Singing is a favorite past time in Alutiiq communities. People of all ages enjoy sharing a tune or learning a melody from an Elder. In addition to expressing emotion, songs are a form of story telling. They record community history and express values. There are many different types of songs. Today people share everything from country western tunes to Orthodox hymns, but they also remember traditional verses sung for hunting, curing illness, praising ancestors, dancing, and visiting. Many of these songs once helped Alutiiqs obtain assistance from the spirits that influenced life on earth. Powerful Alutiiq whalers sang songs to control the movement of an injured whale. Hunters learned animal songs to attract game. Shamans used songs to drive away illness caused by evil.
Community members recording songs for Generations, an An Alutiiq music collection.
In classical Alutiiq society, singing singing was also a central part of winter festivals. The host of such gatherings hired a spiritual leader to guide the festivities. Well versed in traditional songs and ceremonial etiquette, this person used songs to move guests from the everyday world into a magical realm. With singing, people welcomed spirits to the gathering, honored them, and appealed for aid. Alutiiqs also sang to venerate ancestors. A forebearer might be memorialized with a mask and a specially written tune. Men also paired masks and songs to tell stories - to remember a great hunt, to recount a battle, or to share family history.
Learn More: Alutiit Cauyait - Alutiiq Music Exhibit
Neresta - The Louse Song
Villagers in the past were often bothered by lice from the many furs they kept in their homes; at that time there was little effective relief. They made fun of the problem with lively songs like this one, where even the louse gets to banya. Performed by Elder Phyllis Peterson.
Neresta taarimallria. - The louse whisked himself.
Taarirpaguarluni. - He whisked himself long and hard [showing off].
Ingqim yaamat ciqiluki. - The baby louse [nit] splashed water on the rocks.
neresta atunguaruarluni. - And the louse sang to his little self [for the heck of it].