Thursday, 06. July 2006
Looking Both Ways - Alutiiq People of Southern Alaska

Alutiiq people are Alaska Natives who live in villages, towns, and cities along the southern coast of Alaska -- from Prince William Sound to the Kenai Peninsula, the Alaska Peninsula, and Kodiak Island.

The Alutiiq population in this region was about 3,100 in 1990. Other Alutiit reside elsewhere but look back to these shores as their true homeland.
This country of stormy seas and jagged mountains, glaciers, tundra, and forest has been home for 10,000 years. Elders say, "This is the land that we belong to, not the land that belongs to us."

Throughout the year, residents of Alutiiq villages fish and hunt for salmon, seals, sea lions, caribou, moose, and bear. They also gather berries and many other wild foods that make up an important part of the diet.

Close connection to the land along with language, traditions, values, beliefs and kinship is a strong part of Native identity -- of "being Alutiiq."


Beliefs

Winter hunting ceremonies were part of Alutiiq spiritual life until the late 1800s. With masked dancing, songs, and whistles, Alutiiq people invited spirits from the sky and undersea worlds to come to the ceremonial house.

Each dance began with the purifying smoke of burning herbs. Songs were sung to honor the ancestors and dancing followed, to the beat of drums and puffin beak rattles. Each dance portrayed a spirit as it traveled through the universe and helped with hunts for whales and other animals.


Shamanism

Many stories are told about Alutiiq shamans (kala'alet). They could change into animal form, dive into the earth, or fly through the air. Shamans could cure illness, read minds, foretell the success of hunting, and quell storms. Some, however, used their powers to harm others.

Both men and women could become shamans, and boys raised as women (ahnaucit) often took up the calling. Shamans were assisted by charms and by their personal helper-spirits.


The Alutiiq Universe

In traditional belief, the universe had five sky worlds, one above the other, and five underworlds, each inhabited by different beings.

Every object and creature had a human "owner," called a suk or sua. Lam Sua, the "person of the universe," was the purest and most powerful. Nunam Sua (person of the land) and Imam Sua (person of the sea) watched over the animals. An animal's own suk might reveal itself as a brightly shining human form that stepped out of its covering of feathers or fur.


Looking Both Ways

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Heritage and Identity of the Alutiiq People of Southern Alaska.
An Interactive Exhibit. (English)
Category: Ethno & Shamanism |

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