Una-w’ yaqulgem cugkekii. Naruyat waten ayuqut cuggait looks like. (This is a bird’s beak. It looks like the beaks of seagulls.)
—John Phillip, Sr., 2002
Hunters of the Bering Sea coast wore wooden visors to protect their eyes from glare and to spiritually assist with the hunt; Chuna McIntyre said that the visors were “beautified to attract and honor the animals.” To make a visor a craftsman used hot water to soften the wood, then bent it around and stitched the ends together with sinew, baleen, or split root. Animal carvings were added as hunting charms, such as the walrus and seagull heads on this visor. Feathers may have been added to assist the transformation of hunters into birds, as described in oral tradition.
Region: Southwest Alaska
Object Category: Hunting
Dimensions: Length 51cm
Accession Date: 1879
Source: E. W. Nelson (collector)
Museum: National Museum of Natural History
Museum ID Number: E176207
John Phillip, Sr.: Nunivaarmiutaulria-ll’ tua tauna nallunailnguq. Mikuryarmiut makut qaralililguut makut.
(I can tell that this is from Nunivak. The people of Mekoryuk are very decorative people.)
Aron Crowell: Did the hunters there on the lower Kuskokwim and his area wear this kind of visor without the pointed top?
Joan Hamilton: Makucineng-llu-qaa aturlallruut?
(Did they also wear this kind?)
John Phillip, Sr.: Ilait taugaam makucinek waten qaralilngurnek wiinga tanglallruunga atuqengaitnek.
(I only saw undecorated ones they used to wear.)
Joan Hamilton: Tamalkurmeng-qaa amlleret-qaa angutet makucinek aturlallruut?
(Did all men or many men use this kind?)
John Phillip, Sr.: Ilait-wa tua-i tamalkurmeng pivkenateng ilait tanglallrukenka. Ikeglinrat-ggun-wa wii yuurtellruyugnarqua. Angutet taugaam elqiangqelalriit. Angnat-ll’ ilait pillilriit. Arnat atauciq tanglallruaqa elqiarluni.
(Not all men wore these, I saw some men wear them. I think I was born when there were being worn less. Only men had visors. Also some women probably did. I used to see one woman with a visor.)
Joan Hamilton: Tangllerpegu, waten tangnerrallerpeggu, ukut tua tangerrluki umyuarteqellruuten-qaa nukalpiam wallu-qaa angalkum-qaa pikellrua.
(When you saw it like this, did you think that it belonged to a great hunter or a shaman?)
John Phillip, Sr.: Qaill-w’ umyuartequntenrilkeka. Nallukeka qanruteksumiitaqa.
(I didn’t think anything of it. I don’t want to speak about something I don’t know about.)
John Phillip, Sr.: Qaralililliniteng arraangem teqsuqritneng maa-i.
(They decorated it [back of visor] with the tail feathers of old squaw ducks.)
Joan Hamilton: Qaralilngurneng-qaa makucineng aturlallruuci?
(Did you used to use ones without decorations?)
John Phillip, Sr.: Wiinga qaralilegneng tangeqsaitellruunga murakainarnek. Murakainarnek, murakainarnek nunamteni pilallruut. Qaralilirpeknaki. Ilait-wa pilaryaaqellikait amllequcugnek wii tangenritua qaralilegnek nunamteni. Mura mimernam aciani wani-wa.
(I never saw a decorated one, only plain wood. They used plain wood in our area. They didn’t decorate them. Maybe some did, but I didn’t see decorated ones in our village. This wood is from the stump of a tree. They bent it.)
Joan Hamilton: Mana-mi nanvat cenini mana akwaugaq tangllemtenun ayuqnganani. Taperrnauguq-qaa?
(How about this part [loop where feathers are attached] that looks like what we see growing on the sides of lakes. Is it coarse seashore grass?(1))
John Phillip, Sr.: Taperrnaungalartuq tamana, ii-i.
(That looks like coarse seashore grass, yes.)
Joan Hamilton: These [ivory attached to front of visor] are kaugpak [walrus] of course.
John Phillip, Sr.: Cauluku ivory.
(It is ivory.)
Joan Hamilton: Ii-i. Caunguarluni? Imarpiim-qaa tengmiaqluku?
(Yes. What is it imitating? Is it an ocean duck?)
John Phillip, Sr.: Una-w’ yaqulgem cugkekii. Naruyat waten ayuqut cuggait looks like.
(This is a bird’s beak. It looks like the beaks of seagulls.)
Joan Hamilton: They’re creatures that live off the sea. So, they’re theme oriented, like if you were using this only on land, it would probably have a different decoration.
John Phillip, Sr.: Nunivaarmiut makunek ivory-nek qaralingqerturalartut.
(The people of Nunivak Island always use ivory as decoration.)
Joan Hamilton: Ii-i [yes], people from Nunivak, they use a lot of ivory. It’s more Nunivaarmiuq [Nunivak Island] style.
Joan Hamilton: Minguglallruit-llu-qaa?
(Did they also color them?)
John Phillip, Sr.: Taugaam mingukarluki pilarait.
(They colored them.)
Joan Hamilton: Ayuqenrilngurneng?
John Phillip, Sr.: Kangiplugmek iliini uiterameng tamakunek. Urasqamek-llu kiingita tanglallruugna.
(They used charcoal and sometimes red ocher. They also used white-gray clay, and they were the only ones I saw.)
John Phillip, Sr.: Kangipluk.
Joan Hamilton: And it’s painted on the inside too, more toward the front.
John Phillip, Sr.: Kangpipluuguq. Kangiplugnek tamakut mingulallruit iliit. Kangiplugmek makut muragat aciit mingulallruit maa-i. Qitngiryailkucirluki-gguq tua kangiplugmek qanikcirngan. Urasqaungatu-r’ mana, urasqaq maa-i.
(It is charcoal. They painted some of them with charcoal. They used to color the wood underneath with charcoal. They used charcoal to lesson the glare because of the snow. This [exterior] may be white-gray clay, here is the clay.)
[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.]
1. Taperrnaq “coarse seashore grass” refers to Elymus mollis, which is also called rye grass (Jacobson 1984).
The Yupiit and other Alaska Native hunters of the Bering Sea coast wore open-topped wooden visors to protect their eyes from the glare of sun on water.(1) Visors could also be worn on land, to lessen reflections from snow.(2) They were made from a thin plank of wood that was softened with steam or hot water and then bent into a circle. The narrow ends wrapped around the head and overlapped at the back, where they were sewn together with sinew, baleen, spruce or willow root.(3)
Ivory carvings―like the walrus and seagull heads attached to this visor―were added as hunting charms.(4) Speaking of a hunting helmet in the Jacobsen collection at Ethnologisches Museum in Berlin, Yup’ik Elder Wassilie Berlin said, “Obviously this was owned by a man from the coast since it is decorated with walrus designs. When shamans performed rituals wearing these helmets, they did it to help hunters who would be going out on the ocean in the coming season. These carved walrus on it were what they wanted the hunters to get while hunting on the ocean.”
(5) Bird carvings and feathers, like the fan of oldsquaw duck feathers on this visor, suggest a spiritual identity between humans and birds that is described in traditional tales.(6)
1. Black 1991:46-62; Fienup-Riordan 2005:207-08; Meade and Fienup-Riordan 2005:245; Nelson 1899:167-69
2. Curtis 1930:19
3. Black 1982:138; Nelson 1899:167-69
4. Lantis 1946:157
5. Meade and Fienup-Riordan 2005:245-247
6. Fienup-Riordan 1990a, 1994:128-140