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Agayumaukut - Faith and Spiritual Life

Spirituality and faith are significant aspects within both ancestral and contemporary Alutiiq culture. Ancestral Alutiiq people perceived their world as full of spiritual interactions and messages from the spirit worlds. They believed that spirits and supernatural beings walk among us and are difficult or nearly impossible to differentiate from real people or animals as explored in Chapter 6. In fact, their identity, connections to each other and the land, as well as their own mental and physical health were all intertwined with spiritual processes at work within daily life. Spirituality for the Alutiiq was not reserved solely for ceremonial events, but were part of all aspects of daily activities. In addition to lived practices based on faith, they also had a rich ceremonial life that helped keep individual and community wellbeing in balance. Mask ceremonies, rituals and demonstrations of shamanic power in the gathering house or qasqiq were all methods for communicating with the spirit world to bring good luck in hunting or to heal the sick. The Alutiiq spirit world was made of a complex arrangement of deities and supernatural beings influencing people and the environment at all times. The value of faith and spirituality is rooted in the understanding that physical, mental, social, and ethical life, are inseparable from spiritual life. Hence, the model of wellbeing and values-based story analysis is represented by concentric spheres within each other, imitating the Alutiiq spiritual perception of the universe.

Most of the unigkuat or cosmological stories are spiritual or faith-based in nature, as they recount stories of the origins of life and the interactions or influences of spirit beings. Many of the characters in these stories and the mask songs are deities or supernatural beings who comprise the Alutiiq pantheon and cosmology. In essence, Alutiiq unigkuat provided both life lessons and descriptions of the origin and reasons for life itself. Stories of the sun and the moon, stars, land formations, volcanos, and animals all help demonstrate the Alutiiq cosmology and the interactions that can be expected. Many of the recurrent themes or motifs in ancestral Alutiiq stories explore spiritual aspects such as foretelling, transformation, and miraculous escapes.

In many cases the indication that a story is about a supernatural being is very subtle. For example, in both “The Girl Who Married a Star” (Golder, 1903a) and “The Sad Fate of Uchatngiak” (Golder, 1903b), the main characters are introduced as having been raised in seclusion, which echoes other stories, such as “The Woman Who Married the Moon,” where characters who visit other worlds must follow prescribed rules or seclusion in order to remain in that world. Arguably in the case of both the Star-wife and Uchatngiak, both come from other worlds than in which they were raised, and hence in their adulthood undertake inevitable spirit journeys between worlds. The transition between worlds manifests through several processes, but frequently comes from closing their eyes as in the “The Woman Who Married the Moon” discussed in Chapter 8, and in the “Girl Who Went in Search of Her Lover,” when she closes her eyes five times and sings, she is transported through rapids safely to the shore of the evil shaman who killed her lover and all the other hunters of the village who had gone missing.

In the Values Catalog of Kodiak Alutiiq Stories (see Appendix B), the two columns listed before the fourteen value columns designate the inclusion in each story of animal communication or transformation, or the type of hero or god featured. Within the transformation column, I have also noted the names of animals or objects that the story characters transform into, or the name of the deities or supernatural beings encountered. For example, the Ar’ursulek story “reveals the Alutiiq belief´┐╝ that every creature had a human-like consciousness, represented by a small person that lives inside of it. Whalers told such stories when training their apprentices” (Steffian & Counceller, 2009, p. 42). Chapter 6 of this dissertation also further explores the meanings or beliefs within ancestral Alutiiq cosmology and the transition to Russian Orthodoxy that is reflected in more recent Alutiiq stories.

 

Excerpt from Alisha Drabek's Dissertation: 

Liitukut Sugpiat'stun (We are Learning How to be Real People):
Exploring Kodiak Alutiiq Literature through Core Values