Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Aleuts Kayaks around the Pacific Rim

Ninety miles north of San Francisco on the Pacific coast stands Fort Ross, southernmost outpost of the Russian empire in North America.  The fort was an attempt to raise crops and animals to supply the Alaskan posts with food and leather.  The Russians brought Aleut kayakers and their kayaks with them.  The kayaks were used for mail runs to Bodega Bay and San Francisco and also for some occasional hunting and foraging.  Some of the Russian presence but none of the kayak paraphernalia has survived.
On the other side of the Pacific, between Kamchatka to the north and Hokkaido to the south lie the Kuril Islands.
The Islands were mostly under Russian control prior to 1855.  Just as the Russians brought Aleuts and their kayaks with them to North America, they brought Aleut kayakers with them to the Kuril Islands.  As in America, the Aleuts in the Kuril Islands were no doubt pressed into fur hunting and general gofer work. In 1875, a treaty between Japan and Russia moved the boundary between the two countries north to Kamchatka. In 1945, the boundary moved down to Hokkkaido.  Unlike in America where nothing of the kayaks remained,  in the Kuril Islands, the Japanese managed to collect some of the Aleut kayaks and their paraphernalia.  These objects are now preserved in Japanese museums.

And in closing, a picture of a three hole kayak by a Japanese Artist.

1 comment:

Christian said...

Funny that you mention Fort Ross! I was just there this last Sunday and spent quite a bit of time admiring the baidarkas they have on display in the visitor's center. I was surprised by the replica they have hanging on the wall in the theater room, it looks like a twin of mine, except it has the more traditional nose, and the coaming is attached to the gunwales, likely because it has a shorter beam.

I've finally got a bit of time to myself tomorrow so I'm going to see if I can't carve out my own paddle finally. Either way, I'll be returning your orange one pretty soon.