puggutaq “bowl, dish, plate”
Language: Qawiaraq Iñupiaq
The person who made this has seen animals change into something else.... It could be years since they’ve seen it, but they can carve ivory to make the image of what they have seen.... Those aren’t just imaginary things.
—Jacob Ahwinona, 2001
Decorated bentwood vessels were used for serving food at festivals and feasts. The ivory carvings represent adult bowhead whales, yearling bowheads, a beluga whale, and other animals. Blue beads on two of the whale figures mark the location of the animal’s life force and the place where the harpooner aims. Several of the whales are shown with seal or walrus heads, and Bering Strait elders said that hunters sometimes glimpse such rare combination animals. The carvings on the bowl may represent one man’s lifetime of hunting and visionary encounters at sea.
Region: Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska
Object Category: Ceremony
Dimensions: Diameter 38.5cm
Accession Date: 1935
Museum: National Museum of the American Indian
Museum ID Number: 188306.000
Marie Saclamana: Puggutaq [wooden bowl].
Jacob Ahwinona: Yes. It’s a utensil for cooking, for eating. You put the food in there, berries or anything you catch. It’s like a big pot. It’s a regular everyday-use pot.
Estelle Oozevaseuk: That’s a common thing for us too for everyday use for food. And they never leak.
Jacob Ahwinona: Yes.
Branson Tungiyan: This has got to be a very special bowl, with all the whales and seals [ivory carvings]. And look at the handles—there’s a boat just ready to strike a whale.
Estelle Oozevaseuk: I think it’s a ceremonial thing.
Branson Tungiyan: Yes, this has got to be very special.
Jacob Ahwinona: That would be for a real special occasion there.
Branson Tungiyan: Yes, maybe special ceremony.
Suzi Jones: Have you ever seen one like this at all?
Marie Saclamana: Yes, my grandma used to have one, but not the kind with . . . .
Suzi Jones: Not with so many carvings.
Ivory carvings & etching
Estelle Oozevaseuk: Whales, sea mammals I see there, and that one’s got blue. These are beads in there.
Marie Saclamana: Maybe trade beads?
Jacob Ahwinona: Probably trade beads.
Branson Tungiyan: Practically all of these animals have holes in the top. There must have been special stones or something in these holes at one time
Jacob Ahwinona: All sea mammals.
Branson Tungiyan: Yes, all sea mammals. These are all different types of whales and seals on the other side too. And the handle, on the upper part, it’s an upside down etching of a boat and two whale flukes. And on the bottom, a boat is ready to strike a whale with two flukes showing at the end. But the etching on this [other handle] is different. The boat is there but it looks like a different type of animal.
Marie Saclamana: Yes, this is whaling season bowl.
Jacob Ahwinona: Yes.
Aron Crowell: Could you identify what the different animal carvings are?
Branson Tungiyan: These are different types of whales. There are bowheads small and large. This one looks like a beluga whale, because it doesn’t have the nose part like the bowheads do—the front part is blunt like a beluga. Maybe there are grey whales as well, and these two are different.
They have whale flukes on the end, but it looks like walrus heads. And there’s a seal here, and here’s another seal. A small ingutuq [yearling bowhead whale] whale maybe there, small ones on both. The ones with the blue beads on the top, these two are special whales with what looks like walrus head and a seal head, like a bearded seal or a spotted seal.
Estelle Oozevaseuk: These may be caught by a person who is a good hunter.
Branson Tungiyan: A great whaling captain. It must belong to a very successful whaling captain’s wife.
Marie Saclamana: Yes.
Jacob Ahwinona: Yes.
Branson Tungiyan: Yes, but a very special thing for a ceremony.
Animals changing form
Estelle Oozevaseuk: Good hunters often see something in the form, that the form had changed, and they used to make them [carvings] like what they have seen, what they have in their mind.
I think this belongs to a good hunter.
Aron Crowell: Jacob, would those carvings be examples of what you told us yesterday about the animals changing into another kind?
Jacob Ahwinona: Yes, it’s the same thing. The person that made those has seen animals change into something else. Sometimes our ancestors, when they tell stories, they’ve seen animals that didn’t belong there, but they’ve seen them. So, whoever carved those out has seen all these. Even if he sees them just once, he has them up here [head]. They don’t forget that. It could be years since they’ve seen it, but they can carve ivory to make the image of what they have seen. Each and every one of those are what they have seen in our area, otherwise they wouldn’t be there.
Estelle Oozevaseuk: Somebody told me once he had seen a big polar bear in the summer time. He tried to get it and when he get there and looked up there was a little fox. They change. Animals do that. That’s a weird thing.
And it’s said among the ancient times that they change when they are not ready to be killed. That’s their protection I think.
[From discussion with Jacob Ahwinona, Estelle Oozevaseuk, Marie Saclamana and Branson Tungiyan (Kawerak, Inc.) at the National Museum of Natural History and National Museum of the American Indian, 5/07/2001-5/11/2001. Also participating: Aron Crowell and Bill Fitzhugh (NMNH) and Suzi Jones (AMHA).]
1. In the illustrations section, see the diagram identifying the
This large bentwood bowl from the village of Wales is decorated with ivory carvings of whales and other sea mammals. Hunting scenes are inscribed on two ivory handles. Although no specific details are available about this piece, Elders suggested in 2001 that it was for ceremonial use, and that the animals might be a record of what one very good hunter had seen or taken in his career.
In general, wooden bowls and trays were used for serving food to family and guests.(1) They were made by men and sometimes acquired through trade.(2) Individuals ate from small dishes, while larger dishes were for presenting food at home or at festivals and feasts.(3) When a person died, her eating dish was often hung on one of the grave posts.(4)
Using adzes and curved knives, men carved some dishes from single pieces of driftwood. Others, like this one, have solid bottom pieces that fit onto bent-wood rims.(5) The rim was made by steaming a thin strip of wood, bending it into shape with overlapping ends, and securing the ends together with strips of root or wooden pegs.
(6) Dishes were often painted with animals or spirit beings, and/or decorated around the rim with pieces of stone or walrus ivory.(7)
1. Fitzhugh and Kaplan 1982:120-22; Nelson 1899:287-88
2. Fitzhugh and Kaplan 1982:122; Nelson 1899:70, 230, 232; Ray 1966:11
3. Dall 1870:143, 149-50; Fitzhugh and Kaplan 1982:120-22; Nelson 1899:359, 363-65, 379; Ray 1966:87-89
4. Dall 1870:19, 145-46; Fitzhugh and Kaplan 1982:117-18; Nelson 1899:311, 313
5. Fitzhugh and Kaplan 1982:121-22, 168, 172; Nelson 1899:71, 85
6. Fitzhugh and Kaplan 1982:121-22, 172; Nelson 1899:71
7. Fitzhugh and Kaplan 1982:120-23; Nelson 1899:70-71; Ray 1966:7-8