Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Qaariitaaryik!

Long before the missionaries came to Alaska bringing Christianity to the Native peoples, the Yupik Eskimos had a festival which they celebrated every autumn in late October. It was called Qaariitaaryik (ka-GEE-da-gik). In modern times the word has come to mean “October,” as well as “Halloween.” One of my favorite patients, a delightful elder who lives here in Bethel, came in to see me this morning for a blood pressure check and to get her medications renewed, and I was able to get her talking about Qaariitaaryik and how the festival was celebrated in the old days.

She said the festival was about honoring the spirits of ancestors and those who had passed on. First the young people of the village would go to the qasegiq (council house) and two of the old men would take charcoal and ashes and decorate their faces with designs. The old men would laugh a lot while they did this. The young people loved seeing each other’s faces with the designs on them.

Then the young people would go from house to house in the village. Some adults would go too. The rule was that you had to be silent going from house to house, to honor the spirits. If you made noise the spirits would be mad and would pull you down under the earth. In front of each house the young people would jump in the air and say “Umm-pah!” three times. Those who lived in the house would let them in and they would all sit down in the main room facing the elder of the house. Each person carried a bowl to hold food. Each young person would be given a small amount of food. There was no candy back then. They would be given some frozen fish or agutuk (a mixture of fat, sugar, berries and whitefish known as “Eskimo ice cream,” a highly prized treat). Each person would throw a little piece of food over their shoulder, for the spirits. They said they could hear the spirits chomping and smacking their lips over these morsels. Then they would eat the food in their bowls and go on to the next house.

After every house had been visited, the young people would go home, very full. Children rarely experienced full stomachs in those times. They were told not to clean their faces of the charcoal designs. The spirits would come in the night and clean their faces for them. Some children would try to stay awake all night, only pretending to be asleep, so they could see the spirits come and clean their faces. But they never did. They woke up in the morning with clean faces and knew the spirits had come.

Happy Qaariitaaryik!



Blogger Flea said...

Many happy returns of the day!

I read too quickly: I thought the treats were Eskimo pies.

(I bet you get that a lot...)



Tuesday, October 31, 2006 4:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Tundra PA, for the comment on my blog as well! My buddy Matt is working as a doc up in Bethel and recommended your blog. Great writing! Had to link you! I think I'm going to have to link to this recent entry, directly. This is fascinating!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006 5:17:00 AM  
Blogger Borneo Breezes said...

Tundra - Your are doing a wonderful thing to document these stories of the elders.
There was a magazine that came out monthly called "Them Days"in Labrador that collected reminiscences of the elders that was appreciated by everybody, old and young. Your access must be partly because they are people you know and care for, but you should know that you do a favour for all of us.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006 6:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Carly@rock.com said...

Tundra PA...I just stumbled on to you while looking at nursing jobs in Alaska.
I can't tell you how much of a welcome reprieve your site was to view and read. I bookmarked you... and will tune in daily. I love your story about Qaariitaaryik! I want to see a pix of YOU too! I am an RN, looking for work where it counts...as in memories and relationships.

Friday, November 03, 2006 7:18:00 PM  

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