“bentwood hat, conical wooden hat”
Language: Central Yup'ik
ciayaq “bentwood hat decorated with feathers”
Language: Central Yup'ik
I heard of them when I was small. They used to use them for hunting down on the sea. When the bad weather comes, they put this on…And when a wave comes, that wave will not hit their eyes.
—Neva Rivers, 2002
A wooden hunting hat shaded a man’s eyes against waves, spray, and glare. Spiritually, it wrapped him in the aura of a bird and attracted game animals with its beauty. Men wore hats when hunting and during Nakaciuryaraq, the Bladder Festival, when the souls of seals are returned to the sea. This hat is adorned with ivory carvings of seals, wing-like ivory pieces on the sides, and tail feathers from oldsquaw ducks.
Region: Yukon River, Alaska
Object Category: Hunting
Accession Date: 1917
Source: Fred Ford (collector)
Museum: National Museum of the American Indian
Museum ID Number: 062364.000
Identifying & explaining
Joan Hamilton: Mrs. Rivers was saying that the time she saw this kind of a hat being used was during a dance by men, and it’s too decorated to be purely for hunting, that it is for dance. Whatever village it came from most likely has stories and song and movements associated with it, so what they tell you is information from their villages, as Naparyaarmiut [people of Hooper Bay (Neva)], Kangirnaarmiut [people of Kongiganak (John)] and Tuutalgarmiut [people of Pilot Station (Virginia)].
John Phillip, Sr.: Makucinek waten tangeqsailama wii pissurcuutnek nunamni. Kiingan augumek urasqamek minguumaluteng nunamteni pilartut makunek pivkenateng. Ici-w’ tua wangkuta nunamteni wani makucilget nallunartangnaqltueng makut alaiten. Pivkenatekat pilallruut taugaam tua waten cikutun ayuqengnaqluki. Cikutun ayuqengnaqluki waten augkut cikut ilait ayuqngata. Tamatuum-ll’ ayuqineng mingugluku urasqameng.
Kiingan tua-i tuaten pilallruut augktu tanglallrenka.
(I haven’t seen this kind used for hunting in my village. The only ones in my village are the ones that are painted with clay, but not like this. You know, in our village people tried to camouflage themselves so they won’t show. They tried to resemble the ice formations. They tried to resemble the ice formations because that is how some of the ice floes are formed. They painted it like the color of the ice with clay. The ones I used to see did only that.)
Joan Hamilton: The ones that he has seen, the hunting hats generally are made for camouflage, to help camouflage the hunter. So, he only saw the ones where they try to imitate the features of the ice floes as they see them. And the decorations on this would make them easily identifiable by the animals.
Aron Crowell: When you saw these being worn in a dance, were the hats similar to this with the decorations?
Neva Rivers: I have never seen this kind, only the shape like that. That’s for hunting and to use for dance. And they get a little hole in here [one-third from top of hat on front], the one I saw from a distance, and it had a walrus head in there with the tusks on both sides. Just only for fancy [decoration], when they’re using it for dancing. Men only use this one. And I’ve never this kind of fancy [decoration] before.
Joan Hamilton: Una-mi camiunguciqnganani?
(Where do you think this could be from?)
Neva Rivers: Nalluaqa. Nunivaarmiungullilria.
(I don’t know. Maybe it’s from Nunivak.)
Joan Hamilton: Did you ever hear of these?
Virginia Minock: Yurarcuutnek taugaam fancy-tuniluki niitlartua [I only heard that the ones used for dancing were fancy]. I don’t know anything about it.
Neva Rivers: I heard of them when I was small. They used to use them for hunting down at the sea. And when the bad weather comes, they put this on. Use it outside of their [parka] hood. They tie it up. And when the wave comes, that wave will not hit their eyes.
Joan Hamilton: More like a visor.
Neva Rivers: Like an umbrella for the head only. And when the sea gets rough, they put [skirt of] their qaliq [seal-gut rain parka used with a kayak] around that [kayak opening] hole, fasten it all the way around. And they have to dampen it[qaliq] first, because when it’s dry it’s really easy to break it. But when it gets damp, it’s just very strong.
Joan Hamilton: It’ll be pliable.
Neva Rivers: And they used to arilluk [fish skin mittens]. Tighten it up in here [hat string underneath chin], and use that cap for going [paddling kayak], even the [waves crashing overhead].
Protecting their eyes. But I didn’t see a lot of them, only a few of them.
John Phillip, Sr.: Makut taugaam aarraangiim pikai nallunritanka.
(I know these [feathers] belong to an oldsquaw duck.)
Neva Rivers: Aarrangiiraam teqsuqaan.
(Old squaw duck tail feathers.)
John Phillip, Sr.: Makut-llu cali imkuugut muriit augkut aciit.
(These are also those [stitches] are roots of wood.)
Joan Hamilton: This is root here, what you use to wrap that with, and ivory of course.
John Phillip, Sr.: Wani-wa-gguq una navgumiin wani quparingaan uumek tupiqerluku wani-wa. Tupiqerluku navegyailkucirluku waten. Teggucirluku makunek waten unani navgumalria.
(Since this is broken, cracked here, it is woven here. It is woven here so it won’t re-break. The broken one is braced down there [plain, oblong ivory piece at front edge].)
Joan Hamilton: Ii-i [yes], ii-i. The way it’s repaired is very typical of the region. They put these [stitches across cracks on front], and also this is to repair here too, although this is more decorative [plain, oblong ivory piece at front edge]. And that’s what they used to do to repairs when the wood splits.
John Phillip, Sr.: Teggutekluku tupiusngaluni wiinga taringellemku waten uumun tegumiqagtekluku uumun navegyailkutnguluni.
(The brace [long piece of bone across seam and along back edge] is woven for this, and it holds this so it won’t re-break, as I understand it.)
Joan Hamilton: To keep the two sides in place and to keep it from breaking.
John Phillip, Sr.: Tulimaungatuq man’a wii tangllemni maa-i rib-aungatuq. Mamkellicarluki tua-i pilaqait enret qupraarluki tulimat. Mamkelliluki peryugngariluki.
(As I see this [brace], it looks like rib. After they thin it by splitting the rib they do that. They made it thin until it could bend.)
Neva Rivers: Thin-arikanirluku, in half. Man’a puinarcarluku waten perayug.
(They made it thinner, in half. Made this pliable to bend.)
From discussions with Joan Hamilton (Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center and Museum), Virginia Minock, John Phillip, Sr. and Neva Rivers at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) and National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), 4/22/2002-4/26/2002. Also participating: Aron L. Crowell, William Fitzhugh, and Stephen Loring (NMNH), Suzi Jones (Anchorage Museum), and Ann Fienup-Riordan.]
Men of southern Norton Sound, Nunivak Island, and the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta wore conical bentwood hats for seal hunting, a practice that continued into the 1950s in some places.(1) Many of the older hats were decorated with ivory carvings, feathers, or painted figures.(2)
Bentwood hats were part of a man’s gear for hunting seals on ocean ices floes in spring, or in open water among the ice.(3) Men often painted the hats with urasquq [white-gray clay]. On Nunivak Island in 1940, “the men endeavored to have their kayak cover very white, all gear clean and freshly painted blue, white, and light ocher; they wore a clean gut parka, fishskin mittens, and wooden hunting hat painted white and blue. Although all this was done principally to please the seals, which were supposed to like cleanliness, it also provided an effective disguise in the midst of blue sea and white ice floes.”(4)
Bentwood hats and other clean, new hunting gear were thought to attract seals and empower hunters.(5) In a story told by Yup’ik Elder Paul John of Nelson Island, “The Boy Who Went to Live with the Seals,” a hunter puts on a bentwood hat and becomes a seabird (specifically a ciguraq, or Kittlitz’s murrelet) in the eyes of the seals he is pursuing.
(6) As the disguised bird/hunter approaches, he breathes out a fog that puts the seals to sleep.(7) Bird images―painted on the hats or added in the form of feathers and ivory carvings of beaks, heads, and wings―refer to this change from human to avian form, and similar images were added to hunting visors.(8)
Men dressed in bentwood hats when they took part in ceremonies, such as launching kayaks in the spring, celebrations for the first bearded seal catch of the year, and the Bladder Festival.(9) During Nakaciuryaraq [Bladder Festival], the bladders of all seals taken by hunters during the year were returned to the sea through a hole cut in the winter sea ice. The return of the bladders―which in Yup’ik belief contain the animals’ souls―ensured that the seals would reappear in the spring, clothed in new bodies.(10) During a Bladder Festival observed by Edward W. Nelson at Kushunuk (Qissunaq) in 1879, all of the men placed their hunting hats in the center of the qasgiq [men’s community house] beneath hanging seal bladders and hunting weapons, and men wearing hunting hats danced the motions of various birds.
(11) In 1991, Elder Billy Lincoln recalled participating in these dances at Bladder Festivals on Nelson Island.(12) Anthropologist Ann Fienup-Riordan concluded that, “Here, in the presence of the bladders by the symbolic hole in the ice, the hunters donned their hunting helmets and acted out the part of the birds in whose form the seals perceived them.”(13)
1. Fienup-Riordan 1994:129
2. Black 1991:63; Fienup-Riordan 1994:129, 2005:205-07; Michael 1967:114; Nelson 1899:167
3. Curtis 1930:30; Lantis 1946:172; Meade and Fienup-Riordan 2005:244-49
4. Lantis 1947:152
5. Fienup-Riordan 1994:91
6. Fienup-Riordan 1994:129
7. Curtis 1930:80
8. Black 1991:36-41; Fienup-Riordan 1990a, 1994:124-40
9. Lantis 1946:184; 1947:43, 57; Meade and Fienup-Riordan 2005:245-49
10. Fienup-Riordan 1994:266-98; Himmelheber 1993:15-16; Jacobsen 1977:149-50
11. Nelson 1899:383
12. Fienup-Riordan 1994:137
13. Fienup-Riordan 1994:139