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Friday, November 20, 2009

Ann Fienup-Riordan

Fienup-Riordan, A. (1990). Eskimo essays: yup'ik lives and how we see them. Rutgers University Press and London

The author, explains to us the loss and the remembrance of masks. She explains what the symbols on the masks are, especially the circle and dot motif. She explains that this specific symbol is not just on masks, it is also on dance fans, story knife and many more.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Circle and Dot

           The circle and dot motif is a symbol of physical and spiritual movement between two worlds. The circle and dot are also known as "an eye and a hole." The eye is a symbol for the joints in animals. The elbows, knees, shoulders, hips, feet, fins, tails and so on, are always symbolized by the eyes. According to the shaman's, every joint has a little soul.
         After puberty, women would tattoo the circle and dot motif on their wrists. She is also advised to circle a salmon berry blossom with a hair of her own. It was believed that this would help both her future of gathering goods and that the salmon berries would feed everyone for a year.
        Then, these circular tattoos were placed on a young man's wrists and elbows after his first kill of certain animal species. This design is to improve the vision through the spiritual and physical transformation. Then, in the oral traditions, if transformation occurs, black circles are placed around the eyes.

Ann Fienun-Riordan says that the circle and dot design symbolizes the movement between different worlds, either "spiritual cycling, supernatural vision, or social transformation" (Fienun-Riordan, 1990).

Monday, November 16, 2009

Some Rolls of the Women

When the grandmother would tell stories, she would talk about morals and roles the young girl has and will have when she becomes a women.
Here are some roles she will have as a women.
      Once the husband brings home an animal he has killed, the women would have to go through the process of skinning the animal. The women would skin the animal, scrape the fat off, wash the skin, stretch it, scrape it again, soak the skin, lastly tan the skin.
      The women would then make cloths out of the skin. They would have to know exactly how much material she will need to make the clothing fit her husband, children and herself. She would then have to do all the cooking and gathering of "non-game" food.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Alaska Native Collection

Smithsonian Institution. (2002). Alaska native collection: sharing knowledge. Retrieved November 9, 2009 from

The Smithsonian Institution gives, not only, the scientists perspective, but also the elders perspective of the story knife. At first the site starts with telling us the name and what region it came from. Then, the site gives a quote from Neva Rivers. Next, the scientific information is given to us. Last, we are put in the "elders' shoes".

Not only does this site give information about the Yup'ik, but also the Athabaskan, Eyak, Inupiaq, Haida, Northern Siberian, St. Lawrence Island Yup'ik, Sugpiaq, Tlingit, Tsimshian and last Unangan. In these categories are numerous amounts of objects.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Science View

Sciences View
Culture: Yup'ik
Region: Togiak River
Object Category: Toys, games
Object Type: Story knife
Dimensions: Length 25.5cm
Accession Date: 1886
Source: Sgt. Samuel Applegate (donor, collector)
Museum: National Museum of Natural History

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Who made them, when they were given and what are some designs?

From the cite Alaska Native Culture: Sharing Knowledge, also states who made the stories. The fathers or sometime the grandfathers would make these story knives. These story knives were given to the young girls during Elriq, this is the Great Feast of the Dead. On these story knives were carvings. Theses carvings resembled the salmon, sea gulls, seals and other animals, but most of them were simple and plain. Then once the girl went through her first period or when she becomes a mother she would have to give the story knife away as with all of her other toys.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Neva Rivers also talks about what the designs on the story knives were. She said that they were decorations that made the story knives look nice, pretty. She also said that they were not just for that. They were their own decorations, the families designs, but there were some fathers that would put any decorations of what they wanted. These designs are normally family designs.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Creation of the Story Knives

The young girls would use rounded sticks or pieces of wood for a story knife. The parents were worried that the girls would hurt themselves if it were to be sharp. The story knives were not too fancy and they would sometimes even have huge handles. The girls would also put snow in there mouths or ice which would melt it. The snow or ice would become hard and sharp and become their story knife. To save their iced story knife they would dig a whole outside of their door and covered it.
"The story knives were also made from hardwood, caribou antlers, or whatever was available to them.", says Neva Rivers and John Phillip Sr. The story knives were even made out of walrus tusks.
Making Story Knives

Joan Hamilton

The Alaska Native Collection "Sharing Knowledge", interviewed Joan Hamilton with John Phillip Sr., Neva Rivers.
Before Joan's time the Yupiit would use the story knives during the winter. We began to us them in the summer in Joan's time. When she was younger, they would normally do their story knifing in the entryway during the winter. She also said that before they were to speak, they had a type of signal. This signal was to "suck up saliva in their mouth". Then they would begin telling their own story, often starting with a picture of a house.
Neva Rivers says that the story knives were her pencils. She would try to copy the drawings that her older sisters drew as they told their story. She adds that she would tell stories inside the porch. Her and her friends would bring in snow and flatten it out. She resembles it to as "her sheet of paper". After flattening the snow out, the young girls would sometimes sprinkle water on to it. Neva Rivers then adds that she would hide it so no one else will take it. Therefore these story knives must have been very well taken care of it.     Elder's Descusion

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Yupiit Prints

Charette, P.J. (2009). Retrieved November 7,2009 from

Phillip John Aarnaquq Charette is also trying to bring the knowledge of story knifing back. Instead of printing in the mud, he uses ink and to print it to keep it on paper. One of his prints is the with the story, "The Dance."

He says that this story is told by a left handed person. Therefore you read this from the right corner to the left.
He then describes the story. The hashes on the upper and lower part of each of these images symbolize footprints in which the story is going. 
Then he begins telling the story. There is a father, mother and their daughter dancing their dance of life. The young girl moves toward adulthood and is then in a society unlike hers. She then begins to dance her dance of life. In the next chapter, the woman finds her soul mate while dancing together. Then, they begin to share bloodlines together. The next one shows that their daughter is starting the next bloodline and begins a new dance. In the last chapter this shows the granddaughter continuing the bloodline and her own dance which in-turn completes the circle of life. The background, in Yup'ik, represents the symbol of the circle of life and a gathering place. 

Friday, November 6, 2009

Talking to a Carpenter

When I was talking to my dad, he said that he knew a little about the story knife. When he first moved up to Akiachak in the 70's he was very fascinated by the Alaska Natives and the different cultures. He was so interested that he married a Yup'ik women.
He also did a lot of research that dealt with working with your hands. He came across the story knife, and figured out that the holes were drilled by, an object Josh Stafford had chosen, the bow drill.
The bow drill was used in many different ways. One was to make a fire, this was a more efficient way then of just rubbing to pieces of sticks together. Another way was to drill holes into ivory, bone and wood. In doing this the sharp point end would have to be more dense than the object being drilled.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

One Elders View

Ilegvak, N. (2005). Akiahack-then and now. Retrieved November 5 2009 from

Nellie Ilegvak (Fritz) Moses was born on November 15, 1934. On the 12th of October in the year 2005, Louann Rank, Marla Statscewich, Sophie Kasyulie, Frank Chingliak and Mary Frederick interviewed her in her home in Akiachak. During this interview she was talking about the story knives. She said that these story knives were made out of ivory carved by their fathers. They also got their story knives from strips of metal, "strapping." She also included that they used the metal wire that was on the coffee cans as curlers.

When she was a young girls she would story knife with other young girls in the community. They would tell stories of what actually happened to them that day. This was like their way of giving out news. As she grew up and became a grandmother, she noticed that when her grandchildren write a paper, they are doing the same thing as what they used to when she was a young girl.

When she was in high school her and her friends would use single piece of paper and a pencil. They would go around and tell their story and draw what they were saying. After telling and drawing their story they would erase it and then the next girl would go.

The symbols were learned by observation, is what Moses says. She would observe older women telling stories and what the symbols they would use to help them tell their story.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Yaaruilta on the Kuskoskwim River

Sunskin,Diane, Anna Phillip. (1984). Yupik eskimo folklore and children's play activites.

Diane Sunskin has an Ed.D. and Anna Phillip is the mayor of Tuluksak, a small village 50 miles outside of Bethel. They document some symbols that are used when story knifing. They also give some great examples to follow.
To the right is a picture from the document they have created to give us some example of some symbols used during the activity story knifing.

Yaaruilta means "Let's go story knife." in Yup'ik. Anna Phillip has got the chance to give out a couple of examples of some oral traditional stories and their symbols. In doing this, similar to the puppet to practice language skills, you are able to do the same with the Yaaruilta (Suskin and Philip, 1984).

Monday, November 2, 2009

Langdon, Steve J. (2002) The Native People of Alaska. Yupiit, p.52. Find the book on Amazon.

            In this book you will find the Unangan/Aleut, Sugpiaq/Alutiiq, Yupiit, Inupiat, Athabaskans and Tlingit and Haida regions.Then in you will find that he explains the history, population, technologies, diet, beliefs, trade, warfare, ceremonies, first contact with Europeans and how that effected the way of their life as its sub-points of each group.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


According to Steve Langdon, the yaaruin is used by young girls. Before the Europeans came the fathers would carve a story knife for his young girls. These story knives would be either carved out of wood, bone or ivory. Then the grandmothers would tell a moral story and the young girl would have to draw symbols in the mud that went with the story. In many villages this tradition is lost.
When I was younger my sister and I would just story knife with a butter knife. Our grandmother did not tell us stories but we told each other "scary" stories.