Language: Unangam Tunuu (Eastern Aleut dialect)
Water that leaked into a kayak through holes and seams could be sucked up with this bailing tube. Even bad leaks could be repaired at sea, using inflated sea lion stomachs to keep the boat afloat.
Region: Aleutian Islands, Alaska
Object Category: Boats
Dimensions: Length 69cm
Accession Date: 1947
Museum: National Museum of Natural History
Museum ID Number: E160330B
Vlass Shabolin: That’s for the kayak I think. Yes, to suck the water out of the kayak.
Mary Bourdukofsky: To get water out, yes.
Daria Dirks: So what do you call this?
Mary Bourdukofsky: Uuchusig^.
(Something to suck water out.)
Vlass Shabolin: Yes, uuchusig^. You carried it alongside the rib on their kayak. When they got seal, halibut, whatever, when they got it, they would get some water in the kayak, and then they use this. They can’t stand up in the kayak, they’re sitting down so they suck the water out and keep doing that until all the water is out of the kayak.
Mary Bourdukofsky: Not in our time.
Vlass Shabolin: Way before our time. Manually operated water pump. [Laughter.]
Vlass Shabolin: It’s a light wood. Everything’s that light [for a kayak], because if you drop it overboard, it won’t sink, you grab it. It’s a very important thing to have on a kayak.
Aron Crowell: I would think you would have to have a nice fit too, because it has to be airtight the whole thing, in order to work.
Mary Bourdukofsky: Yes, it is. You can tell it’s split right in half, and they carved the inside out.
[From discussion with Mary N. Bourdukofsky, Vlass Shabolin, Maria Turnpaugh and Daria Dirks (Tanadgusix Foundation) at the National Museum of Natural History and National Museum of the American Indian, 4/07/2003-4/11/2003. Also participating: Aron Crowell and Bill Fitzhugh (NMNH) and Suzi Jones (AMHA).]
While at sea, Unangax^ hunters used hollow wooden tubes to empty out sea water that seeped into their skin-covered kayaks.(1) To use this bailer or “pump,” a man bent over in the cockpit of his boat, put one end of the tube to his lips, and sucked up the water that was sloshing around between his legs. Then he covered the lower end with the tube with his finger and emptied it over the side. Pieces of natural sponge were also used to pick up water from inside the boat.(2) Along with hooded rain jackets, Unangax^ kayakers often wore waterproof pants made of sea mammal intestines.(3)
Fixing small leaks at sea was sometimes possible using blubber and a piece of flat wood or rock inserted between the frame and skin cover.(4) However, any large tear would instantly put a man’s boat and life at risk. An inflated seal skin or sea lion stomach was carried on board as an emergency buoy to keep the boat afloat while rips in the skin were sewn.(5)
An extra large version of the kayak pump was invented to remove water from wooden row boats (called dories) which replaced kayaks as everyday working boats in the early 20th century.
(6) A bailing tube was made by shaping and then splitting a solid block of wood. The two halves were then hollowed out and lashed back together with string or sinew.
1. Bergsland and Dirks 1990:395; Laughlin 1980:37; Veniaminov 1984:274
2. Beaglehole 1967:463; Veniaminov 1984:274
3. Corney 1965:139; Jochelson 1933:17: Laughlin 1980:37
4. Laughlin 1980:37
5. Merck 1980:172; Netsvetov 1980:257; Veniaminov 1984:274
6. Laughlin 1980:38