Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Appropriate Technology???

Every year, the magazine Scientific American puts out a special issue devoted to a single topic. This year's issue is entitled the end. Or is it?
Popular science magazines aren't noted for their deep thinking. Their editorial content trends firmly toward cheerleading science and technology. So the current issue of Scientific American is a pleasant surprise.
Among other things it has a list of technologies that in the opinion of the editors the world would be better off without. What a concept - technology is not all an unalloyed good! Scientific American is not the first body to have this idea, but for a cheerleading magazine, it is a good start.
It also has an article on resources that the earth does not have limitless supplies of. Among them, oil, silver, gold, copper, coal, all due to run out in this century.
So what does any of this have to do with building skin boats? Nothing, directly, but wood wasn't one of the things we're expected to run out of this century. So skin boat building has some promise for the future. Skinboat building has its problems as well, like what to use for a skin in place of nylon or polyester when the oil is gone later in this century.
Or if you're living in a place that has no wood like Easter Island where you've cut down all your trees, what do you make the frame out of? Problems, problems.
But perhaps the part of skinboat building I like the best, apart from the difficulty of finding a suitable skin is the low tech nature of the process. It isn't reliant on any upstream industries for its raw materials. You can get your own wood, whittle your own dowels and spin your own yarn.
OK, I'm starting to sound like a survivalist. I'm not a survivalist. But I do like whittling my own dowels and thinking about how I would drill holes without electricity and I do own a rip saw, the kind you operate with muscle power. etc. etc.
Well, enough congratulating myself on what a clever fellow I am. Go out and buy a copy of the current Scientific American and read all about the possible ways that the world will end. What the heck disaster sells magazines.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Shark Bites

Duane Strosaker, our paddler friend down in Southern California had a run in with a great white shark. Go here for pictures and Duane's account.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Mask Burning Ceremony

The people of Kodiak had a mask burning tradition which like most things native was at one time suppressed in an effort to force the native populations into becoming more like Americans with a European background. However, the people of Kodiak are now trying to reclaim some of their suppressed and lost traditions, the mask burning ceremony among them.

Andrew Abyo, pictured above left with myself at the right invited us, attendees of the Aleut culture camp, to come and view his dance group perform at the mask burning ceremony.

Here is the dance troupe, about half of which is Andrew and his family which would be a key part of the mask burning ceremony.

The man who had made the mask, pictured here in the red shirt, explained to us the background of the ceremony. The ceremony is essentially a memorial service. Details of how the ceremony was practiced in the past are vague. Likewise, information about what the burned masks looked like are scarce since they were burned. But one or two masks survived in museums. Apparently they were incomplete and not used in the ceremony. The mask for this ceremony was based on the ones in the museum.

And now it gets more complicated. In addition to the friends of the dancers there was a group of young people, immigrants into this country who were part of some sort of reality show that the Discovery Channel was doing. The show follows these young people as they travel all over America, trying to find their own identity. The man holding the mask and the woman to the right were both part of the Discovery cast. The woman is handing out goose feathers which people tied to the mask. Each feather represented a prayer or offering that would be released when the mask was burned. While this was going on, two camera crews each composed of a camera man and a sound man zoomed about the area taking pictures of everything that was going on. Surprisingly, the ceremony was powerful enough in its own right that the camera crews didn't detract from it substantially.

Once everyone who wanted to had attached their feather to the mask, one of the dancers donned the mask and the group danced.

When the dance was over, the mask went into the fire.

And here it burns, still recognizable as a face.

And finally, it fell apart.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Aleut Bent Wood Hat Making

Bent wood hat making at the APIA Culture Camp was once again being taught this year by Patty Lekanoff-Gregory. Bent wood hats come in many different configuration from short visors to long billed visors to full-crowned chief's hats. Patty teaches them all.

Hats are bent over forms, this one being for a short visor.

And this one for a large visor or full crowned hat.

Blanks for the hats are cut out on a band saw from poplar stock sawed down to one half inch sheets. The blanks are then carved down in certain places to make them more pliable. Thicker ridges are left in strategic places to make the bent wood take on the proper shape.

Once completed, the blanks are kept wet to maintain their pliability.

When the time comes for bending, the carved blanks are put in boiling water till uniformly hot and then are bent over the bending from. Action at this point is very focused as you can see from the picture. The wood only stays hot and pliable for a short time. If you wait too long and the wood stiffens up, it may crack and hours of work carving go down the drain.

When the bending is complete, the hat is left to dry in its form. When dry, it can be removed from the form and will maintain its shape.

Here Patty and I are showing off the long billed visor she made for me.

My part of the deal was to make Patty a paddle.

Third annual Urban Unangax^ Culture Camp

For the second year in a row, I was invited to participate in the Urban Unangax^ culture camp put on by the APIA, the Aleut Pribilof Islands Association. Recognizing the fact that most Aleuts these days live in urban environments, mainly Anchorage, the APIA has been putting on the culture camp at their new headquarters building in Anchorage. As you might guess from the name, the purpose of the camp is to teach traditional Aleut or Unangan cultural activities to both school age children and adults.
Classes are given in language, basket weaving, regalia, drum making, traditional food preparation, hunting hat construction, kayak construction, dance and more.
A pictorial overview follows.

Moses Dirks who hails from Atka was this year's instructor in traditional foods. Here he demonstrates how to fillet a salmon in preparation for air drying.

And here are the students following his lead.

Moses is also one of the few hundred Aleuts who still grew up speaking the Atkan dialect of Unangam Tunuu, the Aleut language. Moses helped with the Aleut pronunciation of kayak parts which Mike Livingston recorded. Moses is on the right and I am on the left with an empty plate heading back into the chow line for seconds.

Which is as good a point as any to introduce the pot luck put on on the last day of culture camp. People bring lots of goodies which anyone would recognize and also Alaskan favorites such as caribou, fish pie, smoked fish, fish soup, etc.

Aleut women were noted for their fine weaving and basketry which employed specially dried and processed beach grass. Weaving went on inside the building and we were building kayaks outside so I didn't get a chance to take more pictures of the many creations. Next time.

Kids learned traditional dances which they are putting on here before the big potluck in front of an appreciative audience.

Older kids put on their dance outside on the lawn.

Back when Russia still controlled Alaska, they move some of the Aleuts to the Commander Islands to do the sea otter hunting there. When Russia sold Alaska to the US, the Commander Islands stayed under the control of the Russians. The Russians like the Americans had a policy of modernizing the natives and so, Aleut Culture went into a decline in Russia as it did in the US. Russian Aleuts now are trying to regain their culture and three representatives from Russia were here at the culture camp to see how American Aleuts were teaching traditional culture. In the photo above, two of the Russians on the right and Sally Swetzof one of the American instructors join in on singing a traditional Aleut song.

Younger children, besides learning dances and language also made paper versions of the traditional hunting hats. Each one was also given a traditional Aleut name which was written on a name tag which the photo shows them wearing.

Mask making, a traditional Aleut activity was not taught at the culture camp, but one of the older students improvised with a piece of discarded kayak skin.

My own participation was in kayak making. This photo shows two baidarkas made by Mike Livingston and myself at last year's camp which now adorn the lobby of the APIA headquarters building.

Future kayak builders were also in attendance. They were skeptical at first but after some persuasion, got into the act.

And I almost forgot the Native Youth Olympics. This year's champion in the high kick was on hand to demonstrate her skill. The object of this sport is to kick a ball suspended above the contestant's head. Due to lag time of my camera, I wasn't able to get it to click the shutter at the critical moment so you have to take my word that she did kick the ball.