Hand-out 1: Paul Tiulana

Paul Tiulana, an Inupiat (formerly called Eskimo) was born in 1921 on Ooq-Vok Island (also called King Island) in the Bering Sea off the Alaskan Coast. His story was written by a biographer, Vivian Senungetuk, who edited his original words only slightly.

Note: Many different groups of indigenous (native) people live in the circumpolar (Arctic) region. Although their cultures share some similar traits, each region and community has its own variations. One trait, however, that seems to be shared by all indigenous Arctic peoples is adaptability and resourcefulness. These traits are part of what made it possible for these people to survive for thousands of years in one of the harshest environments on the planet.

This is an excerpt from the book Wise Words of Paul Tiulana: An Inupiat Alaskan’s Life (Vivian Senungetuk,1998. pp 14 – 27):

At King Island we lived by the weather. We had certain activities every month, and we named the months according to the activities and the weather.

I will start with October. The name for October in the King Island dialect of the Eskimo language means “icy month.” We call it icy month because ice starts to form among the rocks below the village at this time…

We call November “going up to the back of the island to hunt there.” November is the month when the wind starts blowing really hard from the north, blowing ice up against the island on the north side and away from the island on the south side. The ice around the south side can move, so it is not safe to try to walk there. The ones who have walked there have drifted out on the young ice and never come back. They drowned out in the water when the wind started blowing hard from the north and waves crushed the ice out in the Bering Sea.

In the fall of the year we did not walk too far out on the ice in any direction unless we carried kayaks with us. November was “going up to the back of the island to hunt there” because it was safer to hunt on the back, or north, side of King Island then. We worked on our furs in the fall, so that we could have new mukluks, or boots, new seal pants, and new parkas, or coats…

December we call “dancing month.” We started to dance in December because everything on King Island was ready for winter. Our houses were ready. We had put our skin boats up in racks…

The older men hunted seal and polar bear in January. When a hunter got a polar bear, an old person would tell a story while the women cleaned the skin. We cooked and ate the meat and saved the skin. We cut a hole in the ice and pushed the skin down into it. The little shrimps in the water ate the blood and excess fat from the skin. We would leave the skin down in the water for a couple of days. Then we pulled it out, cleaned it off with snow, and squeezed the salt water from the hair…

The older persons also hunted seals in January. When they got a one-year-old seal, they would use the skin for sealskin pants. The fur is a bit longer on a young seal and so the pants last longer. The skin of a female seal was used for mukluks and mittens because it is lighter. When they killed an older male seal, they…used it to make parkas…
The month of March we call “fixing our kayaks for springtime.” During this month we repaired everything on our kayaks…If we did not want to change the skin on our kayaks, we applied blubber over the skins…

April is “the month for going out hunting with our kayaks.” When the seals are born in the first part of April, the ice stops forming around the island…When that happened we went out [hunting] with our kayaks…

Toward the end of April we began to see some walruses on top of the ice, coming from the south. It was an exciting time. The men hardly slept—only about two or three hours at night before they woke up to go hunting. The days started to get longer in April as the sun rose earlier in the morning and set later at night…
The month of May we call “the ice starts to melt from the island.” The first part of May we still tried to hunt for oogruks, the big bearded seals, with our kayaks. It is easier to get the seals with kayaks, not walking…

We call the month of June “unnoticed moon.” In June everything was so busy we did not have time to think what day it was. We worked on preparing our walrus meat—putting it into caves for preservation—so that we could have more meat for the next year…

July is “the month of going over the mainland.” We went over to the mainland in our skin boats to see our friends there, to trade with them, and to dance…
Before we left for the mainland, we picked the wild greens and preserved them for wintr use. We put our plants in seal oil; they were preserved in tht oil and did not spoil. We made Eskimo ice cream with one plant. It was done like this: We made a container out of walrus hide. Then while the plant was still frozen, we pounded it with a walrus tusk. Then we mixed it with reindeer fat and seal oil. We used it when we were eating seal or oogruk. Delicious!

We do not have a name for the month of August. We were still visiting on the mainland then. We could pick berries there—blackberries, blueberries, salmonberries. I call August “berry-picking month.”

September we call “ready to go back to the island.” We planned to go back to the island in the early fall, while the weather was good, because by October, the Bering Sea gets really rough. Also we tried to go back to the island in the month of September so that we would have time to winterize our houses…

Comments

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Published in: