“bentwood hat, conical wooden hat”
Language: Central Yup'ik
This is a creature of the sea, a bird, and what he’s thinking is that this is a helping spirit. That kind of a bird is a creature of the sea, and it can facilitate a better hunt.
—Joan Hamilton, translating for John Phillip, Sr., 2003
This wooden hat, worn for spring seal hunting, is painted with white clay and the image of a red-eyed bird with a long beak. The pale colors of the hunter’s hat, clothes, and boat helped to conceal him amidst floating ice. John Phillip, Sr. said that the bird might be a grebe, painted on the hat as a helping spirit or to signify a Yup’ik rule that a deceased person’s relatives can only go down to the sea after migrating grebes arrive in spring.
Region: Yukon & Kuskokwim River Delta, Alaska
Object Category: Hunting
Dimensions: Length 29cm
Accession Date: 1879
Source: E. W. Nelson (collector)
Museum: National Museum of Natural History
Museum ID Number: E038717
Joan Hamilton: Makucineng-qaa nutaan tangerrlallruten?
(Did you used to see this kind?)
John Phillip, Sr.: Yes, makucineng maa-i tanglallruunga nutaan. Taugaam amllequcugnek tangenritua.
(Yes, this is the kind I used to see. But I didn’t see very many.)
Joan Hamilton: Qessaipa-g’! Qaill-gguq caliaqlallruatki?
(They were not lazy! How did they work on them?)
John Phillip, Sr.: Ici-w mamkellicaraarluku puqlamun qasgimi pililuteng. Heat-arluku perrcitullruut.
(You know after they make them [the wood] thinner, they put in heat in the men’s house.
(2) They would bend them by heating them.)
Joan Hamilton: Mm-hmm. They carved it, made it thinner, and then in the qaygiq [men’s house], they put it over steam, heated it up, and then they formed it. Unatengteng tua aturrlainarluki keggevkenaki-llu [they didn’t use their teeth, only their hands]?
John Phillip, Sr.: Ii-i.
Joan Hamilton: This, they shape by hand with steam and heat.
John Phillip, Sr.: Tang tua waten qupartaqaata tegguciyagaraqluki navkataarqata waten.
(When it split like this, they would quickly mend it like this.)
Joan Hamilton: When there was a split in the wood, they mended it this way, right here [stitches]. Caneng tua aturluteng pililallruatki [what did they use to make them]?
John Phillip, Sr.: Mellgaraat-wa tua imkut nallunrilkeci.
(You know, those curved knives.(3))
Joan Hamilton: A carving knife. You carve it and get it to the right density, fairly uniform in density. And then in the qaygiq [men’s house] heat and steam, then they’re able to shape it.
John Phillip, Sr.: Elngulrianek waten muragnek yuarluteng piciatun pivkenateng qertengermeng piyuilngurneng. Ici-w’ muragat ayuqenritut. Ilait ayimqeryuugut, ilait taugkentamakunek pililartut.
(They looked for wood that is strong and pliable and used it, not just any kind of wood they found. You know, all kinds of wood are different. Some break easily while others are hard and so they used that.)
Joan Hamilton: Qaillun tua waten, waten pinariaqan qaill pilallruat?
(When the time came, what did they do?)
John Phillip, Sr.: Tua-w’ ellaita cuqluki pilaqait waten cali, caliaqameng peryugngariaqata naspaarraarluku puqlamun piurluku. Cukatevkenaku.
(They estimated, so when they worked on them, they kept trying it, so when it was able to bend they continued to put it in the heat. It wasn’t done quickly.)
Joan Hamilton: Qaill puqlalill?
(How did they do the heat?)
John Phillip, Sr.: Qasgimi maqiluteng.
(They took a fire-bath in the men’s house.(4))
Joan Hamilton: When they steam it muragaq mermun piaqameng [they put the wood in water].
John Phillip, Sr.: Mermek piaqluku, perqurluku.
(They kept putting water on it and continued to bend it.)
Aron Crowell: How did you get it to hold the shape?
Joan Hamilton: Qaillun-gguq uitauravkarluku pilallruatki?
(How did they make it stay in place?)
John Phillip, Sr.: Perqaarluki nuqsugucilaqait waten kassuutaqaata.
(After it is bent like this, they put a rope around it.)
Joan Hamilton: They don’t do it as an individual, they have help. They hold it, and then they put these [brace and stitches] in place.
John Phillip, Sr.: Muragaq. Makuciq-wa taman wii kiingan urasqaq wii wani tangllemni mana, urasqaq. Taugaam mana cauciitaqa kangipluullilria-llu tayima.
(Wood. I only see urasqaq [white-gray clay], to me this here looks like urasqaq. I don’t know what this [black] is, may be charcoal.)
Joan Hamilton: This is clay that’s indigenous to the area. And also this—kavirlineng-ll’ pingqellrulriit [they also had red]?
John Phillip, Sr.: Mana maa-i uiteraq.
(This here is red ocher.)
Joan Hamilton: These one, two, three clays are close to where this [hat] is from, so they’d have access to it. Mana-mi cauga [what is this part]?
John Phillip, Sr.: Qecirnek taugaam nuqsugut. Skin-augut tua-i nallunaituq. Qecignek taugaam pilartut makut.
(The string [stiches on outside] is skin. You can tell that it is skin. They only made these from skins.)
Joan Hamilton: Atam mana.
(Look at this.)
John Phillip, Sr.: Lumarraulliniuq mana.
(This part [chin strap] is just a piece of fabric.)
Aron Crowell: And so it’s sewn together with root?
Joan Hamilton: I thought it was root, but he said it’s hide.
Aron Crowell: What’s the best kind of wood to make it?
Joan Hamilton: Naliat-gguq muragaat assinruat?
(Which kind of wood is best?)
John Phillip, Sr.: Muriit ayuqenritut. Special-aaruut ilait. Special-aanek yuarluteng pilartut. Elngulrianek ayimyuilngurnek. Unarcianek wallu tamakuuyugngalrianek unarciacetun ayuqelrianek.
(Wood is different. Some are special. They look for special ones. The ones that are strong and pliable don’t break. Straight-grained wood was used or something like the straight-grained wood.)
Joan Hamilton: Una-mi caunguarta?
(What is this symbolizing?)
John Phillip, Sr.: Tua-r’ tang wiinga qaleqcuuk.
(It looks to me like a grebe.)
Aron Crowell: Would that be a family mark, a painting that would be for a certain family?
Joan Hamilton: Caneng aturluteng qaraliarlallruat? Umyugan-qaa maliggluki wall’ —
(He used this mark to do what? Did they do as they please or—)
John Phillip, Sr.: Imarpiim, imarpigmi yuk wani alerquutengqertut qaleqcuugut imarpigmi inerquutet yuut canek wani pillrukan. Ici-w’ ilii tuqullrani imarpigmun atraassqevkenaku. Tamakut tamaa-i wallu irnicuallrukuuvet uiin atrarngaunani wallu panin aglellrukan arnaurtellrukan atrarngaunani. Taugken ilavet call’ tuqullrukan inerquumallruluteng avani, taugken tua-i yaqulget qaqisskata atraryugngaluni cali tamaaten. Taugken wani una qaleqcuuk-gguq qalriakan uum-gguq qaleqcuugem wani piunarqucir ikirtaa tamalkuan yuk tauna piugngarivkarluku inerquutairulluuku. Taumek wii recognize-araaqa una. Tau tamana qanruyun umyuaqluku.
(There are rules about a person and the ocean with the grebe, including if something happened to people. You know, if someone died the relatives aren’t allowed to go to the ocean. If a woman miscarried a child her husband wasn’t allowed to go down, or if your daughter started menstruating for the first time she isn’t allowed to go to the ocean.
If your relative died you were told not to go down, but when the arrival of the birds was completed you were able to go down. But if a grebe makes noise, it makes way for the person to be able to go to the ocean and there are no more rules for him/her. I recognized that with this. I thought of that rule.)
Joan Hamilton: Pissurlalriit makucineng atulriit-qaa tamalkurmeng uumeng una aturyumaut? Wallu-q’ qaill qaralirlallruat-ki? Umyugateng maliggluki wallu-qaa?
(They would hunt wearing this so all of them can use this kind? Or for what did they make the marks? Did they do as they please or what?)
John Phillip, Sr.: Wiinga wani wani-w’ umyuarteqlemni tauna uum qaraliliutellra tamatumun inerquutiinun atallriaruan wani-w’ uumek ellillrullinia tuaten umyuartequutaqa wani-wa tauna. Piciatun pivkenani.
(I think that the person who put this decoration thought of that rule so he put that here, that is what I think.
They just didn’t do things on a whim.)
Joan Hamilton: What he thinks is this person made this design because of the significance of this bird. Ikayurciqngakuu-llu-qaa pissuqan [was it because it would help him when it hunts]?
John Phillip, Sr.: Tua-i-wa wii augutun ava-i umyuartekuskangna wani qanrucimi-aaka tuaten ici-w’ pissurcuutnguan imparpigmi, una-llu piunarquciimek kiugum cikiiriyugngaluni.
(If I thought like that person, because I was given rules like that, and since this is a hunting tool in the ocean, I would think that it would give me help.)
Joan Hamilton: Ii-i.
John Phillip, Sr.: Tua-i qaraliullra tauna wii ukvekaaqa tuaggun.
(Through the design, I believe it is that way.)
Joan Hamilton: Ii-i. Because this is a creature of the sea, a bird, and what he’s thinking is that this is a helping spirit. That kind of a bird is a creature of the sea, and it can facilitate a better hunt.
Aron Crowell: So it’s a sea bird that catches fish from the sea.
Joan Hamilton: Yes.
[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. An elqiaq is a “traditional wooden visor to protect the eyes from the sun’s glare, eyeshade” (Jacobson 1984). An elqiaq is also called a “bentwood visor” or “hunting hat” (Fienup-Riordan 2005). An ugtarcuun is a “bentwood hunting hat” and a ciayaq is a “bentwood hat decorated with feathers” (Fienup-Riordan 2005). A caguyaq is a “conical wooden hat” in the Nunivak dialect of Yup’ik (Jacobson 1984).
2. A qasgiq—qaygiq in the Hooper Bay-Chevak dialect—is a “men’s community house, ‘kashim,‘ steambath house; originally a moderately large structure in which the men of a community resided and worked; also used for sweatbaths, dances and feasts” (Jacobson 1984).
3. A mellgar—singular form of mellgarat—is a “curved knife, a knife with a curved blade used for carving” (Jacobson 1984).
4. A maqi [fire-bath] is a type of sweatbath (see Fienup-Riordan 2004:40).
Men of southern Norton Sound, Nunivak Island, and the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta wore conical bentwood hats for seal hunting, a practice that continued into the 1950s in some places.(1) Many of the older hats were decorated with ivory carvings, feathers, or painted figures.(2)
Bentwood hats were part of a man’s gear for hunting seals on ocean ices floes in spring, or in open water among the ice.(3) Men often painted the hats with urasquq [white-gray clay]. On Nunivak Island in 1940, “the men endeavored to have their kayak cover very white, all gear clean and freshly painted blue, white, and light ocher; they wore a clean gut parka, fishskin mittens, and wooden hunting hat painted white and blue. Although all this was done principally to please the seals, which were supposed to like cleanliness, it also provided an effective disguise in the midst of blue sea and white ice floes.”(4)
Bentwood hats and other clean, new hunting gear were thought to attract seals and empower hunters.
(5) In a story told by Yup’ik Elder Paul John of Nelson Island, “The Boy Who Went to Live with the Seals,” a hunter puts on a bentwood hat and becomes a seabird (specifically a ciguraq, or Kittlitz’s murrelet) in the eyes of the seals he is pursuing.(6) As the disguised bird/hunter approaches, he breathes out a fog that puts the seals to sleep.(7) Bird images—painted on the hats or added in the form of feathers and ivory carvings of beaks, heads, and wings—refer to this change from human to avian form, and similar images were added to hunting visors.(8)
Men dressed in bentwood hats when they took part in ceremonies, such as launching kayaks in the spring, celebrations for the first bearded seal catch of the year, and the Bladder Festival.(9) During Nakaciuryaraq [Bladder Festival], the bladders of all seals taken by hunters during the year were returned to the sea through a hole cut in the winter sea ice. The return of the bladders—which in Yup’ik belief contain the animals’ souls—ensured that the seals would reappear in the spring, clothed in new bodies.
(10) During a Bladder Festival observed by Edward W. Nelson at Kushunuk (Qissunaq) in 1879, all of the men placed their hunting hats in the center of the qasgiq [men’s community house] beneath hanging seal bladders and hunting weapons, and men wearing hunting hats danced the motions of various birds.(11) In 1991, Elder Billy Lincoln recalled participating in these dances at Bladder Festivals on Nelson Island.(12) Anthropologist Ann Fienup-Riordan concluded that, “Here, in the presence of the bladders by the symbolic hole in the ice, the hunters donned their hunting helmets and acted out the part of the birds in whose form the seals perceived them . . .”(13)
1. Fienup-Riordan 1994:129
2. Black 1991:63; Fienup-Riordan 1994:129, 2005:205-07; Michael 1967:114; Nelson 1899:167
3. Curtis 1930:30; Lantis 1946:172; Meade and Fienup-Riordan 2005:244-49
4. Lantis 1947:152
5. Fienup-Riordan 1994:91
6. Fienup-Riordan 1994:129
7. Curtis 1930:80
8. Black 1991:36-41; Fienup-Riordan 1990a, 1994:124-40
9. Lantis 1946:184; 1947:43, 57; Meade and Fienup-Riordan 2005:245-49
10. Fienup-Riordan 1994:266-98; Himmelheber 1993:15-16; Jacobsen 1977:149-50
11. Nelson 1899:383
12. Fienup-Riordan 1994:137
13. Fienup-Riordan 1994:139