Alaska Native Collections – Sharing Knowledge


Whaling dart head

ulukarsuuq “whaling dart blade”
Language: Koniag Sugpiaq (Kodiak Island dialect)

The reason we weren’t supposed to touch them [whaling dart heads] is that the shamans used to have some awful strong poisons. They poisoned the whales or paralyzed the whales…I’ve heard many stories where people touched them and got sick, or their hands start rotting until they put them back.

—Sven Haakanson Sr., 1997

Hunters armed with poison-tipped darts or spears set out in kayaks to kill humpback and fin whales. These men were ahhuhsulet, shamans who summoned spiritual power for the hunt through songs, talismans, and secret rituals. The poison they used was made from the roots of the monkshood flower. Whale poison, which was smeared on slate blades like this one, was considered to be so strong and dangerous that if birds flew over a place where it was stored they would drop dead from the sky.

Culture: Sugpiaq (Alutiiq)
Region: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Village: Karluk
Object Category: Hunting
Dimensions: Length 19cm (left), 25cm (right)
Accession Date: 1887
Source: William J. Fisher (collector)
Museum: National Museum of Natural History
Museum ID Number: E127759