Alaska Native Collections – Sharing Knowledge


Gunnel board

People respected the killer whales and didn’t bother them. They would ask the whales for anything to help their hunting. Sometimes the whales used to get the people some seal by scaring the seals over to the hunter. The people would talk to the whales through an oar (on their boats out in the ocean).

—Herman Moonin, from “Aleksandrovsk, English Bay in its Traditional Way,” 1981

Gunnel boards fit on the front deck of a Sugpiaq kayak, one on each side. Skin cords passed through slots in the boards to ties down harpoons and other equipment. This board is painted with images of sea otters, which the hunters hoped to catch, and with killer whales, which could be summoned to assist in the hunt. Hunters spoke to the whales through a paddle held in the water. The head of a cormorant, possibly another helping spirit, is carved at the end of the board.

Culture: Sugpiaq (Alutiiq)
Region: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Village: Eagle Harbor
Object Category: Boats
Dimensions: Length 101cm
Accession Date: 1884
Source: William J. Fisher (collector)
Museum: National Museum of Natural History
Museum ID Number: E090420