The last Alutiiq kayak from 1860 gives clues to this Alaskan culture

The last Alutiiq kayak from 1860 gives clues to this Alaskan culture

Around 1860 near Kodiak Island on the southern coast of Alaska, an Alutiiq warrior built a simple kayak thanks to the stretched and sewn of female sea lion skins, around a sophisticated wood frame.

The warrior and whaler gave his kayak a forked bow, which favored his people the sail through rough seas from the Gulf of Alaska to hunt whales with large harpoons. For reasons still unknown, the Alutiiq sewed on the surface of the kayak numerous strands of human hair.

Probably the last of its kind, a 14-foot 7-inch kayak, is preserved in a special gallery of the Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology at Harvard University where visitors can see it. "It is really a unique object”Says T. Rose Holdcraft, a leading conservative at Peabody. "We are conserving it for what people can learn from it”.

Alutiiq kayak

After funding the project, the Peabody plans to lend the kayak to the Alutiiq Museum and Archaeological Repository during 10 years.

Donated to the museum in 1869, the unique meaning of kayak came to light in 2003 when tribal members Sven Haakanson and Ronnie Lind saw it and they recognized the double bow as something of their culture.

Based on Alutiiq oral history, Haakanson, a PhD student who is now deputy director of the Alutiiq Museum, and Lind, an elder of the tribe, through human hair and other details they identified the warrior's kayak.

More than 7,000 years of the knowledge of our people went into construction with this kayak. No kayak is known with its age. It is unique and offers a lot of information”Haakanson says. "We hope in time to return it home to put that information in a life context so that young people can learn from it.”.

It says that the Alutiiq, whose name means “human origins”, Are also called Pacifil Yupik or Sugpiaq and have lived in Alaska for more than 7,500 years. Now about 4,000 people live, the majority near Kodiak Island and belong to 10 tribes.

Haakanson has the kayak as a "sacred object" due to the human hair, an elusive meaning. Although some speculated that the hair was similar to a trophy, the idea that the hair is attached to the kayak is because “embodies the spirit of someone powerful who could help or protect the kayak owner in whaling or war”.

Haakanson believes that “a high status of warrior or whaler”In the nineteenth century in the alutiiq society it made him kayak owner despite the possibility that he belonged to a group comparable to a guild.

I dont know knows nothing of the original owner of the kayak that arrived at the museum in 1869, when it acquired the collection of the Captain Edward Fast, which was sent by the US Navy to protect the region. The Alutiiq warriors, who hunted whales, porpoises, sea lions, and seals, are believed to have been buried with their kayaks.

In the conservation project, the museum team collaborate with experts from the Alutiiq Museum on Kodiak Island and with Alfred Naumoff, the last creator of the traditional kayaks alutiiq.

Ellen Promise, a graduate student in Winterthur University's Delaware Art Conservation Program, says researchers are taking samples to determine if the surface of the kayak was made resistant to water with oil or with vegetable oil or some natural product. They also want to know if the thread used to sew the tendons of the skins It came from marine mammals, hedgehogs, or possibly caribou.

The museum is showing numerous objects related to alutiiqs. It includes a conical hat made from marine animal intestine, a rare double-bladed paddle, and a 9-foot harpoon that the Alutiiq whaler could have used.

Unlike the New England whalers, who used rowboats heavy enough to exhaust their harpooned prey, alutiiq huntersthey took a very different approach.

Haakanson says that the hunters could have used slate harpoons that could contain poison. The poison could paralyze the whale, preventing them from using the fins and they will drown in a few days. The harpoons had a small flammable animal skin bag that could be kept afloat.

The whaler would probably have to wait several days”Haakanson says. "Later, using his knowledge of local currents and winds, he would go sailing to find the dead whale.”.

Observing the kayak with historical eyes, you have seen details that others might not recognize. Haakanson says the scuff marks on the kayak side of the straps used to secure the whaler's gear indicate that he was right-handed. The creator of the boat used skins of female sea lions because they were thinner and more flexible and have fewer scars than those of males.

He says that for him Alutiiq Museum It is an honor to work with the Peabody Museum. "We were looking to work and share what we have learned about kayak warriors. The knowledge we gain from this exchange will not only help the Alutiiq people learn, but the long-lost tradition of kayaking on Kodiak Island can be shared and maintained.”.

Graduated in Journalism and Audiovisual Communication, since I was little I have been attracted to the world of information and audiovisual production. Passion for informing and being informed of what is happening in every corner of the planet. Likewise, I am pleased to be part of the creation of an audiovisual product that will later entertain or inform people. My interests include cinema, photography, the environment and, above all, history. I consider it essential to know the origin of things to know where we come from and where we are going. Special interest in curiosities, mysteries and anecdotal events in our history.

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