Alaska Native Collections – Sharing Knowledge

 
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Story knife

yaaruin “storyknife”
Language: Central Yup'ik

We used it to try to copy our older sisters when they played using the yaaruin. We’d just scratch it out, just like we’re using a short little pencil. Tamaa-i tamakut yaaruitni pencil-aqelqaput wangkuta. (The story knives were our pencils).

—Neva Rivers, 2002

The story knife is a traditional girl’s toy used for sketching pictures on the ground or in the snow. The pictures show clothing, people, houses, animals, and events, and are drawn to illustrate a story or as a game in which others try to guess the artist’s subject. Knife stories were accompanied by songs. Neva Rivers said, “Girls still play this game using metal butter knives instead of the traditional wood, bone, or ivory yaaruin.”

Culture: Yup’ik
Region: Togiak River
Object Category: Toys, games
Dimensions: Length 25.5cm
Accession Date: 1886
Source: Sgt. Samuel Applegate (donor, collector)
Museum: National Museum of Natural History
Museum ID Number: E127393