Reading #1

Theme 1: Ethnic Identity

Period: Precontact
Type of Evidence: Oral Tradition

The Legend of the Fur Seal Islands

Recounted by Father Ivan Veniaminov in Notes on the Islands of the Unalashka District, 1984 (originally 1840), pp. 134-5. Father Ivan was the Russian Orthodox priest assigned to the Unalaska district which included the Pribilof Islands (1824-34). He later became Bishop of Kamchatka, the Kurile Islands, and the Aleutians (1840), then Metropolitan of Moscow (1868), and after his death was glorified as St. Innocent in 1977.

These islands became known not earlier than the year 1786. The navigator, Mr. Pribylov, then in the service of the Lebedev-Lastochkin company, was the first Russian to discover them. He was not, however, their first explorer because . . . traces were found of some earlier visitor, not long before Pribylovís time. One must assume that had that visit occurred at a remote date, the sword hilt would have corroded and the place where the fire was made obliterated by grass growth.

But if Aleut tradition is to be believed, handed down to the present in their tales, they had known of the Pribilofs long before the arrival of the Russians. They called, and continue to call, them Ami{, ascribing their discovery to the following incident:

I}adaagi{, son of a certain Unimak toion (chief) by the name of Akkagnikax, while traveling around in his baidarka (ulu{ta{), had been carried away from shore by a storm coming up from the southeast. It being impossible for him to approach his home shore or any other place, he had been forced to commit himself to the mercy of the wind and had, so it seems, after three or four days, been carried to the island of St. Paul, the northernmost of the Pribilofs. Here he remained until spring, hunting various animals. In the spring, during clear weather, he saw the peaks of Unimak and decided to put to sea and, after a voyage of three or four days, safely reached his native Unimak, bringing with him many sea otter tails and pelts. They point out on St. Paul a spot where his barabara is supposed to have been.

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