Chenega was a very old village in Prince William Sound, which Alutiiq people also called Ingim-Acia, "under the mountain." In 1964, tragedy struck - a huge undersea earthquake shook the ground and sent tidal waves on a path of destruction. The waves drowned 23 people and destroyed all the houses and the Russian Orthodox church at Chenega. Those lucky enough to escape to high ground were rescued and went to live at Tatitlek, Cordova, and Anchorage. Later they returned to build a new village called Chenega Bay on nearby Evans Island. Waves from the same Great Alaska Earthquake also caused great destruction on Kodiak Island (see the histories of Akhiok, Old Harbor, Kodiak, and Afognak).
Chenega is remembered in oral traditions. According to legend, it was near Chenega that Raven first brought light to the world by letting it escape from a box. The people of Chenega were known as great sea mammal hunters - they were "soaked in grease" as people said in other parts of Prince William Sound. In a story told by Elder Paul Eliah Chimovitski, one young hunter owed his luck to six tiny men -the "fire dwarfs" - whom he found paddling their boat through flames in the bathhouse fireplace.
In the early days, the leadership of important chiefs helped the village to become rich through trade and to survive in times of war. In 1786, the English captain Nathaniel Portlock met Chenega's Chief Taatucktellingnuke when he traveled to Portlock's ship in a large skin boat (angyaq) that held 25 men, women and children. Portlock wrote that the people of Chenega were fond of fish, wild celery and especially, herring eggs on seaweed, a treat that is still enjoyed today by the people of Prince William Sound.
Chenega, circa 1904. Courtesy of Alaska State Library, U.S. Forest Service Collection, PCA 207-12a.
Two young girls at Chenega, circa 1925. Courtesy of Alaska State Library, U.S. Forest Service Collection PCA 207-19-1.
Russian Orthodox chapel at Chenega, circa 1904. Courtesy of Alaska State Library, U.S. Forest Service Collection, PCA 207-12.
Russian Orthodox Easter celebration, Chenega, 1940s. (Left to right: Fred Brizgaloff, Alex Chimovitski, Mickey Eleshansky, Willie Evanoff, Pete Kompkoff, Sr., Nick Kompkoff, Sr., Steve Vlasof). Photograph by John Poling. Copyright Chugach Heritage Foundation.
Chenega feast, 1940s. (Left to right: Pete Kompkoff, Sr., Willie Evanoff, Willie Kompkoff, Alex Chimovitski, George Brodkin, Mickey Eleshansky, Frenchy Eleshansky, Nick Jackson, Steve Vlasoff). Photograph by John Poling. Copyright Chugach Heritage Foundation.
Russian Orthodox Christmas starring ceremony, Chenega, 1940s. (Left to right: Phil Totemoff, Nick Koronoff, Steve Vlasoff, Nick Eleshansky, Norman Selanoff). Photograph by John Poling. Copyright Chugach Heritage Foundation.