Guide: Prologue

Guide to Various Subjects Mentioned in Ivory and Paper




Page 1: The boy stepped into the sea.

            Veniaminov describes a complex morning ritual that involved rising at the first light and going outside to face the east. After swallowing both light and wind, the person went to the stream where further rituals were performed ending with the person wading into the stream up to his knees to await the sunrise. This could also be performed at the seashore when there was no stream near the village.

Veniaminov, Notes on the Islands of Unalashka District, 1984:211-212.


Page 1:  …her brother, after all, was a shaman…

“In spite of all their knowledge and power and their endeavors to represent themselves as special, the shamans were not held in great respect and outwardly were not to be distinguished from other people…. they themselves were frequently in want, needing help, and very often died in poverty and adversity. Therefore, it was very rare that the son of a shaman entered the profession of his father.”

For this and more see Veniaminov, Notes on the Islands of Unalashka District, 1984:219-220.


Page 2:  …the thick root of bitter celery

On the medicinal use of bitter celery, see Golodoff, Wildflowers of Unalaska Island: A Guide to the Flowering Plants of an Aleutian Island. 2003:132. This is Strong Putchki or Angelica lucida L.


Page 2: He helped old men drag sea lion stomachs….

On sea lion stomachs holding 200 salmon, see Hudson/Mason, Lost Villages of the Eastern Aleutians, 2014:31 (information from Nick Galaktionoff).


Page 2: He began to play the games….

William Laughlin described several such games and exercises. Exercises included arm-twisting, hanging by the fingers from a ceiling beam, and finger squeezing. Games included throwing darts at model whales.

Laughlin, Aleuts: Survivors of the Bering Land Bridge, 1980:29.


Page 2: Soon you’ll take your first sea lion.

For uses of the sea lion, see Veltre, Resource Utilization in Unalaska, Aleutian Islands, Alaska, 1982:60. The wonderful cookbook and resource guide issued by the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association (Qaqamiiĝux̂: Traditional Foods and Recipes from the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands) has many recipes using sea lion.


Page 3: Each end of the cord…held a carefully fashioned stone bead.

W.H. Dall, wrote about objects from the burial cave on Kagamil that included, “One rude amber bead, (17270a), evidently of native make, on a sinew thread…. We know that amber was held in great esteem by the early natives, and extraordinary value set upon it.” (On the Remains of Later Pre-Historic Man, etc. 1878:24.) Also: Black, Aleut Art, second edition, 2003:132. In Fitzhugh/Crowell, Crossroads of Continents, 1988:341, there is an appendix on beads in general.


Page 3: A man would arrive with a stone lamp….

“A young man placed a small, lighted lamp before the woman of his choice and if she continued to feed the flame her affection for him was shown; but, if it was extinguished or left to burn out was an indication that his attentions were disregarded.”

Turner, An Aleutian Ethnography, 2008:185-186.


Page 3: …his forehead slashed open with knives.

“Those destined for captivity were marked with blood spots on the face and on the forehead while the ones whom they intended to kill had an ear or some other part of the body cut off….”

Veniaminov, Notes on the Islands of the Unalashka District, 1984:208.


Page 3: …the Long Month and then the Month of Young Cormorants

The months of the year are taken from the 1840 column in Bergsland, Aleut Dictionary, 1994:574. For a discussion of the calendar and an even more complete list of month names, see Qaqamiiĝux̂: Traditional Foods and Recipes from the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands, page 52-53.


Page 3: Names of constellations

The constellations are found in “The Moon’s Sister,” in Bergsland and Dirks, Aleut Tales and Narratives, 1990:148-155.


Page 4: They fed him fish tails….

Fish tales were not fed to a boy “in order that he may not tremble.” Bergsland and Dirks, Aleut Tales and Narratives, 1990:207. (Hence, they were fed to a slave.)


Page 4: …jobs even old women wouldn’t do.

“A man never took up female tasks because it was considered a disgrace and a vice for a man to perform women’s work such as: to sew, weave, or to make thread and cordage, to prepare food, to pick grass for roofing and other uses, to gather berries and products of the tideflats, to look for roots, and so on. Even to clean up around [outside] the house was not considered a man’s work.”

Veniaminov, Notes on the Islands of the Unalashka District, 1984:211.


Page 4: These people were whalers….

Lydia T. Black’s Aleut Art: Unangam Aguqaadangin/Unangan of the Aleutian Archipelago, first edition, has a section called “The Whalers of Kagamil,” pages 20-28. The second edition has a subsection titled “The Islands of the Four Mountains,” page 36. See also Black, “Whaling in the Aleutians,” Études/Inuit/Studies, 1987, 11(2):7-50. Laughlin, Aleuts: Survivors of the Bering Land Bridge, 1980:41-42.


Pages 4-5: …the whales will return…after two deaths.

The account of the shaman requiring the deaths of two people is loosely based on an account by Sarychev in which he related that a shaman predicted the weather would improve only after the death of a specific woman. Sarychev, Account of a Voyage of Discovery, 1806 [1969], Vol. II:67-78. For the killing of slaves see Veniaminov, Notes on the Islands of Unalashka District, 1984:198, 241. Slitting throats, Veniaminov, Notes on the Islands of Unalashka District, 1984:243. Some methods of execution were so gory that I settled for a quick knife.


Page 5: actors, and straw puppets….

For the straw puppets, see Bergsland’s Aleut Dictionary, 1990:648, where a bay on Tanaga Island is called “the long beach of the magic puppets.” Veniaminov wrote about complex performances. “It is noteworthy that always at every performance they had two personae on stage or, it is better to say, two mannequins of extraordinary size. These were made of grass and dressed in the finest clothes and were operated from within by a man.” He described them in some detail.

Veniaminov, Notes on the Islands of Unalashka District, 1984:199.


Pages 5: …a chief…had hurled a slave’s children over a cliff….

After writing how rich members of the community were highly regarded when they showed mercy to their slaves, Veniaminov wrote, “On the other hand, there were also such barbarians among the Aleut rich and the notables who, from sorrow for the sudden death of a favorite son or nephew, seeking consolation destroyed the children of slaves. Either they drowned them or threw them from the cliffs or they stabbed them in the sight of parents in whose heartbreak and despair they thought to find their own consolation.”

Veniaminov, Notes on the Islands of Unalashka District, 1984:198.


Page 6: That peak is called The Beginning of the World.

This is an invention on my part. The eastern part of Chuginadak is called “Tanax̂ Angunax̂” [Big Island]. “…the old Aleuts believed that this was where they originated.” Veniaminov, Notes on the Islands of Unalashka District, 1984:59.


Page 6: The Volcano Woman

Volcano Woman is loosely based on Bergsland and Dirks, “The Chuginadak Woman” in Aleut Tales and Narratives, 1990:448-457. I have also taken a few details from another volcano story, that of Makushin Volcano, in “Future Head” Bergsland and Dirks, Aleut Tales and Narratives, 1990:156-161. The volcano spirit in this second story is male.


Page 6: This old woman is Winterberry’s Daughter.

Winterberry’s Daughter is loosely based on “Bearberry Eater,” in Bergsland and Dirks, Aleut Tales and Narratives, 1990:199-201.


Page 7: …to hunt geese with a bola.

For use of a bola, see Turner, An Aleutian Ethnography, 2008:109-111. Debra Corbett discusses the use of a bola in her article “Saĝdaĝ—To Catch Birds.” (Arctic Anthropology, Vol. 53, No. 2, 2016).


Page 7: …to grind pigments…

The sculptor Gertrude Svarny grinds ochre for the paint she uses in her work. However, little has been done to try to reproduce original pigments in any detail. Lucien Turner (late 1870s) mentions hematite and the ink bag of an octopus being used. (An Aleutian Ethnography, 2008:72) Liapunova wrote, “Merck [from the early 1790s] lists the paints used by the Aleuts together with their local names….” These included black “brought from mainland Alaska; white…obtained from a volcano; green; red; and yellow, obtained from the crust of ocher covering the bottom of some ponds.” Green and black were ground together to get blue. Veniaminov mentioned clay of white, red, yellow (ocher), green, black, and blue colors. Liapunova, Essays on the Ethnography of the Aleuts, 1996:220.


Page 7: …to fix colors with heat and the blood of a raven.

“Before the introduction of dry paints the natives used various colored rocks, which they powdered up and mixed with blood of the raven or other land-birds, and applied it for ornamental purposes.”

Turner, An Aleutian Ethnography, 2008:76.