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LOOKING BOTH WAYS: Heritage and Identity of the Alutiiq People of Southern Alaska

Introduction
About the People
Alutiiq Villages
About this Project
Supplemental Reading

Object Categories
Ancestors
Our History
Our Way of Living
Our Beliefs
Our Family


Our Family

"We used to go with my dad in wintertime to his trapping ground in Smoky Hollow. We used to have fun. He used to be our teacher too. He let us do our schoolwork and he'd play the violin. And when we got lonesome, he would sit us down and he would sing us old-time songs and play the violin." - Olga Sam, Alaska Peninsula Elder, 1997

Alutiiq identity - the sense of belonging to a people, a place, a culture - grows from the intimacy of family life, the love and teaching of parents and grandparents, and a social world that includes cousins, uncles, aunts, and dozens of other relatives in the village and beyond. Alutiiq people trace relations and ancestors through many generations.

Chiefs and wealthy families were in the upper level of 18th century Alutiiq society. In the lowest level were slaves, who were usually war captives from other villages. There were specialists of various kinds, including whalers, shamans, and kassat ("wise men") who composed songs and dances. Weather forecasters gave advice to sea travelers. Healers and midwives had expert knowledge of plant medicines and treatments.

In traditional homes, Alutiiq families cooked and ate, crafted baskets and carvings, repaired weapons and tools, sewed clothing, and passed the time with games and stories. Toys for children were fun, but also taught spiritual lessons. Each toy had its own season of play, marked by the migration of birds and animals. Adults played competitive games of skill, often betting on the outcome.

The steambath - called maqiwik in the Alutiiq language and banya in Russian - is an ancient tradition that is still enjoyed today. Inside the banya are benches, tubs of hot and cold water, and a wood-fired stove for heating rocks. A splash of water produces clouds of hot, cleansing steam.

The banya is a place for washing, socializing, and healing, both physically and spiritually. Elder Jennie Zeedar relieved her arthritis pain with steam and herbs: "I remembered my healer, so I did what she told me . after I took that one hot banya it felt good."



Margie Macauly-Waite and her son Mikhail, Alaska Peninsula. Photograph by Carl C. Hansen, Smithsonian Institution.

Chief Alexie and sons at Chignik on the Alaska Peninsula, 1930-38. Courtesy of the Alaska State Library (PCA 105-3).

"Nangkuq, a Chief from Kodiak Island," painting by Mikhail Tikhanov, 1818. Courtesy of the Scientific Research Museum of the Russian Academy of Arts.

"Tamaima, an Inhabitant of Kodiak Island", painting by Mikhail Tikhanov, 1818 (detail). Courtesy of the Scientific Research Museum of the Russian Academy of Arts.

Mary Peterson (left) and Rena Peterson (right) play kadaq at the community barabara in Akhiok, Kodiak Island, 1989. Kadaq is a team game that was traditionally played, often for wagers, at winter social events. Pairs or lines of players kneel and face each other, and one of each pair hides a small stick in each hand. When the song is over the others must guess which hand holds the winning stick. Photograph courtesy of the Alutiiq Museum.

Banya (house for steambathing) in the village of Old Harbor, Kodiak Island. The wood piled in front is for burning in the banya's stove. Photograph by Richard Knecht.




OBJECT LINKS
WOVEN BASKET | WOMAN'S BOWL | WATER DIPPER | TOY KAYAK | TOY BOW | TOSSING DISKS | THREAD BOBBIN | SPOOL | SKIN BAG | SEAL BOWL | ROCK PADDLE | NOSE ORNAMENT | IVORY CARVINGS | GRASS MAT | GOAT HORN SPOON | GAME DISK | DOLL | DART GAME | CARVING TOOL | CARVING KNIFE | BIRD BOWL | BENTWOOD BOX |


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