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Throwing Board
Word in Alutiiq: Nuqaq
In a sentence:

Pisurtat nuqat aturtaarait. - Hunters used throwing boards.

MP3 File: throwingboard

Hunting with hand-propelled weaponry requires great strength and precision, particularly when you are pursuing sea mammals from a kayak in the open ocean. Alutiiq hunters improved the speed, force, and distance of their harpoon throws by employing a throwing board. This simple device was about a foot and a half long and carved of wood. It had a handgrip on one end, a long central body with a groove for a harpoon shaft, and a small hook at the far end. A hunter laid a harpoon in the thrower and then held the complete assembly behind his shoulder. When he was ready to throw, the hunter simply swung his arm forward and snapped his wrist to launch the harpoon. The leverage provided by the thrower acted as an extension of the hunter’s arm, creating a faster, more powerful throw.

Throwing boards also known as atalatals, were once used all over the world. On Kodiak they are very ancient. Throwing board parts from the Rice Ridge site near Cape Chiniak suggest that Kodiak hunters employed these tools more than seven thousand years ago. Similarly, a tiny ivory carving of a throwing board from the Uyak site in Larsen Bay suggests that the practice remained in place 1,500 years ago. In more recent times, Alutiiq throwing boards were embellished with animal carvings or painted designs. Sea otters and seal flippers are some of the motifs that adorn these ingenious tools.

Photo:  Ancient Alutiiq throwing boards, Karluk One site, Koniag, Inc. Collection.

Word in Alutiiq: Kalliq
In a sentence:

Kallikan alingnartaartut. - When it is thundering it is scary.


MP3 File: thunder
ThunderThunder is the loud, booming noise created by the rapid expansion and contraction of air heated by a lightning strike. As electricity, in the form of lightening, travels through the air, it opens a channel. When the electricity dissipates, the channel collapses, creating thunder. The Alutiiq word for thunder–kalliq–references this sound. Kalliq comes from the word kalluk–to make a sharp noise–especially a bang, clank, or clatter.

Although storms are common in Kodiak, thunder and lightning are relatively rare. This is because thunder storms occur when cold and warm weather fronts collide, and warm air masses pass over Kodiak infrequently. However, electrical storms do occur, creating dangerous conditions in both summer and winter.

Alutiiq people have long feared thunder and lightning, for their power and connection to the unseen world. In January 1801, a Russian naval office recorded an eerie event during an electrical storm. Residents of an Alutiiq settlement were hosting a winter festival. During the storm, many people observed a rock jumping up and down, making its way up a hillside. No one could explain this phenomenon, but villagers suspected it was caused by thunder.

Similarly, an Alutiiq legend suggests that thunder and lightning were once two, poor, hungry girls whose community tired of caring for them and sent them away. This mistreatment led the girls to wander for many days, until they flew into the sky and became the angry and powerful thunder and lightning. The story reminds people of the importance of generosity.

Photo: Cumulus clouds over a Kodiak peak.
Podcast Available: Thunder
Word in Alutiiq: Swaaciit; Kulusut
In a sentence:

Swaaciit imasinam akiani et’ut. - Tlingits are across the big ocean.

MP3 File: tlingits

The Tlingit Indians of southeast Alaska are the Alutiiq people’s eastern neighbors. Their homeland extends from Yakutat Bay at the entrance to the Alaska Panhandle to northern coastal British Columbia. Like the traditional Alutiiq societies, Tlingit communities were once large and affluent. The Tlingit lived in big coastal villages organized around clans, extended families that worked and lived together. They had hereditary social classes, hosted elaborate winter festivals, kept slaves, waged warfare, and traveled widely.

Travel to the west brought Tlingit people into contact with Alutiiq communities. Interaction was most frequent in Prince William Sound. Here, contacts were both friendly and hostile. Traditional stories recount the slaughter of Alutiiq hunters who strayed into Tlingit territory as well as raids on Alutiiq communities that resulted in the death and enslavement of residents. Alutiiq communities took brutal revenge, developing a reputation for fierceness. These same accounts, however, reveal that neighboring communities also invited each other to compete in friendly games, participate in festivals, and trade.

Anthropologists believe that interaction between the two societies became more common in the late prehistoric era. At this time, southeast Alaska trade goods like abalone and dentalium shells appear more commonly in Kodiak’s archaeological sites, elements of Tlingit form line art appear in Alutiiq art, and Alutiiqs adopted items of Tlingit technology, like spruce root hats and two-pieced halibut fishing hooks. In turn, early historic Tlingit people are known to have utilized items of Alutiiq technology: skin-covered kayaks and sea otter harpoon darts.

Photo: Tlingit and Alutiiq dancers work together in a cultural exchange, Kodiak, summer 2011.

Podcast Available: Tlingits
To Gain Awareness
Word in Alutiiq: llangarlluni
In a sentence:

Carliaqa llangllarngauq. – My child is aware.


MP3 File: gainawareness

GainAwarenessWhy do toddlers like to say, “No!”? The answer lies in a baby’s growing brain. In the transitions from infant to toddler, children develop their sense of self-awareness, both physical and emotional. By about 18 months, children recognize themselves as unique individuals. At this age, many know and use their own name, recognize their image in a mirror, share opinions, express personal feelings like pride and shame, and act with concern for others.

Saying “No!”, or “Mine!” is an excellent indication of this transition. It shows that a child can express likes and dislikes, and that he understands he is an individual separate from his caregivers. This awareness is part of the process of gaining independence among toddlers who are also mastering walking and language.

This transition to self-awareness is recognized in Alutiiq culture. In the Alutiiq language, speakers differentiate between babies, who are unaware of their surroundings, and children who have gained awareness. The phrase llangart’llria literally means “he/she came to.” Alutiiq Elders associate this awakening with their earliest memories, with developing consciousness. Additionally, the term can be used to describe someone who awakens from being unconscious, or for an old soul–someone who knows more than their years.

Photo: First peek at the teacher’s new baby, Berna Joy. Goudie Collection, Courtesy the Wood Island Tribal Council.  This baby is to young to be aware.

Podcast Available: To Gain Awareness
Toad; Frog
Word in Alutiiq: Qetgauwartaasqaq
In a sentence:

qetgauwartaasqaq allrani cungartaartuq. - A frog is sometimes green.

MP3 File: toad

The Alutiiq words for toad and frog are the same- qetgauwartaasqaq. This word literally means “thing always jumping.” Amphibians are rare in Alaska. The state’s naturally occurring herpetofauna includes just 6 species: two types of salamanders, one newt, two frogs, and one toad. Of these animals, only the wood frog (Rana sylvatica) and the western toad (Bufo boreas) occur in the Alutiiq world. The brown, smoothed-skinned, wood frog can be found on the Alaska and Kenai peninsulas, and the green, wart-covered, western toad occurs in Prince William Sound.

Although frogs and toads are not indigenous to the Kodiak region, they were known. A ceremonial drum collected from the island features a handle with a stocky, grey-green carving that resembles a toad. This animal forms half of the decorative top of the drum’s handle, appearing behind a small mask. The toad faces the inside of the drum, where it is nearly hidden from view. This rare animal carving, paired with the human­like face, may indicate a spiritual relationship. The mask may represent the spirit of the toad.

A legend from Prince William Sound tells of a qetgauwartaasqaq appearing in human form. There was once a village where the people teased a man who was different than others. Each morning, upon waking, the man would walk over people, sometimes stepping on them. The villagers made a song that mocked the man for his clumsiness. To their surprise, the man turned out to be a qetgauwartaasqaq, who couldn’t help the way he walked. Angry for being teased, he sucked one villager’s mouth to the side of his face. When the community plotted to kill the qetgauwartaasqaq, he sucked them all up and fled to the ocean. The entire village disappeared. This story reminds people not to make fun of others.

Photo:  Child holding a Western Toad from Southeast Alaska.

Word in Alutiiq: Tuullek; Tuulautek
In a sentence:

Keniyaqama tuulautek aturtaagka. - When I cook I use tongs.

MP3 File: Tongs
Tongs were common tools in ancestral Alutiiq households. Carvers fashioned these implements by lashing together two lengths of wood shaped with flat oval ends. This created an effective tool for moving hot rocks. Heating rocks was a daily task, as people used hot stones to warm their homes, cook foods, and create steam for bathing. Fire reddened and broken rocks are very common finds in ancient settlements and illustrate the regularity of this practice.
Heating rocks for the steambath was an art. Young men competed for this job, which was thought to please the spirit of the steambath and ensure hunting luck. People selected certain types of stone to avoid dangerous explosions. To heat the rocks men created a pile of stones over a carefully laid fire. The builder stacked his firewood in a cone and laid stones over it. If correctly arranged, the wood used to fuel the fire would burn in the middle, causing the stones to fall into the hot coals, and not to roll outward onto the floor.
When the rocks were red hot, men retrieved them from the hearth, and passed them into the steambath with tongs. This meant moving blisteringly hot stones from the central room of a sod house, through a narrow tunnel, and into a small room designed for washing. One man worked with a pair of tongs to remove hot rocks from the hearth and then crawled into the tunnel entrance. Here he passed the rocks to a second man equipped with a rock paddle, a flat, wooden scoop. This man took the rocks into the steambath where he arranged them in a pile beside a bucket of water. A splash of water and the room filled with refreshing steam.
Photo: Wooden tongs from the Karluk One Site, Koniag, Inc. Collection.
Podcast Available: Tongs
Word in Alutiiq: Guuteq
In a sentence:

Guutaiyataallianga mikcama. - I used to have tooth aches all the time when I was small.

MP3 File: tooth

You can tell a lot about a person from their teeth. Genetic factors like race and environmental conditions like diet influence the shape and condition of people’s dentition.

For example, anthropologists note that people of Native American descent, including Alutiiqs, frequently have shovel-shaped upper incisors. Their front cutting teeth have curved inner edges that form a unique shovel-like depression in the back of each tooth. This is distinct from the blade-shaped incisors found in European and African populations and suggests ancestral ties to Asian peoples who share the shoveling trait.

Enamel, the hard outer coating on teeth, can record a person’s health during childhood. Periods of malnutrition or severe illness can retard the development of tooth enamel, creating striations around teeth. Enamel defects occur in prehistoric teeth from Kodiak, suggesting that children occasionally suffered physiological stress. Anthropologists suspect that spring food shortages caused by bad weather and exhausted stores were the source.

A person’s age is also reflected in their teeth. As you chew, your teeth rub together, flattening the cusps, or ridges, crowning your molars. As people age, therefore, their teeth show more wear. The rate of tooth wear also depends on a person’s diet. Today, teeth wear relatively slowly. In prehistoric times, however, when food was prepared without the many conveniences of modern kitchens, there was more grit in the diet and teeth wore more rapidly. Plant foods and shellfish are among the foods that likely introduced grit to the prehistoric Alutiiq diet and caused tool tooth wear. As well, people often used their jaws and teeth as tools, causing wear and damage.

Image: Drawing of a shovel-shaped incisor.

Track (to stalk)
Word in Alutiiq: Tumasurluni
In a sentence:

Tumasurtaallriakut kaugyanek. - We used to track foxes.

MP3 File: track

Alutiiq hunters stalk animals with great knowledge of both animal behavior and the Kodiak environment, using their knowledge to intercept animals, improve the success of their hunts, and protect themselves.

Historic sources indicate that Alutiiq men in search of a bear did not usually begin by tracking animals through the dense tangle of brush that backs Kodiak’s shores.  Instead, they paddled along the coast looking for bears foraging on the beach or fishing at the mouths of salmon streams.  The bear was then shot at.  If wounded, the hunter would then track the animal inland to complete the kill, following blood trails, broken brush, and tracks.

Another common way to stalk a bear was to learn its habits.  Alutiiq men are renown for spending hours watching a hillside to locate a den, observe an animal’s daily habits, or identify a bear trail.  Once a hunter knew when and where a particular bear was likely to go, he could pick the perfect spot to ambush his prey.  Careful observation and patience brought the animal to the hunter saving a tough slog through the brush and preventing dangerous surprises.

Although animal tracks are not a common in Alutiiq art, a prehistoric wooden labret from Karluk features a track that may be a bear print.  An artist carved the track into the surface of the labret, which is also decorated with salmon teeth.

Photo:  Wooden labret with bear track carving.  Karluk One site, Koniag, Inc. Collection.

Podcast Available: Track
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