Language: Bering Strait Iñupiaq
aqsraatchiaq “high-kick ball”
Language: North Slope Iñupiaq
The high-kick games, when they played in the qargi (ceremonial house) - they usually do that when the different tribes get together [Messenger Feast]. Each tribe tries to beat the other’s kick. When I was young, I used to kick that high [above the head].”
—Jacob Ahwinona, 2001
High-kick competitions were once part of Kivgiq, the Messenger Feast. As each man entered the qargi he tried to kick an inflated animal bladder or ball suspended from the ceiling. An Iñupiaq story tells of a young woman who owned two balls; the larger was the sun, and the smaller the moon. The sun ball fell (or in one version was dropped by Raven) and burst open, bringing light to the world. The circular designs seen on this ball represent the sun and commemorate this ancient story.
Region: Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska
Object Category: Ceremony
Dimensions: Length 19cm
Accession Date: 1936
Source: William M. Fitzhugh Collection
Museum: National Museum of the American Indian
Museum ID Number: 193368.000
Herbert Foster, Sr.: Taipkua suli kivgiqamiŋ aqsraaġuuniqsut- aqsrautraġuuniqsut- aqsraisuqtuatiplutiŋ- qargiisuqtuatiplutiŋ.
(In the old days during Kivgiq [the Messenger Feast], they played kick-ball games and football, trying to steal the ball from their opponents and playing competitive games in the qargi [community house].)
Feast-taqmatalu taipkua suuraġuurut, kivgiqmatalu. Kivgiġñiqsutkiimma taimaŋŋaaglaan taipkua iñuich.
(It was tradition for those of long ago to hold activities when a feast was held, including the Messenger Feast. It is evident that the Messenger Feast has been held by those of long ago since time immemorial.)
Sylvester Ayek: Innautait ‘aa pinaġuu’yuutauraataqpat ipkua?
(Did they have fancy toys like this in the past?)
Faye Ongtowasruk: Ii’yaq. Pinnaġuksatuqtaatut.
(Yes. They used to use fancy decorations.)
Sylvester Ayek: Nuŋułutiik?
(All of them [toys]?)
Faye Ongtowasruk: Nuŋani…, nunaŋiniglu, pitqataqsimaaqtuat naluaniglu suli someplace siuġaġaqtuq samma tauq qiniqtaaġa.
([On this ball] there is some bark [from alder] and bleached sealskin, and someplace I saw an [owner’s] marker.)
Sylvester Ayek: Taamna ‘aa ilaatnizaaq kiziani atuqtavaruŋ?
(What about this one? Would they use it just once in a while?)
Faye Ongtowasruk: What they use for football, it’s bigger than this.
Sylvester Ayek: Pinaġukyuutauratuq, football, aktuq taamna?
(Would the bigger football be decorated?)
Faye Ongtowasruk: Iiyaa.
Willie Goodwin Jr.: Aqsraaqtuat taunani tainnasiq atuġuugaat.
(Those who play football down where we live use that kind.)
Faye Ongtowasruk: Una qaaŋ aqsraasiaq? Aqsraasiaq?
(Would this one have been for high kick? High kick?)
Willie Goodwin: Aqsraaq, football.
Rachel Riley: So, aqsraaq, football.
Bernadette Alvanna-Stimpfle: So, aqsraasiaq, high kick.
Willie Goodwin Jr.: High-kicking, you know, aqsraatchiaq [high kick].
Alvira Downey: Immakii high kick football-luŋat.
(Maybe high kick was their football.)
Herbert Foster Sr.: Una aqsraq qiñikkaqput pilaiŋuruq tupqum iluanun- aqsraapiaŋuŋitchuq- niqsamik piliuqsimaruq- kaviqsitaqługu tamanna niqsaq suli niqsam sulliñġanik sullipayaaŋanik.
(The ball that you see here is for indoors and not a real playing ball for outdoors. It’s made out of seal, and it’s dyed red.)
Tuttum aasii-tia manusiñġanik tamarra qiñiqsittaaqaqhuni.
(It has sealskin paraphernalia and has caribou skin decorations from the front of the caribou [below the front muzzle].)
Naluamik suli tamarra qatiqtaamik qatiqsiplugu nalualiuqhutiŋ savakługu inillaksimagaat- savaaġiniġaat- qupakługu.
(They also used bleached seal or caribou skin for trimming.)
Aqsraŋich taipkua atlaurut – qaani silami aqsraaġutit.
(The balls that are used outdoors are different.)
Marraliasiiñ aqsraatchiaqmata naaggaqaa ukalliaġaqmata savaaŋuruq- tupqum iluani-li- qargim iluani.
(So these you are seeing are used for high-kicking inside or in a competition where you twist the legs forward, and they are done inside the qargi [community house].
[From discussion with Bernadette Alvanna-Stimpfle, Sylvester Ayek, Alvira Downey, Herbert Foster Sr., Willie Goodwin Jr., Jana Harcharek, Faye Oogtowasruk, and Rachel Riley during the Iñupiaq Language Workshop at the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center at the Anchorage Museum, January 2011.]
Identifying & explaining
Marie Saclamana: This must be for high kick, huh? Look at this [loop on top of the ball].
Jacob Ahwinona: They hang that and they use it for Eskimo high kick . . . . The one they use for playing football out in the open field has no fancies like that. Outdoor game ball would be plain, reindeer skin with reindeer fur stuffed inside and see, it’s sewed together for outdoor games with a football. But this one is the ball used inside the qargi [communal house] where they can have high kick games. . . .This is the fancy one, for indoor so everybody can see it.
Jacob Ahwinona: The high kick games, they played in the qargi [communal house]. They hang that [ball] usually when the different tribes get together. Each tribe tries to beat each others [highest] kick. When I was young, I used to kick that high. . . . . When you kick the ball that high, you don’t make noise when you hit the floor. You take your shoes off and when you kick, you don’t look at the ball … [One way they] do it is from your knees. Never mind that the ball [is] up there … and when that ball gets down there when you jump, you put your feet together. There’s nothing to it.
[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, 9/10/2001-9/14/2001. Also participating: Aron Crowell and Bill Fitzhugh (NMNH) and Suzi Jones (AMHA).]
High kick is a traditional test of agility that has been carried forward as a modern sport. Early visitors to Iñupiaq communities saw children and adults kick balls that hung at head level or higher, using both of their feet.(1) With each try, the ball was raised higher.(2) Competitors perform the two-footed high kick, as it is known today, in the World Eskimo Indian Olympics, the Native Youth Olympics, and Arctic Winter Games. Jesse Frankson reached a ball that was 7’10” off the floor, which is the current world record for men (as of 2004). Donna Elliott holds the women’s record, at 6’1”.(3)
The high kick was originally part of Kivgiq, the Messenger Feast, a winter dance and gift-giving festival hosted by Iñupiaq villages of northwest Alaska and by Yup’ik communities of Norton Sound, the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta, and Nunivak Island.(4) Kivgiq ended in the early years of the 20th century, but North Slope Borough Mayor George Ahmaogak, Sr. helped to revive it at Barrow in 1988.
Barrow’s annual Kivgiq celebration in February now brings visitors and dance groups from across Alaska, Russia, Canada, and Greenland.(5)
Before a traditional Messenger Feast, leading men of a village, usually umialit [boat captains], sent messengers to the leaders of another community to invite them and their relatives to five days of ceremonies. At Utqiaġvik [Barrow], guests came to the qargi [community house] to view the great pile of gifts that they would receive, including sealskins filled with oil, weapons, sleds, and kayaks. As each man entered he tested his skill at kicking an inflated animal bladder that hung from the ceiling.(6) An Elder from Kobuk remembered a long-ago Messenger Feast when guests from Kotzebue challenged them to a high kick contest. Two young Kobuk women took the honors.(7)
Umialit who had been guests at a Messenger Feast worked to save up food and gifts so that they could host the event themselves. Martha Stackhouse writes, “It was always a joy to see relatives and friends after not seeing them for several years.
What excitement the news brought! Kivgiq was a way to ensure the communities continued their friendship and cooperative relationship.”(9)
Iñupiaq oral tradition includes a story about a young woman who owned two balls; the larger was the sun and the smaller the moon. When the big ball burst open (in one story, Raven drops it from the sky), sunlight spread over the world for the first time.(9) Circular designs on this ball may represent the sun, as on St. Lawrence Island balls.
1. Bruce 1894:114; Giddings 1961:156; Simpson 1875:238; Stoney 1900:91
2. Oquilluk 1981:103
4. Bodfish 1991:23-24; Curtis 1930: 146-47, 168-77, 213-14; Fienup-Riordan 1994:324-54; Giddings 1961:52-60; Hawkes 1913, 1914; Kingston 1999; Lantis 1947:67-73; Morrow 1984; Nelson 1899:361-63; Oquilluk 1973:149-50; Ostermann and Holtved 1952:103-12; Spencer 1957:210-28
5. Turner 1996:92-106; http://www.co.north-slope.ak.us/nsb/70.htm
6. Spencer 1957:223
7. Giddings 1961:59-60
9. Boas 1894:205-08; Garber 1940:29-32