January 1, 1741
The Aleuts lived on the land and drew some sustenance from it. Berries and herbs as well as a variety of birds and their eggs complemented their diet. Foxes and other small land animals were eaten, but these were not nearly as important a resource as the marine mammals.
It is not known with certainty when the Aleuts first migrated to the
wind-swept islands extending from the Alaska Peninsula westward for
over 1,000 miles. Archaeological evidence suggests that their ancestors,
as those of other North American aboriginals, originated in Asia, but that
they did not settle on the islands initially. Presumably, they crossed the
Bering Sea land bridge, then moved south along the Alaska coast and
eventually west to inhabit the chain of islands. That the Aleuts and
Eskimos had common ancestors seems clear; yet in the several thousand
years of adapting to their maritime environment they developed a
singular culture which diverged from that of mainland Eskimos,
Differences in language and customs evolved which stamped the Aleu!
culture as a highly distinctive one. These people flourished on their
volcanic islands by adapting their life pattern to the dictates of the sea. Of
all the people of northern Asia and North America, none has developed
so predominant a maritime culture as the Aleuts. The land resources of
the Aleutians are slender compared with those of the surrounding
waters- fantastically rich in fish and mammals-thus the island people
related more closely to the sea. In poctic truth, the Aleut once spoke of
"my brother, the sea otter."
Yet the Aleuts lived on the land and drew some sustenance from it.
Berries and herbs as well as a variety of birds and their eggs
complemented their diet. Foxes and other small land animals were eaten,
but these were not nearly as important a resource as the marine
mammals. Certain deities were associated with the things of the land,
while others belonged to the sea and its creatures. These two realms were
kept separate. If, for example, a hunter wanted to lighten the rock-ballast
in his kayak, he carried the rocks ashore. He would not dare anger the
sea gods by throwing the rocks into the water. Conversely, the bones of
the first sea mammal taken in a hunt could not be left on the land but had
to be returned to the sea. Land and sea spirits alike assisted the Aleuts'
sea hunting and were propitiated by colorful ceremonies enlivened by
music and dancing. Other spirits protected individuals as well. Dead
relatives and one's animal protector, having beneficial powers, lent special
meaning to carvings and designs on amulets and wooden headgear. Evil
spirits caused sickness and death. By raising supernatural power against
these, cures could be effected by shamans, gifted individuals who knew
how to deal with evil. Shamans crafted the sacred masks which were a
feature of various rituals.
Such Aleut beliefs and ceremonies resembled those of mainland
Eskimos, but there were differences. Aleuts did not fear the dead.
Eskimos did so, and swiftly disposed of the bodies of deceased relatives,
While the Aleuts postponed the departure of the dead from the living by
Petiods of mourning marked by various rituals. Wailing, drum beating,
and processions occupied the mourners until the bodies of the deceased
Were disposed of. Although the bodies of people of low status
and sometimes women and children--were cremated, others were buried
in the ground or in caves; accompanied by objects which served as
vitable offerings. Mummification was also practiced. Bodies, Were
simailmes prepared by replacing the viscera with grass. The dead were
dressed in heir best parkas wrapped in woven grass nets, and placed in
sitting position in dry eaves. All the articles associated with their ling
pursuits were left with the dead the baby's cradle, the woman's sewing
and cooking utensils, the hunter's kayak and weapons. In the spirit work
the mummified dead would have what was necessary to carry on. These
mummies have been well preserved despite the foggy, rainy climate of
the islands because they were placed in carefully selected, warm, dry
caves of volcanic hills. Once buried, the mummies were strictly left alone.
To molest them would cause death.