And here’s all these different seals – ribbon seals, spotted seal and a bearded seal. A very good artist; he etched the various types of marine mammals that were hunted at Gambell on St. Lawrence Island. And over here are whaling scenes, a boat just about ready to strike a whale, another boat ready to harpoon a walrus.
—Branson Tungiyan, 2001
Tobacco pipes carved from walrus tusks and engraved with village and hunting scenes were first made by Inupiaq artists of northwest Alaska, both for local use and as items for sale and trade. The style was adopted on St. Lawrence Island by the early 1900s. This St. Lawrence Island Yupik pipe is engraved with scenes of seal, walrus and whale hunting, a sled dog team, reindeer, and other aspects of subsistence life.
St. Lawrence Island Yupik
Region: St. Lawrence Island, Alaska
Object Category: Tobacco
Dimensions: Length 30cm
Accession Date: 1921
Source: Rev. Sheldon Jackson (collector)
Museum: National Museum of Natural History
Museum ID Number: E316794
Examining & explaining
Estelle Oozevaseuk: I think this came from Siberia.(1) There’s some reindeer [on it] and somebody had got them [pipes] from Siberia. Because this is not good for the young people, they tried to get rid of them when they got them from Siberia. It came with tobacco and a little sack.
Bill Fitzhugh: They didn’t want the young people smoking?
Estelle Oozevaseuk: No, only the men who are the head of the household. Some of the Siberians and their relatives came. Right after a big dinner, they started to smoke. Always doing it [passing the pipe] clockwise, two puffs, one puff. Some weak ones, one puff and [faints]. They call it kuyngevak [large pipe]. And the tobacco is wapaaqa [marijuana], that’s strong.(2) But I never watch them smoke. I just watched them making them [pipes made with lead].
Jacob Ahwinona: There’s a lot of etching there.
Branson Tungiyan: Walrus. And these [boats] are using sails. They’re going after walrus. Quail, birds and ducks. Maybe fox. And all those reindeer they had. Here is a kayak with one man on it with a harpoon. This is something that we thought wasn’t very much used at Gambell. There is hardly any written documentation on St. Lawrence Island having kayaks, but here in the etchings are two kayaks.
Estelle Oozevaseuk: Yes, they used to use it [kayak] a long time ago, even crossing in that to Siberia.
Branson Tungiyan: Okay. And here’s all these different seals—ribbon seals, spotted seal and a bearded seal—a very good artist. He etched the various types of marine mammals that were hunted at Gambell on St. Lawrence Island. And over here are whaling scenes, a boat just about ready to strike a whale, another boat ready to harpoon a walrus.
And this boat has just harpooned a whale. And in looking at all these etchings, they depict the type of way of life that occurred at Gambell, hunting the various marine mammals. So this is a very interesting piece that told stories of the subsistence way of life that these people lived. And surprisingly, a two-man kayak, because there were hardly any stories of kayaks on St. Lawrence Island that were documented. They show a one-man kayak and a two-man kayak on this pipe.
Estelle Oozevaseuk: They have.
Branson Tungiyan: Qayiinniluku piiqsaqangat. Esgha qayat. Ataasimeng yukelghiik taakuk, Inglungani maalghugegneng yukelghiik. Aghveghniighet. Ayveghniighet.
(They used to say there were no kayaks. On this they show kayaks. There’s one man [in a kayak], and on the other side there’s two men on [a kayak]. They are hunting whale. They are hunting walrus.)
Estelle Oozevaseuk: Mm-hmm.
Branson Tungiyan: Qimugsighhaq. Niinghullghiimeng aghvengelghiit. Aghveghllaguuq. Maakut kukupagsugnitut, whatelnguut. Kukupaget, entaqun una qazigyaq, maklak. Teghikusaghlaguuq. Ayveghet, aghveghet.
(There’s a little dog team. They’re getting a whale that surfaced and plunged into the water. There’s a lot of whales. They look like ring seal, these ones that are this way. Ring seal, this one might be spotted seal, then bearded seal. There are a lot of animals. There’s walrus, whale.)
Estelle Oozevaseuk: Kiyang aghveghllaguuq.
(Mostly there are whales.)
Branson Tungiyan: Ukut esgha quyngilghun qerngaghmeteghllalghii. Quyngilegtingunghitawha. Telaanangalghiit, ayveghmeng, nunavaget entaqun meghmelluki, imaghtaanghilngughmeng.
(These are lots of reindeer all together. It might be a sled pulled by reindeer. Then there’s a sailboat, [looking] for whales, for a herd of walrus in the water, or the ones that are not in the water.)
Estelle Oozevaseuk: Quyngilegtingunghitut. Umulghaagut.
(These are not reindeer team. They are rounding up and guiding.)
Branson Tungiyan: Ay, umulghaawat, aa. Kaviighet, qikmit, sangwaat, qawaaget.
(Oh, they are rounding up reindeer, yes. Foxes, dogs, some other things, birds.)
Estelle Oozevaseuk: Una terugillepiwaa. Una guunnaqaqaa.
(This one is a good drawing. Is this getting ready to shoot?)
Branson Tungiyan: Quyngiiyaghluteng suflitaghmetuq entaqun.
Aa, sanguuq qaa. Naghullginaqniluku piyaghaqa. Iwhaanilek, uyiiq entaqun esgha uukna uunghaq tugumiiqluka.
(They look like reindeer laying on their stomachs. No, it might be something else. I thought at first that the figure was going to strike with a harpoon. There is a rawhide line right there and [a figure] holding a harpoon.)
Estelle Oozevaseuk: Oh, naghpigwaaq [lassoing]. Yes, catching them with a lasso, throwing that lasso.
Branson Tungiyan: Beautiful.
[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. According to St. Lawrence Island Yupik Elder Vera Kaneshiro, kuynga is the word for “pipe” and is from a Chukchi word.
2. According to Vera Kaneshiro, wapaaqa [marijuana] comes from the Chukchi word for toadstool. Tawaqa means “tobacco” and is from a Russian word.
Tobacco pipes carved from walrus tusks and engraved with village scenes or geometric designs were made by Iñupiaq artists of northwest Alaska, both for their own use and as items for sale and trade.(2) This style had been adopted on St. Lawrence Island by the early 1900s.(2) Other St. Lawrence Island pipes were made using melted lead that was poured into molds.
To learn more about the history of this object, read a report by Smithsonian conservators at http://anthropology.si.edu/accessinganthropology/alaska/gallery_pipe.html (copy and paste this address into your internet browser).
1. Nelson 1899:281-284; Ray 1977:224-227
2. Bogoras 1904-09:203