Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program

Elijah Kakinya

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Elijah Kakinya


"I was raised by my parents and I listened and did what they told me, when a person hears a story and remembers it he tells it to others. My father was a great story teller. In the evenings, he would tell stories from the time he was small and remembers. Right now I’m going to talk about the weather, even through the white people already know it. Right after my father was born, one of the old men of Tulugaq named Itchuġaq died. When he died, there was an eclipse of the sun. The people said that the sun was gone forever. My father was just born then but he remembered someone telling him about it. The people of Tulugaq really thought that the sun was gone forever. Not long ago, many white people came here to see the eclipse of the sun. The white people didn’t want us to be outside during the eclipse because they said you can get blind from it. They took pictures of it themselves. The eclipse of the sun has occurred twice. The time when my father was born and this last time when I’m an old man. It will probably happen the third time.

One summer long ago, they were holding Eskimo games at Niġliq. This was when the animals were abundant. My earliest memory is of that winter. We were all asleep when I heard my parents cry. I was about three years old and since then I’ve remembered things. Kids usually start remembering things from the time they’re three. My wife also remembers that time. That winter the animals were abundant. During that game, my wife’s father and Maniksitaq were runners to Utqiaġvik (Barrow) and they held the games at Uiliktuq. My earliest memories were down there. When my parents were traveling, I would ride and cry after my younger brother. I never even put my clothes on then, although my parents would try to talk to me. I didn’t even want to be alive anymore. I wanted to go to my younger brother. I wanted to see him again and be with him. My parents and their relatives took me up inland on the Sagvaġniqtuuq River. Christianity was just starting then from the people from Utqiaġvik and also people from the ships. That spring was when I saw a person perform shamanism. His hands were tied up behind him and a drum was placed in front of him. He was put in a small tent. He started drumming on the drum and singing. When his wife took him out he had a big knife stuck to the lower part of his breastbone. His name was Tuurauraq, my father’s mother’s younger brother. Many people died that winter because of a flu epidemic, I guess. The runners from Utqiaġvik were dying too, on their way back to Utqiaġvik. So did a log of other people on their way back home to Barter Island and other places. They said it was measles and many people died from it, all the way to Canada. At the same time, the animals were getting scarce. My father and his many relatives went up inland that time. That fall, Christianity began. Aalaak, Suvałiq’s father began preaching. He would sing made up songs during church services. My mother used to bring me to them. They say Anmaaq’s father, Niaquyuk, used to tell his children when they started going to church, that he would go to church when a white man with books came to preach. He said he wouldn’t go to church to listen to an Eskimo who was making up his own songs. Kunagrak, Ahsogeak’s father, was the same, but he started preaching also. My parents used to go to church services and bring me. My mother used to carry me in her back or let me walk, but I remembered. My father used to say that that winter there weren’t too many animals. People would walk hunting but they never saw too many animals. Once in a while they would get caribou. When it was freezing up, my father started mentioning going east towards Hula Hula, saying that there might be more animals there. He kept talking about moving there but no one wanted to go along with him. He had relatives already there so in November my parents left to go there, following the edge of the mountains. They had seven dogs when they started but they lost some be cause of starvation. Pretty soon they had only two dogs. Once in a while my father would kill a ptarmigan. When we woke up one day, the pup we kept in the house also had died. I hated to leave it but we had to go on. They finally arrived at Salliġutchiq and from there they continued on. While they were traveling, my mother said that she saw caribou tracks. They hadn’t traveled very far, when they saw man’s tracks. My father told my mother to make camp there while he went on to look for people. While we were making camp, we saw ptarmigan but my mother missed shooting them. She put up camp in now time. They say she was a strong woman. She could hold down five strong dogs from running off. By then we had only one dog. When it got warm in our shelter, I went to sleep and I hadn’t slept very long when my father woke me up to eat. He had found people not to far from where we camped and found out that there were lots of caribou around. My mother also gave our one dog some broth and some meat later on. The next morning, someone from the village came for us with dogs. We found out that mother’s father was there also with many of my father’s relatives. We spent one winter there and in the spring returned to Sagvaġniqtuuq. When we returned we saw that people had starved that winter because there were hardly any animals. Wherever we stopped we saw them. Then one day we saw man’s tracks. My father started following them. He hadn’t gone very far when my mother saw some people. So they called him back and started going towards the people. Before we got there, we saw a lady coming towards us. It turned out to be my cousin, Tuugrak, my father’s older sister’s daughter. When she reached us, she told us that people starved to death that winter. Her younger sister was among them.

When we reached their camp, they told us many of the people had starved to death that winter. That spring, this one man had gotten ten ptarmigan and was sure that his family would make it. He hadn’t eaten for some time, so he had a few bits of raw ptarmigan. On his way home he got sick. He would eat snow, but he was dehydrating. He made it home and his father tried to help him. His father was so sorry that he never told him that a person is not supposed to eat raw ptarmigan. The father blamed himself so much that he never even tried to cook for his other son who was in bed at the time.  They all starved to death there, never touching the ten ptarmigan which his older son had brought home. Among other people who died of starvation were a little old lady from Kobuk area named Kavlaq, whit two sons named Avaanuluk and Inaluaq. Kavlaq and Avaanuluk died in their tent and Inaluaq froze to death while walking. Another person was Pituk, my father’s sister’s son, who was trapping ptarmigan. One day when he went out to check, someone had followed his tracks and took a ptarmigan he trapped. When he returned he started accusing this man. This man and his wife were bad people, maybe shamans. Anyway, during that night Pituk started dehydrating and died. That man was a shaman and he had something to do with his death. There was also Pilala and her son Anauttauraq. Anauttauraq left his mother when she died and walked to someone’s cache. He started looking for matches, letting other things get blown away by the wind and getting his hands frozen. He died right there. Before he died, two people came by him and he asked them for a drink of water. He told them that he was past saving, but he wanted a drink of water. After giving him water, they left him there, following his wishes. Then there was Utualuuraq’s father, Aqamak, who would hook fish and his wife would trap. While fishing one day he caught a fish. He was so happy he started jumping around and lost his fish through another fishing hole. That fish was to save his life and he also died of starvation. That spring, his wife Aaqhaaliq started trapping ptarmigan. She was able to feed her two kids and save them but she was so full of grief for her husband, she quit going to her kids and they died. My cousin and her husband heard their cries when they were traveling. But they were also grieving for Pituk and just went past the two kids and they died also. That year many people died of starvation when the animals got scarce. This happened after I was able to remember things. My father had said that there were no animals to catch for food twice since he was born. It had happened before he was born also when many people starved to death.  I don’t know the names of all the people that died then except for one. I have only heard of one name my father used to mention. He said that Aanigaaguraq starved to death at that certain place not too far from here. That was the only mention of a name I’ve heard. That was before my father was born. But this one I’ve told you about happened when I could remember. Tukle might have been born then too. Utuana lost his father and younger brother and sister too, during that time. He was staying with his aunt Putuligayuk at the time. My wife knew and would probably tell me if I made some mistakes. Since I started hunting for myself, I don’t recall anyone starving to death. I don’t think I have much to tell about the subject now. People long ago were strong willed and Christianity toned them down. People nowadays are rudely bold. When you try to tell them something they always have smart answers. They don’t want for anything anymore. Everything is easy for them. No wonder they’re getting rude. They have never been hungry. They didn’t grow up like us. My generation grew up listening to their parents. They can have something to eat whenever they want. Nowadays, there’s money everywhere and everyone has it easy. They can fly to wherever they want, whenever they want. That’s how life is now. That’s what happened in Noah’s time. People would tell him that there would be no flood because everyone was having an easy time. Everybody isn’t bold now but a lot of them think we, the elders, talk nonsense when we talk.  They never had any hard times and they’ve never been hungry. There’s all kinds of food and money now. They’re pitiful, but there’s nothing we can do. But that doesn’t me we should give up on them. I have another story which I got form two old men about the weather changes that I remember and will tell one of these days. They say that the weather changed twice long ago. There’s other people who remember the story also like Tukle and Ahkivgak." (pg. 148-149)