So in the fall they sent two messengers to other villages. They told what the family wanted at that dance.... They would all gather when the time came. They invited them and had a real dance.... They used a dance stick, and there was a song leader in the middle of the men’s house.
—John Phillip, Sr., 2002
In coastal villages of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, men who led ceremonial “asking songs” during Kevgik (the Messenger Feast), wore caribou-hair headdresses like this one. They directed the drumming and singing with feathered enirarautet (pointing sticks or dance sticks). Women wore similar headdresses, which remain a part of modern Yup’ik dance regalia for both sexes. Some villages carry on the tradition of Kevgik today, although the details have changed.
Region: Togiak River (mouth), Alaska
Object Category: Ceremony
Dimensions: Length 87cm
Accession Date: 1886
Source: Sgt. Samuel Applegate (donor, collector)
Museum: National Museum of Natural History
Museum ID Number: E127329
Examining & identifying
Neva Rivers: Nasqurrun.
John Phillip, Sr.: Nasqurrun yurarcuun.
(Headdress for Yup’ik dancing.(1))
Virginia Minock: Nutaan eliiteqaarralriim pinganaku. Keluiggun.
(Seems like it was made by someone who had just learned. By the stitches.)
Joan Hamilton: Arnalquaraam pikngataa.
(Maybe it’s an elderly woman’s.)
Neva Rivers: Ii-i. Iing, takviarutaqameng, takviarutaqameng keluit imutun.
(Yes. Eyes, when they can no longer see clearly their stitches don’t look as good as before.)
Neva Rivers: Iglaunganani. Ava-i tuqluungatuq mana. Matumeng qatercitullilriit. Qercurtaq.
(It looks like it [white skin on band] could be esophagus. This might be the windpipe here. They whiten this kind. Whitened by hanging out in the cold.)
John Phillip, Sr.: Cuignilgnuq, “land otter” [dark fur at base of white hair].
Virginia Minock: It’s more like sealskin.
Neva Rivers: Nayiuguq-qaa?
(Is it ringed seal?)
Virginia Minock: That’s what it looks like.
John Phillip, Sr.: Cuignilnguum wangni melquqaa.
(In my opinion this is land otter fur.)
Neva Rivers: Nayiim naug’ una. Nayiit ayuqsuitelriit melqurrit-llu. Qatraqluni tunguaqluni.
(Seems like this is ringed seal. Not all ringed seal fur is the same. It has light colors and dark colors too.)
John Phillip, Sr.: Una-mi? Qeciuguq man’a.
(What about this [back of band]? This is skin.)
Neva Rivers: Tuntum qecikaa. Tuntum makut ukukai. Tengayui.
(It is caribou skin. These [long hairs] are caribou this kind [from lower neck]. Caribou throat hair.)
John Phillip, Sr.: Eyalircaungatlliniuq man’a qaa? Tungulriit seal-at nayiit.
(This [dark skin on the front of the band] looks like dark seal with the hair rubbed off, yes? The dark ringed seals.)
Neva Rivers: Makut-ggun maani qanrutkumauq atutullra. Melqurri makut ilait uyungluteng.
(This here [hair on inside of band] tells you that it was used. Some of the fur has flattened out.)
Virginia Minock: Cami-gguq aturyartat-ggu?
(When would this be worn?)
Neva Rivers: Yurallemteni tau iliini atutuaput. Kina nasqurruuterluni pekarayuituq, yuraami taugaam atutuaput makut. Tegumiat-ll’ augkut aturpegnaki yuraraqluta with bare hands, kegginaquaqata taugaam taukut. Same things aturturatuaput all the dances Taqutaqameng tua ataam qemagtaqait, roll it up until the next year.
Makut aturpallutullruut uksumi taugaam.
(We wear them when we dance. Someone doesn’t walk around with a headdress, we use these only when dancing. We didn’t use those dance fans, we danced with bare hands, except for when they dance with those masks. We always use the same things [for] all the dances When they are done, they store them away again, roll it up until the next year. These were mainly used in the wintertime.)
John Phillip, Sr.: Tamatum augna yuraryaraq, kassiyuryaraq augkut nasqurritnek-llu aturluteng nutaan tamakut yuratuut kevgirraarluteng taugaam nunanun allanun. Nunanun inglukamegneng kevgirraarluteng. Wiinga-ll’ tangvalallruunga yuralrianek. Nutaan nunat tamalkuita family-t wani imkuurluki, aperturluki wani canek wani yurautekamegnek piurluki pitullruit akluit tamarmeng. Tuaten tamana kassiyuryaraq ayuquq. Matuunrituq atulallerci maa-i.
(There is a dance called kassiyuryaraq [old-time celebration], and they used headdresses when they danced.
(2) They danced after they invited other villages. They invited other villages for their rivals. I used to watch them dance. At that time they asked all the families what kinds of accouterment they needed for the dance. That is how the kassiyuryaraq goes. It isn’t the way you use it today.)
Taugaam wiinga tangvalallemni ugkut nunanka tuacetun tua-i uksuarmi kevgak ayagcellukek nunamun. Tamakut-llu piiyutait aperturturtelluki waten family-at uumek wani una yurautekalek apraqluteng. Tua-i aperturluki makut aklui tamalkuita piugngalriim, tuacetun pirraarluteng nutaan tamakut quyurtaqameng pinariaqan taukut wani kelegluki yuratullruut yurapiarluteng. Ici-w’ augutun niiraraarluteng-llu. Niiraraarauciluteng-llu taukut-ll’ ava-i qanerta apalirturterluteng-llu qasgimi kanani qukami. Maa-i niiraraarpegnateng yuralartut.
(What I saw in my village did that and so in the fall they sent two messengers to other villages. They told what family wanted at that dance.
After they mentioned what accouterments they asked for they would gather when the time came, and they invited them and had a real dance.(3) You know, like that and they used a dance stick too.(4) Today they dance without a stick. They used a dance stick and a song leader in the middle of the men’s house.(5))
Nutaan tuaten curukaraqata tailluteng aklunek yuraulluteng tauna yug’ aperluku piaqatku taun iterluni yuarucecirluku cali piaqluku. Tua-i augutun ava-i qanrutkaqa wii augum nasqurruterluteng tua-i yuralriit yurarcirluteng piaqluteng tamakut curukaqengait, wallu niirararalriit tamakut augkuni nasqurrutnek aturluteng niirararalriit piaqluteng. Angalkut tamarmeng yuarutengqerpegnateng. Angalkuunrilengremi yuk yuarucituluni. Tuaten.
(When they have the Curukaq [village-to-village gift-exchange dance] they brought accouterments, asked for that person, that person comes in and had a dance for him.(6) I am telling how it was when they danced with headdresses.
They had songs when they had that Curukaq or the dancer with a stick had a headdress. Not all shamans had songs. Even a person is not a shaman he composed songs. That is how it was.)
Augutun ava-i tamana wii qavcirquneng maligutellruama tamakunun-ll’ akumaaqlua. Agyungqerraqlua-llu. Nalqigtaqa wani wiinga nallunritlemkun man’a atullemkun wiinga. Tuacetun tua yuratullruut augkut wangni nunamni yaani tangvakngamni. Ckaraqameng wiinga allat nunat ataaka piugviklaraa wii aperlua camek. Curukalalrianun maligutaqlua.
(I have gone few times and was in them. I also had a gift exchange partner. I am explaining what I know that I experienced. That is how they danced in my village that I have seen. When they had the Curukaq other villages asked for my dad so I spoke out. I would go along with those who were going to the Curukaq.)
Neva Rivers: Piugtarvikluci.
(They asked you for something.)
John Phillip, Sr.: Ii-i, tua-i tuaten atunem ukut yurarraarluteng ingluit akiqerluki yuraraqluteng. Nunat malruin kiimeng curukarluteng piluteng. Amllernek pivkenateng matutun piararpeknateng pivkenateng.
(Yes, after they danced the rivals reciprocated and danced. Only two villages did the Curukaq. They didn’t get many villages, and they didn’t do it the way you do it now.)
Neva Rivers: Allakaurluku maa-i piut.
(Today they do it differently.)
John Phillip, Sr.: Augna tua-i ava-i yurapiarluteng aturyarallrat wii nallunrilkengaaqa qanrutkaqa wani-wa. Tuacetun tua piaqameng nallunrilngurnek apallirturcilartut elisngalrianek avaurtailngurnek. Augna-llu wii ataaka niirararalriit ilaketullruluuku tua-i tamakut.
(At that time they had real dances and I know about it so I am telling about it now. When they did that they had learned song leaders that knew and never forgot the songs. My dad participated as a dancer who used a stick.)
Neva Rivers: Ivarucinrit taun aperluku yuk qanaatekluku taqkan.
([In] a song they name that person and speak about him when he is done.)
John Phillip, Sr.: Ii-i, yuk tua-i tauna wani yuarutkaanek piaqluku tau-i nutaan-llu aperluku tauna wani atra taumek piugvikluku yuarutgun tuaggun. Taitnaurai. Ici-w’ taitesqelluku ca imna. Tuaten.
(Yes, they sing a song for him then they say his name, they ask for him [for something] through that song. He’d bring it. You know, they tell him to bring that object. Like that.)
Neva Rivers: Augukut taugaam wii pillrenka kegginaqussuutnguut.
(The ones I did were with the use of masks.)
John Phillip, Sr.: Yurapiaraqameng kegginaquurnek atuurpeknateng yuratullruut yurapiarluteng. Taugaam augumek apqemegnek agayuaqameng kegginaqirluteng pitullruut. Tuacetun tua-i augkunek-llu tua-i nutaan taruyamaarutnek aturluteng canguarluteng augutun qanemcirpetun yuralaucirpetun.
(When they had a real dance they wouldn’t use masks but had a real dance. But the one they call Agayuaqameng [when they pray] they would use their mask.(7) They would do it that way and they would finally use the dance fans pretending to do things as you told, the way you dance.)
Tuacetun tua-i tamana wii nallunrilucimcetun wani-wa. Wangkuta-llu tua augutun qanlerpetun missionary-put tekitellermegni tauten tamana assiikevkenaku tua-i taqevkarluki. Tua-i tamaa-i tamana nallunritaaqa wiinga yuraryarallrat maligutlallruama atauciirqunrilngurmeng curukalrianun.
Nasqurruutet-ll augkut nasqurrutnek aturluteng yuralriit yuratullruameng tamani-w’ tua-i yuraraqaata. Uyamigluteng-llu. Tamakut-llu cali tua-i niirararalriit tamakucicetun nasqurrun aturluki-llu an’gunqerraqata. Makut-llu niiraraarrcutait augkut apallirturcuutait qaralirluteng. Yuum tua-i kia imum wani camek tayima pikellrukuni ellmini umyuamini angqerluten taun qaralit maa-i kangiat.
(I know it is done that way. Like you have said when our missionaries came they didn’t like that and made us quit. I know that way of dance because more than once I went to Curukaq [village-to-village gift-exchange dance]. They used headdresses when they danced at that time. They also wore necklaces. The stick holders used a headdress also when they [ ]. The dancers who used sticks and the song leaders were decorated. If a person has something, in his mind he answers you so this is the meaning of the decoration.)
Ici-w’ tua-i qanrucimallaruama “Murilkelluten yuukina.”
Tamaa-i tamakut tuaten wii nallunritanka wii. Tua kita taqellratek ayagluku, ayagayaurrlua taqellruut. Nangnermek yurallratni nunalgutenka ilagallrunritanka tuntunun ayallruama kasmelrianun maligullua.
(You know, they always told me, “Be very observant as you live.” That is how I know those. They quit when I started traveling. I didn’t participate at the last dance my village had because I went caribou hunting. I went with them to [ ].)
Virginia Minock: During Halloween.
John Phillip, Sr.: Uksuan-llu tua-i nani maani March-aam nunini avani nunini nutaan yurapiarluteng curukarluteng.
(In the winter around March they would have a real dance, a Curukaq.)
Virginia Minock: Two villages at a time, they take turns.
Neva Rivers: Uksuarmi ayagluteng yuratullruut Hooper Bay-rmiut.
(People of Hooper Bay would start the dances in the fall.)
John Phillip, Sr.: Taugaam tuaten piaqameng practice-aalartut tamakut yuarutkateng atuurqamegteki. (When they do that, it was for practice before they did the real dance.)
Neva Rivers: Yes, October. Kegginaqut [masks].
John Phillip, Sr.: Practice-aarturaqluteng taukut curukat pinatkaatni.
(They would practice before the Curukaq came.)
Joan Hamilton: Qayutut, qavcineng nunat, nunaneng kelegluci?
(How many villages you invite?)
John Phillip, Sr.: Nunat atauciin taugam. Malruin inglukellriik ukut taugaam. Wani-w’ Kuigilnguq, Qipneq. Tuaten.
(Only one village. There were two against each other, only them. There were Kwigillingok and Kipnuk. Like that.)
Neva Rivers: Hooper Bay-rmiut-llu Cev’armiut. Taukut kevgilriit pitukait, tauna taugaam wii pikngaqa qanrutkelqa avani atuqengaarput maa-i aturuarluku. Makut-ll avatiini yurat amlleret nakaciuryarat, canun pilriit amllerrluteng yurat.
(People of Hooper Bay and the people of Chevak. The messengers would do that, but I have told what I have experienced and what we do now.(8) There are many other dances around those like the Bladder Feasts, and many other dances for other purposes.(9))
John Phillip, Sr.: Augkut taugaam yurartait qalamcinka wiinga yurartait caneg’ imkunek ava-i niitelalriakut yuraraqameng qanemcinek cali arulacirluteng yuratuluteng yuarutem taum pikenrilengraaku, wallu anguyaguaraqameng. Anguyaguanek tamakunek iluvaguarcetaqluki tamakut taringumalallruanka wii tangvagluki.
Arulaciqluki yuum taum kinguvaqluteng waten irniaranun. Tamaa-i tamana yurapiaryar, aturyaraat augkut. Yuk tua-iarulaciminek waten yagiraluni talligmikun pituluni, augkuunani.
(But those dances that I told about, we would hear of different dances depicting stories that had movements for them, even when it wasn’t the stories movements or the war songs. I understood when I saw that they would let them [ ] with those. That would be the dance movements for that person and he would teach it to his descendents to carry it on. That is the real way of dancing, our ancestor’s traditions. A person would use his dance movements with her arms, without those things.)
Joan Hamilton: Dance with their hands, without dance fans.
[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 and National Museum of the American Indian, 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.]
1. Yuraq is “Eskimo dance; a dance in the traditional Eskimo style” (Jacobson 1984). Yuraq is also defined as a “generic term for Yup’ik dancing” and “is used to distinguish arula dances, consisting of both verses and a chorus” (Fienup-Riordan 1996).
2. Mr. Phillip here refers to Kevgiq, the Messenger Feast, also called Curukaq.
3. A Yurapiaq—literally a “real dance”—is a “long story dance performed by women (Fienup-Rirodan 1996).
4. A niirararalriik—also called eniraraun, from the root niir- or enir- “to point”—is a “dance stick” or “pointer” used by men in coastal villages of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta who led ceremonial “asking songs” during Kevgiryaraq or Kevgak (the Messenger Feast), also called Curukaq. They wore caribou headdresses and directed the drumming and singing with feathered niirararalriit [plural of niirararalriik] (Fienup-Riordan 1994:336-38, 1996:137-38).
5. A qasgiq “mens’s house” or “men’s community house”—also called a “kashim” in English—is a moderately large structure where men of a community resided and worked. It was also used for sweatbaths, dances and feasts (Jacobson 1984).
6. Curukaq is a “feast wherein one village goes over to another to dance and exchange gifts or challenges (athletic, dance, gift-giving, etc.)” (Jacobson 1984). It is also called Kevgiryaraq (Fienup-Rirodan).
7. Agayuyaraq means “way of making prayer; dancing with masks requesting abundance in the coming season, held in late February or early March” (Fienup-Riordan 2005).
8. A kevgaq is a “feast, especially a traditional Messenger Feast; messenger” (Jacobson 1984). Kevgiryaraq is “the Messenger Feast, named for the kevgak [two messengers] sent to invite the guest village to the festival, during which first-time dancers are presented and gifts are exchanged; also called Curukaq (Fienup-Riordan).
9. Nakaciuryaraq is a “bladder feast, a traditional celebration involving the ceremonial use of inflated sea-mammal bladders (Jacobson 1984). It is also called a “Bladder Festival, in which bladders of caribou and seal are sent on a journey under the ice to return the following season; held in late fall” (Fienup-Rirodan 2005).
In coastal villages of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, men who led ceremonial “asking songs” during Kevgiryaraq [the Messenger Feast, also called Kevgaq] wore caribou hair headdresses like this one. They directed the drumming and singing with feathered “pointing sticks” or “dance sticks.”(1) Women wore similar headdresses, which remain a part of modern Yup’ik dance regalia for both sexes.(2)
Kevgiryaraq was a competitive feast in which the leading families of host and guest villages asked each other for large quantities of gifts and goods and then tried to shame their rivals by exceeding them in generosity.(3) Some villages continued Kevgiryaraq in its traditional form into the 1930s.(4) The name comes from kevgak [messengers], young men who were sent from the host to the guest community in early autumn with a long list of requests. They carried wooden rods with painted markings to help them remember exactly what to ask of each family, which might include seal or caribou skins, furs, special foods, weapons, kayaks and other valuables.
(5) The messengers returned home with a list of similar requests from the intended guests. Both communities worked for months to acquire the goods they needed to make a good showing at Kevgiryaraq, then came together for the feast in about March. Some Yup’ik and Cup’ik villages carry on the tradition of Kevgiryaraq today, although the details have changed.(6)
During the feast, the song leaders and hosts sang a taitnauraaq [asking song] for each male guest, listing the items he had been asked to provide. Dancing bare-handed (without dance fans), the man’s wife or daughter performed a yuraq [traditional dance] that recounted an activity (eg.., parka making) or important event from the past.(7) The man brought the requested items into the communal house, facing mockery if he failed or admiration if he exceeded expectations. On the second day of the feast, the roles of hosts and guests were reversed. Parts of Kevgiryaraq reflected historic patterns of warfare and competition, such as pretend fighting, athletic contests, teasing, and the mocking “songs of indigestion” that hosts sang to their guests as they ate.
(8) Messenger Feast customs varied across the region, including the use of masks and “dance trays” on Nunivak Island.(9)
Iñupiaq versions of the Messenger Feast were practiced across north Alaska, where this festival often included the Wolf Dance.(10) The Iñupiaq tradition that tiŋmiaqpait [big birds (usually identified as giant eagles)] taught people how to perform the ceremonies may be indicated for Nunivak Island by images of these birds on Messenger Feast masks and feast bowls.(11)
1. Fienup-Riordan 1994:336-38, 1996:137-38; Morrow 1984:131-35
2. Fienup-Riordan 1996; Lantis 1946: 224, 233
3. Curtis 1930:67-71; Fienup-Riordan 1994:324-47; Lantis 1946:188-92, 1947:67-72; Morrow 1984:131-35; Nelson 1899:361-63; Osterman and Holtved 1952:267-75
4. Fienup-Riordan 1994:324
5. Fienup-Riordan 1994:332-33; Lantis 1946:191
6. Fienup-Riordan 1986:191-202, 1994:324
7. Fienup-Riordan 1994:340-42
8. Fienup-Riordan 1994:325, 1996:99; Meade and Fienup-Riordan 2005:353-357
9. Curtis 1930:69; Lantis 1946:191-92
10. Bodfish 1991:23-24; Curtis 1930: 146-147, 168-177, 213-214; F. Ellanna 1988c; Giddings 1961:52-60; Kingston 1999; Koranda 1964:18-19; Lantis 1947:67-73; Oquilluk 1973:149-166; Ostermann and Holtved 1952:103-112; Ray 1885:41-42; Spencer 1957:210-228; Van Valin 1941:53-56
11. Lantis 1946:190