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Alaska Native Sea Hunters in Northern California in Early 1800s

Saw this beautiful painting by Bill Holm* last week at Fort Ross. The Russians brought the hunters, most of them from the Kodiak Islands, to hunt sea otters at Fort Ross in the early 1800s. The kayaks were made of sea lion skins, the parkas (said to be waterproof) of sea lion intestines, the hats resembling birds.

"…The Kashaya Pomo called the Alaskans Underwater People because their boats sat so low in the water it seemed as if they were coming out of the sea. The iqyan (kayak) they developed is still studied today and its design is incorporated into modern shipbuilding. The Russians called these skin boats baidarkas.

The Alaskans were expert sea hunters. They honed their skill over thousands of years while living on isolated islands and waterways. RAC sent Alaska Natives along the coast to hunt for otter and fur seal pelts. They traveled great distances by kayak, including the Farallon Islands 35 miles southwest of Fort Ross across the rough open ocean, where the Alaskans stayed for months at a time. Alaska Natives used a spear with a detachable point tied with sinew to an air bladder made from a sea mammal’s stomach. After the animal is speared, hunters track the floating bladder, waiting for the animal to come up for air.…"
-http://www.fortross.org/native-alaskans.htm

*Represented by the Stonington Gallery; Also see his book, Northwest Coast Indian Art: An Analysis of Form

3 comments:

Bambu Bota said...

I saw one of the water proof jackets in the State museum in Juneau. Great exhibit to accompany this painting!

Peter Robinson said...

The Aleuts were certainly amazing seamen. What is even more amazing is that, as there were no trees on their home islands, they constructed the frames of their highly seaworthy baidarkas out of whatever bits of driftwood they could find, lashed together with seal sinew.

We should not take too romantic a view of this. In many cases, the Aleutian hunters were slaves of the Russian fur companies, who held their families as hostages to ensure their return with a satisfactory number of pelts. There were many atrocities committed.

In the 19th Century, Russian Alaska was in some ways similar to the American West. It attracted a wide variety of adventurers, some of whom were very nasty people indeed. However, it totally lacked any kind of government control or law enforcement and the fur companies could basically do as they pleased, including murdering whole villages if they showed any kind of resistance to enslavement.

History is not always pleasant but should not be sugar coated.

Irene Tukuafu said...

Peter, you are so right in the History department note above. When I first moved to Hawaii, I wondered why "salmon lomi lomi" was always on the "luau" menu. I was told that Hawaiians were also enslaved and taken up to Alaska.....some in later years made it back to Hawaii and brought with them the Salmon to eat
....and make it raw with onions and sometimes with limes. soooooooo delicious.

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