Bring me the steam bath scrubber.

MP3 File: steambathscrubber

Alutiiq sod houses had a small side chamber designed specifically for steam bathing. This room had a low ceiling and a narrow, covered doorway that trapped steam. People carried hot rocks into the steam bath with special wooden tongs and piled them into a corner where they would not block the doorway. Bathers splashed these rocks with water stored in wooden tubs to produce sweat inducing steam. Bundles of roots were used for scrubbing and angelica leaves perfumed the air, providing relief from sore muscles. Steam bathing was also a spiritual practice. Babies born in seclusion huts were washed in the steam bath as part of their introduction to the family household, and warriors would bathe the night before a raid.

Although many people believe that Russian colonists introduced steam bathing, archaeological data illustrate that the tradition is ancient. Alutiiq villages more than three thousand years old contain quantities of rock reddened and cracked by fire. This rubble shows that this type of bathing has been an integral part of Alutiiq social and spiritual life for millennia. Known today by the Russian term banya, steam bathing remains a popular social activity.

Photo:  Mrs. Chya with a bundle of roots.  Courtesy the Rostad Collection.

Steam Bath Switch
Word in Alutiiq: Wainiik
In a sentence:

Taaringa wainiimek. - Switch me with the steam batch switch.

MP3 File: steambathswitch

Switching is a common practice in Alutiiq steam baths. In the soothing, wet heat, people slap themselves with flexible branches to promote good health. This practice improves circulation, relieves aches and pains, and can be used to treat illness and prepare a pregnant woman for delivery. Pneumonia, difficulty urinating, and cramps are all ailments that Alutiiqs report treating with the help of switching. Banya switches can also be laid on a person to provide a medicinal effect, or used like a fan to cool the body.

Alutiiqs make switches from a great variety of plant materials. Alder and willow branches are the most common sources, although birch and red elderberry branches, and the stems of angelica, fireweed, fleabane, goldenrod, and large-leaf avens also provide switch material. Many people use leafy switches, particularly those who use alder branches. Alutiiqs often gather alder branches in the middle of the summer, as the young leafy branches of spring tend to be sticky with plant resins. Some tie harvested branches together and dry them. Others leave the branches in a damp place or put them in a freezer to keep the leaves from falling off.

People sometimes confuse the word for steam bath switch—wainiik—with the word for steam batch scrubber— taariq—a bundle of roots used like a loofa. This is because taariq is both a noun and a verb. It means scrubber and to switch with a wainiik.

Photo:  An Alder bush on the shore of Olga Lake, Spring, 2005.

Steam Bath; Banya
Word in Alutiiq: Maqiwik
In a sentence:

Maqiwik uqnaarllia. - The banya was hot.

MP3 File: steambath

Alutiiq sod houses had a small side chamber designed specifically for steam bathing. This room had a low ceiling and a narrow, covered doorway that trapped steam. People carried hot rocks into the steam bath with special wooden tongs and piled them into a corner where they would not block the doorway. Bathers splashed these rocks with water stored in wooden tubs to produce sweat inducing steam. Bundles of roots were used for scrubbing and angelica leaves perfumed the air, providing relief from sore muscles. Steam bathing was also a spiritual practice. Babies born in seclusion huts were washed in the steam bath as part of their introduction to the family household, and warriors would bathe the night before a raid.

Although many people believe that Russian colonists introduced steam bathing, archaeological data illustrate that the tradition is ancient. Alutiiq villages more than three thousand years old contain quantities of rock reddened and cracked by fire. This rubble shows that this type of bathing has been an integral part of Alutiiq social and spiritual life for millennia. Known today by the Russian term banya, steam bathing remains a popular social activity.

Image:  Diagram of an Alutiiq steam bath or banya.

Stick Guessing Game
Word in Alutiiq: Kaataq
In a sentence:

Cuumi kaatartaallriit. - They used to play the stick game before.

MP3 File: guessinggame

Competitions were a common activity at social gatherings in classical Alutiiq society. Both men and women enjoyed participating in everything from swimming, boating, and running races to tests of strength and a variety of team sports. Competitions were a way to demonstrate one’s stamina and dexterity, and they allowed rivals to compete in a friendly arena. For example, the Alutiiq people of Prince William Sound invited neighboring Eyak and Tlingit peoples to compete in games.

In addition to their recreational qualities, some games had a spiritual component. Certain games were limited to a specific time of year because they were believed to affect the natural environment. Guessing games, like kaataq, were popular in the summer, because they were thought to slow the movement of the sun.

Kaataqis a favorite game of Alutiiq men, because it involves lots of singing and joking as well as careful slights of hand. In the past, men played this game in the two weeks before Lent, staying up all night to bet on the outcome of games. Old sod houses were an excellent place to play, because they were warm and private. Men never played kaataq around children; it was considered appropriate only for adults.

This simple guessing game requires two inch-long pieces of wood or bone. Men sometimes carve these gaming sticks from cedar. Although the sticks in a pair are the same size, each has different markings. One might be painted and the other not, or one might have grooves carved into it and the other not. The marked stick is the “wee” and the unmarked stick the “dip.”

To play kaataq, two men stand facing each other. One man holds the sticks behind his back, chanting at and taunting his opponent. The holder arranges the sticks in his fist, then brings one hand to his chest and leaves the other against his back. When he says, “pick,” the challenger must guess which stick rests in the fist on the holder’s chest.

If the challenger guesses correctly, he scores one point. If the challenger guesses incorrectly, the holder receives the point. The holder can change the game by putting both sticks in the hand behind his back. When the challenger guesses an empty hand, the holder wins the point. However, if an observer catches the holder’s slight of hand, the observer shouts “change,” and the holder must put the hand with both sticks on his chest for the challenger to select. In this case, the challenger wins the point. The first player to accumulate sixteen points wins.

Photo: Women playing the stick guessing game in Akhiol, Rostad Collection.

Stingy
Word in Alutiiq: Alayugluni; Alatarluni
In a sentence:

Ilait Alatartaartut. - Some of them are always stingy.

MP3 File: stingy

Among the world’s hunting and gathering societies, sharing is a highly esteemed behavior. People who are fortunate enough to obtain food and raw materials are expected to share their luck with others. This practice helps to redistribute resources among a group of interdependent people and insures that those with different abilities have the necessities of life. In such communities, stinginess and greed are unacceptable. A person who refuses to share, who steals from others, or who doesn’t work hard is often ostracized.

The evils of stinginess are clearly expressed in the Alutiiq legends. Traditional tales frequently feature unfortunate, hungry people who are fed and cared for by others. In one story, two mean men capture and starve a young woman. A kindly old woman learns of her situation, feeds her secretly and then helps her to escape. The girl then marries a caring husband who generously gives her a set of new clothes. In another story, a lazy young man and his family are forced to rely on game caught by others. Cannibals then catch the young man and try to eat him. However, he escapes, and with a talisman taken from his journey, becomes a good provider. These stories remind listeners of the value of benevolence and hard work.

Generosity is also emphasized in contemporary stories. Alutiiq Elders speak fondly of simpler days when Alutiiq communities were like one big family, and everyone helped their friends and neighbors.

Photo: Children with Christmas packages at the Ouzinkie Mission.  Smith Collection.  Courtesy Tim and Norman Smith.

 

Stormy
Word in Alutiiq: Kayunguq
In a sentence:

Kayunguq, eh? - It’s stormy, eh?

MP3 File: stormy

Despite mild temperatures, Kodiak lies in one of the most meteorologically active regions on earth. From September to April, a storm crosses the Gulf of Alaska every four to five days, bringing intense rain, high winds, and heavy seas. Kodiak’s location guaranties exposure to the complete force of these storms, which build to their fullest stage by the time they reach the central Gulf. For Alutiiqs, stormy weather presented special challenges. Storms pushed subsistence foods farther away from shore and limited kayak travel. In winter, hunters could not always access foods and raw materials by boat.

To prevent food shortage, Alutiiqs stockpiled large quantities of summer resources for winter use. Fish and sea mammal meat were dried, oil rendered from blubber, berries preserved, and fish pickled. Stores hung from the rafters of sod houses or were kept in containers and special rooms. During stormy weather, Alutiiq families gathered to work and socialize. Men repaired their hunting tools, women stitched clothing, children played with toys, and everyone participated in traditional games.

Photo: Storm at Afognak village, 1964. Shepherd-Hansen digital image collection, courtesy Susan Short.

Podcast Available: Stormy
Story
Word in Alutiiq: Quliyanguaq
In a sentence:

Quliyangua’uciikamken. - I will tell you a story.

MP3 File: story

Among societies without a written language, storytelling is one way to record history. People pass family accomplishments, survival techniques, and social values from generation to generation through each other rather than books. Alutiiq people often embellished stories with drawings or transformed them into songs to help people remember their content and reinforce their messages.

Stories held a great deal of information about daily life in the Alutiiq world. They warned travelers of the treachery of strangers, urged community cooperation, and explained unusual events. The man of winter, a story told to noisy children, warns that those who misbehave may cause bad weather. Through this story, children learn that poor behavior can have consequences for an entire community. Other stories probably helped to preserve information about infrequent events like catastrophic volcanic ash falls or tsunamis. Because these events occurred hundreds of years apart, they were not experienced by every generation. Stories helped communities remember environmental disasters, record their effects, and preserve information about the ways people coped.

Storytelling remains a popular form of Alutiiq expression. A good speaker is encouraged to share his or her knowledge, teaching others through personal tales and a good dose of humor.

Photo: Ouzinkie children listening to a story.  Smith Collection, courtesy Tim and Norman Smith.

String; Twine
Word in Alutiiq: IRafkuruaq; IRafkungcuk; WiRufkuruaq
In a sentence:

IRafkuruanek initalitallriit. - They used string to make clothesline.

MP3 File: stringtwine

String games like cats cradle are a popular pastime around the globe. From Australia to Asia, Africa, North America, and the high Arctic, people have long used a simple loop of string and their fingers to make designs. The function of these figures varies by culture. In some societies, string figures are considered a form of art, in others, they help storytellers share tales or teach lessons, and in other, they are thought to have magical powers: the ability to aid a hunter or ensure a plentiful harvest. The Inuit people of the Canadian Arctic made many complex string figures, weaving animals like whales, foxes, swans, and hares with string, particularly during the dark days of winter.

Alutiiq Elders recall making string figures and playing string games as children. In August, girls sang songs and wove string figures to tangle the legs of the sun and slow its departure for the winter. Boys were not allowed to play this game for fear that their fingers would get tangled in their bowstrings while hunting. In spring, children played the sunrise game, using a long length of string, a bead, and a small stick. They tied the string to a nail in a wall, threaded a bead onto the string, and then tied a small stick at the bottom of the string to keep the bead from slipping off. Then, holding the string taut, they jerked it to make the bead run up. This trick, which required lots of practice, was said to hasten the return of the sun.

Photo: Old Harbor children playing a string game.  Befu Collection.

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