Quga: An Ethnoscience Analysis of Ancient Unangax̂

Michael Livingston

Abstract

For thousands of years, hunters and gatherers lived in the Aleutians with spiritual beliefs tightly interwoven into almost every aspect of daily life with help from Qugax̂ (spirits who assist). When Russian and Europeans arrived in Alaska in 1741, they wrote journals containing irreplaceable information about Unangax̂ (indigenous peoples of the Aleutians) before the subsequent onslaught of Russian fur hunters forever altered ancient belief systems. This paper utilizes an ethnoscience analysis that focused on seven objects or concepts (loud sea lion voice, bravery, red ochre, feathers, belts, amulets, and knives) to attempt to reconstruct how the people might have utilized spiritual beliefs to safeguard themselves. This analysis indicates that phenomena documented in 1741 had multiple layers of meaning within the ancient Unangax̂ spiritual world, whose purpose may have been to provide spiritual protection during an encounter with strangers who might become aggressive or violent.

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