Words of the Real People: Alaska Native Literature in Translation


Words of the Real People collects the life stories, poetry, and oral literature of Alaska's Native speakers of Yupik, Inupiaq, and Alutiiq. This anthology, edited by anthropologist Ann Fienup-Riordan and linguist Lawrence Kaplan, includes ancient tales passed down for generations as well as new traditions that Alaska Natives are creating for the twenty-first century.
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Words of the Real People collects the life stories, poetry, and oral literature of Alaska's Native speakers of Yupik, Inupiaq, and Alutiiq. This anthology, edited by anthropologist Ann Fienup-Riordan and linguist Lawrence Kaplan, includes ancient tales passed down for generations as well as new traditions that Alaska Natives are creating for the twenty-first century.
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Editorial Reviews


2008 Choice Outstanding Academic Title
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781602230040
  • Publisher: University of Alaska Press
  • Publication date: 8/15/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 328
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Ann Fienup-Riordan is a cultural anthropologist and recipient of the Alaska Federation of Natives President's Award for her work with Alaska Natives.

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Table of Contents

Contributors vii

Preface and Acknowledgments: Smoked Fish and Jars of Jam xi

Introduction: Yupik and Iñupiaq Literature in Translation Ann Fienup-Riordan xvii

Part I Central Yup'ik and Cup'ig Narratives 1

Introduction to Central Yup'ik and Cup'ig Narratives Ann Fienup-Riordan 1

Yaqutgiarcankut / Yaqutgiarcaq and Her Family Natalia White Elsie Mather Phyllis Morrow 7

One Who Didn't Think Much of a Man's Stomach Paul John Sophie Shield 30

Quliraq Frances Usugan Cathy Moses 41

Aanakallii Ner'aqallii / I Have Eaten My Mother Frank Andrew Alice Rearden 64

The Five Sisters Lena Atkiq Ilutsik Virginia Ilutsik Andrew Esther Arnaq Ilutsik 84

Atkuut Tengaurturalriit / A Flying Parka Paul John Marie Meade 89

Uraquralzrig / Sibling Brothers Nuratar Andrew Noatak Nakaar Howard Amos Robert Drozda 102

Notes 122

Works Cited and Suggested Reading 124

Part II Iñupiaq Narratives 127

Introduction to Iñupiaq Narratives Lawrence D. Kaplan Deanna Paniataaq Kingston 127

Uvana Atiġa Aliitchak / My Name Is Aliitchak Minnie Gray Tadataka Nagai Lawrence D. Kaplan 133

A Long Unipkaaq Jimmie Killigivuk Carol Tukummiq Omnik Tom Lowenstein 146

The Story of the King Island Wolf Dance Lucy Tanaqiq Koyuk Earl Aisana Mayac Deanna Paniataaq Kingston 169

King Island Iñupiaq Stories Frank Ellanna Bernadette Alvanna-Stimpfle Lawrence D. Kaplan 180

An Unwritten Law of the Sea Herbert O. Anungazuk 188

Notes 200

Works Cited and Suggested Reading 200

Part III St. Lawrence Island / Siberian Yupik Narratives 203

Introduction to St. Lawrence Island / Siberian Yupik Narratives Lawrence D. Kaplan 203

Yuuk Nequenyuqaq / The Good Hunter Vera MetcalfTheodore Kingiikaq 207

Three Generations of St. Lawrence Island Writers: The Work of Paul Silook, Roger Silook, and Susie Silook Susie Silook 211

Qati Hik: A St. Lawrence Island Yupik Tale Della Waghiyi Willem J. de Reuse 220

Works Cited and Suggested Reading 234

Part IV Alutiiq Narratives 237

Introduction to Alutiiq Narratives Patricia Partnow 237

The Power of Story: Arnaq Taqukaraam Pillra / The Woman Who Was Gotten by the Bear Ignatius Kosbruk Patricia Partnow Jeff Leer 243

Notes 259

Works Cited and Suggested Reading 260

Index 263

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First Chapter

Words of the Real People

Alaska Native Literature in Translation


Copyright © 2007 University of Alaska Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-60223-004-0

Chapter One

Central Yup'ik and Cup'ig Narratives

The historic and contemporary home of Alaska's Yup'ik Eskimos has at its heart the broad low-lying delta of the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers. This vast delta region is bordered by mountains and uplands that separate it from the Nushagak drainage and Bristol Bay to the south and Norton Sound and Seward Peninsula to the north. The region's current population of more than thirty thousand (the largest Native population in Alaska) lives scattered in seventy villages of between two hundred and one thousand persons and in larger regional centers in Bethel and Dillingham. Today this huge region is cross-cut by historical and administrative differences, including three dialect groups, three major Christian denominations, six school districts, two census areas, and three regional corporations established by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) in 1971 (see Fienup-Riordan 2000a:3-28).

The Bering Sea coast supports abundant resources, including sea and land mammals, waterfowl, and fish. Men hunt for walrus and bearded, spotted, and ringed seals from the shorefast ice, beginning in March or early April. By May geese and ducks crowd the flyways, returning to their summer nesting grounds. In June many families move to fish camps, where men set nets for herring, salmon, and flounder that women dry for winter use. Children fill baskets with kelp laden with herring eggs and the tiny capelin that wash up during high tides. Women gather greens close to home or camp on the tundra for days at a time with their families to gather eggs and berries. Fishing and trapping continue into late fall, when people return to their winter villages where harvesting activities are more circumscribed. Prehistorically this abundance supported the development and spread of Inuit culture; some scholars have called the Bering Sea coast the "cradle of Eskimo civilization."

Although rich in subsistence resources, the lack of commercial resources-whales, furbearers, mineral deposits-made the region less attractive to a resident non-Native population compared to other parts of Alaska. Following initial contact in the 1840s, waves of epidemics (influenza, diphtheria, tuberculosis) decimated the Native population. Whole villages disappeared and families were devastated, yet they endured. The first non-Natives to settle in significant numbers were Christian missionaries, beginning in the late 1800s. Elders living in the region today were born into a world very much like that of their forebears, especially in their reliance on the harvest of fish and game. Most were raised in small settlements residentially divided between a communal men's house (qasgi) and separate sod homes for women and children.

Rapid change has since come to coastal and riverine communities. Social reforms of the 1960s, passage of ANCSA in the 1970s, and the Alaska oil boom supported the establishment of modern villages, each with its own formal city government, high school, corporation store, daily air service to the regional center of Bethel, electricity, television and telephone service, and, in some cases, indoor plumbing. Despite these changes, both late contact and lack of commercial resources have meant that the Yup'ik region has retained many social patterns that have been lost in other parts of Alaska, and many traditions-especially dancing and elaborate community gift-giving-remain living links to the past.

The Central Yup'ik language is the second most commonly spoken Native language in the United States and the third most common in North America north of Mexico after Navajo and Inuktitut (spoken among Canadian Inuit). More than half the Native residents of southwest Alaska speak Yup'ik as their first language. In a quarter of the villages Yup'ik is spoken by everyone from the eldest to the youngest. This continued cultural and linguistic vitality has contributed to the position of the Yup'ik people as among the most traditional Native American groups, actively working both to retain the best of their past and carry still-vital traditions into the future.

Explorers and missionaries were among the first to document Yup'ik and Cup'ig oratory and to translate what they recorded into English. Stationed at St. Michael from 1877 to 1881, naturalist Edward Nelson recorded several dozen Yup'ik and Iñupiaq tales, which he published in his classic Eskimo about Bering Strait in 1899. Living in Bethel and traveling widely throughout the region in the 1880s and 1890s, Moravian missionary John Kilbuck documented Yup'ik life in his "Something about the Inuit" (Fienup-Riordan 1988). Edward S. Curtis (1930) visited Nunivak Island in 1927 and published a handful of traditional tales that he gathered during his trip. He was followed by the German folklorist Hans Himmelheber, who traveled down the Kuskokwim in fall 1936 and spent the following winter on Nunivak Island, where he recorded a number of tales and stories (Fienup-Riordan 2000b).

Anthropologists also largely ignored southwest Alaska until well into the twentieth century. Margaret Lantis, who lived on Nunivak in 1939, was among the first to work in the region. Her Social Culture of the Nunivak Eskimo includes forty-one translated tales as well as the Cup'ig transcriptions and translations of four stories. In the 1960s Wendell Oswalt in Napaskiak and Lynn Ager in Tununak documented the unique Yup'ik pastime of recreational storytelling known as "storyknifing." Unlike the long qulirat (tales) and qanemcit (stories) told by men in the qasgi, they observed and described small groups of young women and girls telling each other stories that they illustrated by drawing pictures in the mud or snow with ivory storyknives (Ager 1971; Oswalt 1964).

Although Yup'ik men and women continued to tell each other stories in their own language, through the 1960s it was primarily non-Natives who recorded and wrote them down-almost all in English with no Yup'ik transcription. This began to change with the establishment of the Eskimo Language Workshop at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1967, which moved to Bethel in 1974 to become the Yup'ik Language Center. Supported and inspired by Alaska Native Language Center's Michael Krauss, linguists Irene Reed and Steven Jacobson worked with Yup'ik speakers, including Paschal Afcan, Martha Teeluk, and many others, to develop a standardized orthography for the Yup'ik language. Working together at the Yup'ik Language Center from 1979 through 1981, Elsie Mather, Phyllis Morrow, and others began to use this new orthography to record, transcribe, and translate Yup'ik traditional tales and stories.

From these beginnings came a burst of recording, much of it by Yup'ik and Cup'ig speakers. Although rarely turned into written form, the Bethel radio-television station KYUK documented and broadcast countless hours of Yup'ik oratory and traditional tales. Yup'ik students at Bethel Regional High School launched an oral history project and recorded hundreds of hours of interviews with elders. Although some tapes are technically flawed, many contain fine examples of Yup'ik oratory. Likewise ANCSA historical place and cemetery site investigations by the Bureau of Indian Affairs beginning in the 1970s yielded more than a thousand taped interviews with Yup'ik and Cup'ig elders.

Through the 1980s, transcriptions and translations by Yup'ik and Cup'ig men and women appeared in many publications, including Bethel Regional High School's Kalikaq Yugnek / Book for the People; Edward Tennant and Joseph Bitar's Yup'ik Lore: Oral Traditions of an Eskimo People; Anthony Woodbury's Cev'armiut Qanemciit Qulirait-llu / Eskimo Narratives and Tales from Chevak; and Elsie Mather's groundbreaking book on traditional Yup'ik ceremonies, Cauyarnariuq / A Time for Drumming. Bilingual publications continued in the 1990s, including Eliza and Ben Orr's Qanemcikarluni Tekitnarqelartuq / One Must Arrive With a Story to Tell; Marie Meade and Ann Fienup-Riordan's Agayuliyararput / Our Way of Making Prayer; and Ellangellemni / When I Became Aware by the Orrs in collaboration with Victor Kanrilak and Andy Charlie. Elsie Mather and Phyllis Morrow have published a number of excellent English translations of traditional Yup'ik tales. The twenty-first century has already seen the publication of three new bilingual publications: Qulirat Qanemcit-llu Kinguvarcimalriit / Stories for Future Generations: The Oratory of Yup'ik Eskimo Elder Paul John by Sophie Shield and Ann Fienup-Riordan; Ciuliamta Akluit / Things of Our Ancestors by Marie Meade and Ann FienupRiordan; and Yupiit Qanruyutait / Yup'ik Words of Wisdom by Alice Rearden, Marie Meade, and Ann Fienup-Riordan.

A written Yup'ik and Cup'ig literature is also emerging, including works by Anna Jacobson, Mary Jane Mann, and Alice Fredson. Today, taped source material continues to be transcribed and translated by a number of dedicated men and women with years of experience working with their language, including Howard and Muriel Amos, Oscar Alexie, Sophie Barnes, David Chanar, Anna Jacobson, Elsie Mather, Marie Meade, Eliza Orr, and Alice Rearden.

The six Yup'ik stories and one Cup'ig story that follow have much in common. Each was told in Yup'ik or Cup'ig by a respected elder, born in the late 1800s and early 1900s after change had come to the region but while stories were still regularly told in qasgit and homes. All the contributors except Paul John told stories expressly so that they could be recorded, transcribed, and translated. Nonetheless, each story was an intimate gift given to friends and close relatives-Lena Ilutsik speaking to her daughters, Frances Usugan to her daughter-in-law, Frank Andrew to his son, and Paul John to his many nieces and nephews. In most cases a non-Native listener was also present at the telling, but never as the primary audience.

Each story was carefully transcribed into Yup'ik or Cup'ig and translated into English. Readers will notice the greatest variation in the forms of the finished translations. Two tales-Natalia White's "Yaqutgiarcankut" and Frances Usugan's "Quliraq"-are rendered in line-verse format instead of paragraphs. Three contributors chose to include Native language transcriptions of the stories-two Yup'ik and one Cup'ig-along with their translations. This is a real gift, especially to Native speakers who can enjoy the dynamics of the elders' original performances in their language.

Yup'ik and Cup'ig storytelling remains very much an oral tradition. The written stories that follow descend directly from that tradition in their richness and variety.



Yaqutgiarcankut / Yaqutgiarcaq and Her Family

Told by Natalia White Transcribed by Elsie Mather Translated by Elsie Mather and Phyllis Morrow

Natalia White of Nunapitchuk told this story to Karen Michel and Elsie Mather in 1980, when Natalia was sixty-four years old. Karen was recording the story under a National Endowment for the Arts grant for a public radio series that was never, in the end, broadcast. At the time, Elsie and I worked at the Yup'ik Language Center (YLC) in Bethel; Karen came to YLC with the idea of collaborating with us on the project. Marie Meade and Joan Neck, who also worked at YLC, were both from Nunapitchuk and recommended Natalia as a storyteller. I had lived in Nunapitchuk myself in 1977 and remembered her as a wonderful and expressive person.

Natalia recalled hearing this and many other stories when she was a girl. Her mother passed away when she was a child, and her father was the family storyteller. Speaking in Yup'ik, she reminisced:

My father must have really loved me. Since I was very young, every time we went to bed I would ask for stories. I have forgotten many of them. These two stories, though [Yaqutgiarcankut and a Raven story that she also told] I never forgot them, while the rest, I don't remember. I would always ask to be told the Yaqutgiarcankut story since I really enjoyed it. While Karen, who did not understand Yup'ik, could only listen respectfully, Elsie enjoyed Natalia's imitations of the old woman's voice as she lured the girls into her house and then became increasingly frustrated with them.

Although Elsie had never heard this story before, she recalls a variant in which the old woman was called Kaaguagacungaq. In Elsie's mother's version, Kaaguagacungaq was big, fat, and mean. She caught up with some children, took off her bloomers, put the children inside them, and tied the openings shut. Then she went off to fetch her uluaq (woman's knife). While she was gone, the children untied the knots, got out, and filled the bloomers with rocks. They escaped, crossing a river on the crane's legs. When the fat woman returned, she plunged her uluaq into the bloomers, blunting the blade flat on the rocks. The crane also stretched out his legs to let her cross the river, but she was so fat that he pulled his legs back when she was halfway across and she drowned. A very similar story, told by Olinka Michael, became the basis for a children's book published in Yup'ik for the Bilingual Education Program in the early 1980s. In this adapted version, the (male) giant's name was Akaguagaankaaq (McGill n.d.).

In the following transcription, Elsie Mather used line breaks to indicate groupings that link grammatical structure, intonation contour, content, and pause phrasing to reflect the narrator's delivery. Double spacing between lines indicates a larger content grouping, and triple spacing corresponds to a topic shift. When the narrator emphasized an entire line or phrase, it is preceded by an exclamation point in the Yup'ik. Words in brackets have been added when a minor clarification of the original is needed (for example, to indicate who is speaking). The one English word, "gray," that Natalia White used is in italics in the Yup'ik transcript. To the extent possible, the English translation that follows parallels the Yup'ik transcription.


Excerpted from Words of the Real People Copyright © 2007 by University of Alaska Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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