Thursday, November 19, 2009


Mysterious Mummies of China. (2000) Mummies 101. Retrieved on November 19, 2009.


This website is from the PBS organization and its all about mummies, all over the world. It first tells about what a mummy is, why people did it, and how they did it. Then it gets into the different locations where mummification took place. First the website talks about Egyptian mummification, how they did it, why, and what it meant to them. Next are the early South America and Inca mummies. This is where some of the first mummifications took place. Then the website talks about smaller places in the world where mummification happened, places such as the Aleutians. Where the Unangax people placed their mummies in caves. Finally the website talks about how mummies can happen accidently. Overall this website has just about everything a person needs to know about mummification.

Aleutian Mummies

Mummification in Alaska is something I never thought possible; it was something I only saw in the movies. I became very interested in the Unangax culture, where mummification was part of their everyday life.
The Unangaxs would mummify their dead by removing viscera from the body cavity and then stuffing the body with grass. Then they would suspend it over their normal sleeping place in a wooden cradle-like frame in their house. There the body would lie for several months because the Unangan people wanted to prolong the presence of the dead. Afterwards, most of the dead were buried under the house or in the house walls. However, Unangan whalers in the eastern and central areas of the Aleutian chain were buried differently; they were mummified for reasons such as giving luck to future whalers by taking away part of their flesh before a hunting trip.
Other Unangax people of the Aleutian chain mummified their dead differently. Archaeologists have discovered more than 50 mummies dating back to 250 years ago in one Aleutian cave. These mummies were handled differently from the type of mummification i mentioned before. After taking out the body cavity and stuffing it with grass, they would then take the body to a stream so the water would wash away the body fat, leaving only the skin and muscle. Next they would bend the knees into a squatting position and let it dry outside in the open air. After it was dried, the body was wrapped in several layers of waterproof material and woven clothing, and then placed in a cave. The body would either be hung from the ceiling or on top of a platform so it would not get wet from the floor. In some of these caves along with the body, archaeologists have found kayaks, hunting equipment, armor, shields, knives, drums, and masks. With female mummies they have found other belongings such as, dishes of wood, knives, basketry, mats, and other essentials. These caves are more like Aleutian museums, that have been very carefully preserved. I wonder if the archaeologists found any parkas with the mummies.


Kamleika is a seal gut parka and the word comes from the Chukchi people. The Unangan name for the gut parka/rain coat is chagtalisax. Women would make this waterproof parka from using intestines from any large sea mammal. The men would wear this parka out hunting with a birdskin parka underneath to keep the hunters warm and dry. The hood and bottom of the parka had drawstrings on it. A hunter would tie his parka around the opening of his Kayak, so the water wouldn’t get into his kayak and he would tie his hood on very tightly, so water wouldn’t come in through the top of his parka around his neck. Gut parkas have not been worn since the early 1900s, after the 1940s skin clothing was no longer made. One elderly Unangax women said that she had a gut parka hanging on her wall in her house, but after the World War II evacuation in the 1940s it was gone.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Today Unangans uses regalia’s for dance performances that are made out of synthetic materials that look similar to saxs and kamleikas (sea lion intestine waterproof parka). On the regalia’s they use the same type of borders along the bottom, cuffs and center of the regalia that are on the Yupik Kuspuks. Another type of synthetic material used is leather to make their regalia’s. They use beads, seal teeth, and seal fur to decorate them. This picture here is from the king cove dance group, which was formed in 1994 to help share the eastern Unangan culture. The video is from the Atka Dancers doing an opening dance performance.


Alaska Native Collection: Sharing Knowledge (2003). National Museum of Natural History: Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved on November 17, 2009.


This website is from the Smithsonian Institution in the Alaska Native Collections: Sharing Knowledge. The sax that is on display at the Smithsonian can be seen on this website up close and in detail. This website has great traditional knowledge about the sax from Unangax elders. They told the Smithsonian what the sax is made out of, whom it was mad for, the history of the sax, how Unangaxs used it in the past, and who used it. They talked about the different kind of birds and sea mammals they used to make a sax, and how they would catch many birds at once. This website includes all of the Alaska Native objects in the Smithsonian with elder information as well. This website teaches a few things about Alaska Native peoples history.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Elders Talk

The Smithsonian website has Unangax elders talking about the sax, and a picture of the sax that is in the Smithsonian. The elders say the Unangax people would wear this type of parka year around, on land and sea. At sea, men would wear saxs under their kamleikas which is a waterproof parka made form strips of sea lion intestines. The elders were able to tell that the parka in the Smithsonian was made for a woman, from 50 King Eider Ducks. The cuffs are made from sea lion, and the parka is sewn with really fine sinew thread.
Traditionally, these parkas were used for everyday survival, now they are used mainly for dance performances. Unangax people used many different kinds of birds to make saxs, horned puffins, tufted puffins, murres, cormorants, oldsquaw ducks, and ravens. Unangaxs would gather a large number of puffins in their underground nests by using string snares or whale baleen snares.

Here is a link to see the picture and website about the sax in the Smithsonian

Monday, November 16, 2009

Unangax Dancing and Inupiaq Dancing

I am half King Island Inupiaq and I have been Eskimo dancing with the King Island dance group since I could walk. I wanted to learn more about the Aleut parka because when it was displayed in the museum as a parka it looked just like the clothing that the Aleuts wear when they are dancing, which is styled very differently from the type of clothing that my family wears when we are dancing. As you can see the differences between clothing in the pictures of the Unangax girl on the bottom and my cousin Yamani dancing at AFN in the top photo. The styles of clothing, dancing, and drumming are all different from one another yet both cultures are unique and beautiful. Even though they are different, dancing is way for both cultures to express their culture, how they tell stories through songs and motions, and how they were able to entertain themselves on such small bountiful islands in the Bering Sea.

Aleut Story DVD

Robinson, C. & Williams, M. (2005). Aleut Story. America: American Public Television.


This movie is about the untold story of what happened to the Aleuts during World War II. This movie includes a lot of interviews with Aleut people as well as many different researchers. The Aleut elders talk about how the U.S. Government treated them during World War II, which was a very terrible experience for the Aleuts. The researchers talk about what the U.S. Government did wrong and who the people were in the government who caused this terrible thing to happen to the Aleuts. This movie tells the story of the Aleuts before, during, and after the war. It shows pictures of the horrible interment camps that the Aleut people had to live in for two years. This movie is a sad story and some what unbelievable of how U.S. citizens were treated by the government.

Friday, November 13, 2009

World War II

Japanese bombing Dutch Harbor.

The tradition of making saxs was lost after World War II. In June of 1942 the Unangax chief of Attu Island told the cost card that Japanese would be coming to their islands. No one listened to him. The Japanese took and killed many Unangax people, including the chief of Attu, who died a few years later in a Japanese camp. On other Aleutian Islands, the people were taken away by the U.S. Government, only allowed to take one bag and were brought onto a ship. They were taken to an isolated internment camp in southeast Alaska. The buildings were all old and run down. There were no walls in the building. There was no good water or food, and their human waste was along the beach, where the children would play. Many Aleuts died at this camp, many got very sick, and a few different diseases were going around. They had no medical care. They had no idea how long they would be at this terrible camp. They were treated very badly by the government, and they didn't even do anything to deserve it. Just a few miles away from the Aleut camp, was a camp for Nazi prisoners. Their living conditions were much better, no one was sick, they had healthy food and water. After two years of being at the camp, most Aleuts were finally able to return home. Others were not allowed to go home because the U.S. government forbid them form going back to their islands. This horrible experience that the Aleuts had to go through, is a huge part of why some of their traditional ways are lost.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

An Aleutian Ethnography

Turner, M. (2008). An Aleutian Ethnography. Fairbanks, AK:
University of Alaska Press.

The author, who is not an Unangax man, wrote this book after being in three different primary Aleut communities for about 11 months . He talks about the different Unangax communities he visited. He writes about the Unangax people and their culture. How they live, their language, social relationships, governance, beliefs, and traditions. He talks about how they made their houses, clothing, boats, and hunting materials. He describes what kind of animals and plants the Unangaxs eat and lived off of. He gives step-by-step instructions on how the Unangax people did different things, like how they used to make birdskin parkas. Even though the author is not Unangax he described the Unangax people and ways well.

Making a Sax

These delicate saxs are made from about 40 puffin skins. Saxs require a very long period of time for construction. After women gather the puffins, they skin and dry them for a couple of months. In the fall the skins are placed in a tanning liquid. Afterwards they are taken to a creek, where stomping occurs on the skins to cleanse them from the tanning liquid. Once cleaned, they are dried. Then the women complete the tedious work of chewing on the skins to take out the stored oil and fat within the skin. Finally the pieces are sewn together to create the fine work of a sax. It is long, almost reaching the ground, and consists of colors such as scarlet red, green, blue, or black. Saxs are used only on lands and in cold temperatures.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Alaska Native Heritage Center

The Clothing Case. Alaska Native Heritage Center 8800 Heritage Center Dr
Anchorage, AK 99506-1655. November 4, 2009


The last two blogs I did, I got the information from the Alaska Native Heritage Center in an exhibit called, The Clothing Case. The Clothing Case contains different parkas from all the different culture groups in Alaska, Athabaskan, Yupik, Cup’ik, Inupiaq, St. Lawrence Island Yupik, Unangax, Alutiiq, Eyak, Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian clothing are all in this beautiful case. Underneath each piece of clothing is a description about the clothing. The description about the Unangax sax says who made the parka, what materials they were made out of, talks about the Russian American Company, uses of the sax, and the decorations. The sax in this case was made by a lady named Katja Gil and students of Atka Island. The Sax is made out of sea otter, seal, fur, suede leather, and beads.

Meanings and Uses

The tassels hanging from the parka have symbolic meanings. They represent the experiences of the Unangax people’s ancestors. Some tassels stand for the number of times an ancestor was shot by an arrow. Other tassels symbolize a winter story. Very old traditional parkas would usually have tassels of grey hair. The hair was from an elder who was on their deathbed. The elder gave his or her hair to a family member, by doing this the Unangax people believed that the spirit of that elder was close to them.

Unangax people wore the sax two different ways. On warm wet days saxs were used with the fur side facing out. This helped repel water. On cold drier days the fur was on the inside of the sax. By doing this, it helped insulate the body.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Russion American Company

In the 17th century, when Russian explorers went to the Aleutians, they saw that men wore birdskin parkas while women wore sea otter fur parkas. When the Russian American Company (RAC) came and took over the Aleutians, they outlawed the use of sea otter fur parkas because the Russians thought sea otter fur was too valuable for clothing. The Russians used the sea otter fur to make profit by sending it to Kiakhta China. During this time period women were forced to make their parkas from bird skins, they put special decorations on them to make it look more feminine.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

What is a Sax?

Sax comes from the Unangax language of the Aleutian Islands. Sax literally means bird but the definition of sax is birdskin parka. This particular parka can be found in a Unangan Barbara (sod-covered house) exhibit in the museum. This parka in the museum, is an imitation of a traditional birdskin parka. Traditional birdskin parkas are no longer made because the tradition was lost after World War II. When birdskin parkas were made, it took about 40 puffin skins, and it was made over a very long period of time. They were only used on land and in dry temperatures. Men were the only ones who wore the bird skin parkas and women wore sea otter fur parkas. Today, this type of clothing is mainly used for dance performances. Unangax dancers make their regalias out of synthetic materials that look similar to seal intestines which represent the original kamleikas (waterproof parka made form strips of sea lion intestines).