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James K. Wells
Alaska Methodist University Press

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Bow and Arrow





Hunters use a small bow and arrow for small animals like rabbits, ptarmigan, muskrats, and ducks, and a strong, large bow and arrow for bear, caribou, moose, mountain sheep, and other larger animals.


spearsThe big spear used for the bear is pointed with a bear's forearm bone, which is sharpened and tied securely with strong rawhide to a strong piece of birch, but it must be light enough to be handled easy also. The bear is speared from the side when he attacks. When the bear is ready to jump on the hunter he quickly jumps to the right side, and as the bear misses him and passes on the hunter pushes his spear into the side quickly and pulls it out again. At the next attack he does the same thing and then the bear is killed. Another way is by spearing the bear on the chest when he jumps to attack and then by standing the other end to the ground and holding it up so the bear pushes the point in and gets killed.

The spear used from the kayak is shorter. The point is made out of sharp jade or bone. It cuts into anything swimming, like caribou, or belugas down on the coast. Another spear used from the kayak is long and narrow with three sharp points. It is thrown at ducks, muskrats, and fish. It has a wooden handle with a small hook at the end to bold the spear when it is thrown to hit anything as far as 100 feet or more.


Snares are in all sizes. The braided sinew snares are used for ptarmigan and rabbits.

The snares for rabbits are set along their pathway along the river bank or creeks where there is lots of brush. The place for the snare is sometimes cut back to an open place and then fenced so the rabbit can pass at only one place where there is a snare, and oftentimes every snare set within the fenced area catches rabbits when there are lots of rabbits.

For ptarmigan green willows are cut and then set up to make a small fence around the snare. When the ptarmigan are feeding from these green willows and pass on through the opening, they get caught in a snare. The snares are usually set about fifty feet apart along the river bank. When the ptarmigan feed on the green willows, some pass on through this fenced area with a snare in it and get caught.

Ducks are snared along openings between lakes or along the sloughs where there is grass that ducks feed in. Geese can also be snared along their paths where they feed. The squirrel up in the mountains or along the open tundra in high places can also be snared at the mouth of their holes.

The snare is also used to catch bear. It is set along the pathway where the bears go up to spawning places of the salmon. The snare is a strong rawhide tied to a strong tree or a strong rooted willow, but along the pathway so the bear cannot go around it. This is really a big tie-up. The loop of the snare has a choker knot. The bear gets the knot tight and kills himself.

The snares used for the caribou are set way up high so the caribou can be caught in their antlers. This is set along their pathway where they go across creeks or where they pass through a timbered area.


Another way of catching animals is with a wooden trap with a weight on top. It is set for anything that goes for bait and is especially good for wolverine. It is usually set under a good-sized tree that has lots of branches to shade the trap.

Dry wood is used in the trap. Sticks are stood up inside and outside to keep them from being pushed in or pulled out. The bait is tied on to the end of a stick and the place is fenced with dry sticks so the wolverine cannot get around to pull off the bait. Weight is put on top of the top cross-piece. A dry stick about seven or eight inches long is put on top of the bait stick. A weighted cross-piece is lifted up and a stick set to hold it up so it slips out when the animal pulls on the bait and the weight traps the wolverine. The bottom cross-piece is too high for the wolverine to lift up the weight to get out. The animal dies quick because his chest is crushed in. Dogs must be watched so they do not go to that trap because they also can be caught if they pull on the bait and make the lifter stick slip off. The ermine and marten are also caught with this kind of a trap set only high enough to catch them, but in the same way as wolverine.

The mink and the land otter are caught with a basket-type. They go in the basket through a hole under the water and are drowned. The muskrats can also be caught in this manner.

To catch a wolf or a coyote, the hunter cuts baleen in narrow strips so they will be strong enough to spring open when the braided sinew gets wet and the knot slips off. The baleen is cut long enough to cut through the wolf's stomach. The ends are both sharpened. When it is ready to be set the baleen is rolled into a small piece of seal blubber. It is tied so it will not open unless the sinew gets wet and slips off. The wolf can swallow the blubber right down whole without chewing it. When the sinew gets wet in the wolf's stomach, the knot slips off and then the baleen springs open and the points start to break through the stomach. The wolf cannot go very far before he dies.

Hunters also track animals like fox, wolf, wolverine, lynx when they find fresh tracks after snow during the night. As long as the animals do not go into a hole hunters can outrun animals that get tired.



 There was an old man by the name of Ma neal yuk who lived about two hundred years ago. During those days the demon-filled medicine men were usually very strong. But one day this old man Ma neal yuk prophesied that the old evil traditions enforced by medicine men would all be over and that the living conditions of the Ipani Eskimo would be better. He told them that his grandfather from up above had told him to give this message of hope and comfort for a better world to his people. The people did not listen to him at first but he did not give up.

One evening at a special gathering he was again telling his people the message that his grandfather had given him. He told the women that some day in the future there would be no more superstition of the women having babies at the snow huts or sod huts away from home, but there would come a time when some of the young women here would have their babies born to them in the family home, and they would also be properly taken care of. While he was talking he pointed to two of the teenage girls and he told them that they would also be among those that would take part in the fulfillment of this message. But the girls just laughed at him because they were still young and were not old enough yet to have children of their own. They certainly had thought the message was silly, because it seemed there was no such hope for women at that time.

Finally the old medicine men began to say that Ma neal yuk might some day try to overrule their evil powers and get them into trouble. So one evening they got together and decided to kill him by their evil powers as medicine men. But old man Ma neal yuk did not stop giving the message of hope even though he heard about the evil plan.

The power he had was from God.

The medicine men wanted to get rid of Ma neal yuk so they went over to him by their evil powers to kill him, but when they got to his place they could not find him. Ma neal yuk's living soul was hidden by the power from God. So the medicine men just gave up and went away. He later talked about these evil men that had come to his place to kill him, and he said that he was in the hiding place of his grandfather. They did not find him and he himself had seen them passing by his hiding place. This was probably not the only time that Ma neal yuk was in danger of being killed. It was certainly a marvelous protection he had. The evil-powered medicine men had to give up.

Ma neal yuk began to listen to the soft tender voice from up above. He still wanted to hear the message that his grandfather would give him to tell his people.

So once more he prophesied to his people by saying, "The people of this world will someday be moving around from one place to another just by sitting in a boat." He did not mention here the motors that would be used, but his words of prophecy pointed to it as he plainly stated that people would not be rowing or paddling or be using sails like they did in olden days. People began to talk about this prophecy, as some had also felt that these words had meaning which could not be understood by just a natural person, for they were beyond their feeble understanding. The people began to realize that there might be some hope for a better world.

Later he again prophesied by saying, "The people of this world will some day be riding high up in the air and will be moving from one place to another." This was foolishness in the sight of the Ipani Eskimo, but the old man had confidence in the words given to him as a message from his grandfather which must be told to his people. But he again did not mention airplanes, but still he pointed to that time when people would soar up into the air like birds.

Ma neal yuk was getting old at that time, but still he wanted to be faithful so there came other messages that must be given to his people, and he said that some day the Ipani Eskimo equipment such as the jade axe, bow and arrow, and their wooden pots and plates and other things would someday be used no more. Their cooking utensils would be of a different type easier to use, their plates different, everything would change into a different type of material, and the people would change to a better and easier way of living. The Ipani Eskimos were miraculously notified how things would change approximately 200 years ago when old man Ma neal yuk gave this message of hope of a better world to his people.

Later he told his people that these things would be fulfilled when the Big Go Around gets to our country. It was a question, what is that Big Go Around? He did not mention the coming of the white people into Alaska, because he also did not know there were multitudes of white people that would come to Alaska to fulfill this prophecy.

The prophecy was fulfilled when the big ships started coming to every point of Alaska. The change was really slow because people had no money.

Because of our faithful old prophet, the change was not a shock because it was revealed by the old man to his people.

The last and the final prophecy he manifested to his people by stating, "Ee vi sah pot [name of a place] someday in the future will become a town." There had been nobody living there during those days, but still he said that people would get together from all around the country to establish a town. As a fulfillment of this prophecy, "Ambler" was established as a town. It is growing in population every year.

There is a school building there, the airstrip is being set up, and there is a trading post there now. Ambler is a town along the Kobuk River below Shungnak. It is a good place.

He also told his people that after Ambler had been established as a town, something very precious would be found near that town.

But what is it? Nobody knows.

The possible fulfillment is the big copper mine at Bornite, but still it might be something else which is more precious than copper, for he plainly stated that it would be the thing that the country really wanted to have and to need.

There is still a question mark about this prophecy, but later on we will see the fulfillment because every one of the messages given to his people has come to pass.

He concluded his words of prophecy by saying, "Beyond the last fulfillment which will come to pass everything is dark so nothing can be seen and nothing can be heard about it." So it is a mystery.

So ends the words of the faithful old man Ma neal yuk, the prophet of the Ipani Eskimo, as told two centuries back.



 The most interesting event that took place was fulfillment of the Big Go Around. It was the prophecy of old man Ma neal yuk for a big change from the old superstitious habits to a better world. The words given by old man Ma neal yuk were unforgettable though they were beyond the feeble minds of natural man. Some people started to believe him when the medicine men failed to kill him through their evil powers. They could not even find his living soul that they wanted to destroy because, as Ma neal yuk said later, he was protected and hidden by his grandfather from up above.

Finally the news spread around about the white people. Some items were brought up from the Unalakleet area by people who had bought them. What a surprising event for the Ipani Eskimo! Well, the people began to ask questions about the things that were brought up, and they also wanted to know where they could get them. The strangers answered, "From Nah lauk meat."

The meaning is simple. Down along the coast the women make sealskins into nah lauk. By keeping the skin in seal oil the hair pulls off easy. When the hair is taken off, they put the skin into melted snow water for some time, and then clean it. After wringing the water out and after scraping the dirt or blood off, they take it out and then stretch it on top of the snow to freeze. When it is frozen they hang it high so it dries out and gets white at the same time. It is used for mukluk strings and trimming. Some of these skins are snow-white, and the natives call them nah lauk (white seal skin). So a white man is Nah lauk meat.

They came from the white seal country because they are white. The naming of the white people Nah lauk meat probably started from the coastal area because that is the place where the Eskimos usually make the white seal skins.

The people were anxious to see the white people to find out for themselves how they are.

Calico, tea, sugar, and some other light stuff were first brought up into the Selawik area by dog team. The first white canvas brought up was used for making nets by pulling off the fine threads. They were braided into twine, making the knitting of fish nets much easier. The braiding of the willow bark and the sinew will soon be no more. What wonderful things the Ipani Eskimo began to see! They could buy calico with their furs. Finally the women started making them for their pants and the men for their hunting pants. It was surely nice to have a pair of calico pants to wear during the hot summer months, a great relief to the working Eskimo to wear a lighter pair of pants. No more skin pants during those months.

Every year the native traders employed by the white traders came around. Here came a package of tea and flour, but again they were a mystery. A pot of tea was made, but how strong shall it be is another question, so the women and the men both tested it.

One story has often been told about a group of people eating together and they had some tea with them, so one of them started to make some for their lunch. The lady boiled a pot of water over the campfire, and she put in tea while it was boiling, but she thought it was not getting thick enough so she added more and more tea until finally the package of tea was gone. She tasted it to see how it was, but it was so strong that nobody could take it so they had to spill it. But they sure had a good lesson from it. It was worse than drinking a hot fish broth or fresh meat broth, but later on they got to know how to use it.

And again the flour must be tried, so the women tried it by stirring it into a pot of oil until it was thick, but they can take some of it and again they try it by boiling it in hot water and cook it that way, and they find out that it was the best food they can have. So the flour pastry has been used for a long time because they liked it, and later on they added seal oil and had it boiling and it was the best food they could have. Flour has been used quite a lot by the people.

When the visitors from the Unalakleet area came, anything used by the white people is learned gradually from the people who had been with the white people a longer period of time. They learned that calico can be used for making tents. New things started to come faster when the white traders began to find out about the furs that natives have — land otter, lynx, ermine, marten, and muskrats.

The first rifles that were brought up were loaded into the barrel for every shot. The powder was put into it and then a wad, and after hammering in the wad to get it tight, the bullet was set inside. After this first shot, he had to do the same reloading to prepare for the next shot, but it was certainly a good thing to have because it could hit any animal at any distance when the shooter has accurate aim.

The cooking utensils and other household needs were beginning to change. The Ipani Eskimo now had a pot he could use for cooking over the campfire. The hunting knife was also handy for any kind of use. No more Ipani jade knife, only good for a souvenir. The sewing needle and thread are shortening the work for making mukluks and parkas.

Some people were given silver dollars in exchange for what they had sold, but what good was it to them as there was no value in it for them? They did not know what it was for. One time a person was just playing with his silver dollar, so he decided to try throwing it on top of the water to see how far it would go, just as they do with flat rocks. So he made a good aim and then threw it so it would go on top of the water just like something swimming, and it stayed on top until it got slow and then sank down. It went farther than some of the rocks so that was what it was good for. They had no idea of its value, that it could be used for trading money. There were some other things that were pretty hard for the Ipani Eskimo to understand what they were, because they had to learn how to use them before they could realize the need of having them.

The changing over from the Ipani tools, such as jade knife, jade axe, wooden shovel, wooden pots and plates and a sharp jade scraper to cut horns with, was certainly valuable.

When the first cans of milk and fruit were opened the empties were put away to be used as a drinking cup or to be used when they were eating fish and the broth was there for them to drink. The tin can was surely handy there. It was certainly a precious thing to have because it would never be burned or melted when it was put over the campfire.

There were also matches, but the first matches were china matches or sulfur matches. The old wooden drill with a bow handle that is used to light up a campfire is no more in use, because they now have matches they can keep in their pockets which they can use at any time they need them. Just strike on anything and it is lit. They got files to sharpen their knives and axes. Everything brought up was useful.

The most important change, above all, is that the women can have their baby delivery in the family home, and they are also properly taken care of. No more superstitions to follow. No more snow hut or a sod hut where she used to be alone to have her baby. This is the most joyful relief to the women, because they know that the threat of the old medicine man is no more a danger to them.

The change-over is gradually coming to pass, so finally the prophecy of old man Ma neal yuk about moving from one place to the other just by sitting in the boat without rowing, paddling, or sailing has been manifested when the people could afford to have the motors to run the boats and started traveling with these things. Although the motors were not mentioned in old man Ma neal yuk's prophecy, the Ipani Eskimos began to see the truth in his words when they began to see the people moving about with motor-powered boats. What a thrill it must have been to them when they got into one of the boats to have a ride! The meaning of the words of Ma neal yuk's prophecy must have been carefully studied by those who were able to think about them.

Riding high up in the air was considered to be only foolishness because it was too far away from the feeble minds and understanding of the Ipani Eskimo. In this prophecy nothing was mentioned about airplanes that would carry people from one place to the other but still it points to the time when they will be used.

There has been a great change in travel. The time being spent for traveling by foot, by dog team, by rowing a boat, or by paddling in a kayak was really shortened and thereby making it easier to travel to the point of destination.

The fulfillment of Ma neal yuk's prophecy sure stirred the minds of the people, and the manifestation of the word of God from the Bible was also beginning to tell more of the blessed hope which was in Ma neal yuk's prophecy. The time for better living days for the Ipani Eskimo was finally coming to pass when they began to hear about the great Love of God for them from the first witnesses of the truth and the blessed hope of Salvation. The evil-powered medicine man was on his way to defeat because the word of truth has power for those who have faith in it. When the people began to hear the word, they did not hesitate to believe in it, because it was already manifested by the prophecy of old man Ma neal yuk. Better living days for the Ipani Eskimo are now a reality when the old Ipani tools and hunting equipment are replaced.

The Ipani Eskimo was very glad for the Big Go Around.

The old medicine men had kept on trying to continue with their witchcraft, but the evil power kept on diminishing, although in some parts of the country where the people believe in it, it is still strong. The change-over year after year is bringing more knowledge of how to use the white man's clothing, and the eating of the white man's food, and learning more of the tools, and the use of the rifle.

The Ipani Eskimo hunters are now making a profit from the furs they have caught during the winter months, but when the game regulations were in effect it was really bad for them because there were no restrictions to follow before the white man. But still they had to learn to obey the laws although they consider them to be detrimental to their living standards. But the hardest thing for them to observe is the waterfowl regulation because the birds are around only six months a year, and then they are out again.

To the Eskimo a fresh goose or duck cooked the way they like it is like a fresh turkey or chicken to the white man. They've got to have it and be free to take it when they can get it. When the Ipani Eskimo has a good rifle and traps to hunt with, he gets lots of furs and can trade the furs to the white store man.

Now concerning the establishment of a town at "Ee vi sah pot" (Ambler) that old man Ma neal yuk had prophesied: It really took a long time before this prophecy was fulfilled. Probably one hundred fifty years or more have elapsed. An old couple had lived there for some time, but not too long. They had been fishing and hunting there both in summer and winter, and they had lived an easy life there, lots of fish, lots of game animals, and lots of wood, but still they had to leave because it was too lonesome, or they wanted to live with their friends in some other part of the country. But they reported that fishing and game hunting were good there, and so several years after, another family moved there. After they had been living in that place for quite a long while, the old man died, the father of the family, and then his wife moved up to the village called Shungnak when she was left alone by the death of her husband. But again there was a good report about fishing and game hunting there.

Finally some of the younger generation began to get convinced. Several families moved down to "Ee vi sah pot" from Shungnak village so they could put up a town. Ma neal yuk's prophecy must be fulfilled even though they might not have mentioned it when they were making their place. There were several families that had moved there first, but it did not take long until more families had moved, and a BIA school was put up. But the Friends Church building was first used as a school building for the first several years. Just as was told to them by the two families that had lived there before, there are lots of fish there, as the people have caught more fish than they can use during the winter months from their seining or from their gill nets. There are also lots of big game animals there, and the people living there now are having a wonderful place to live in.

The new town was named Ambler and the population is still growing right along. The people there probably had not thought that they are fulfilling Ma neal yuk's prophecy, but they are bringing it to pass.

The last and the final prophecy of old man Ma neal yuk still had to be fulfilled, but nobody knows when. The message given to the Ipani Eskimo centuries ago was that something precious the people really would like to have and will need will be found from a place close to Ambler, but how far nobody knows. The finding of a big copper mine not too far away from Ambler is a possible fulfillment, but still it might be something more precious than copper that Ma neal yuk talks about. Ambler was a promising place from the beginning and there are now lots of people that have heard about it, so there will be a big town. Like prophets of old the Ipani old man Ma neal yuk is also the Eskimo prophet.

There were some Ipani Eskimos that had prophesied about some things that would take place way before the time, but they do not compare to old man Ma neal yuk.

According to the story of the old people now living they said that Ma neal yuk had a grandfather up above, and he told his people the message his grandfather gave him to pass on to his fellowmen. There was no way of knowing there was God up in Heaven at that time, but by listening to the soft voice from up above Ma neal yuk began to realize the truth which must be revealed and passed on to his people as prophecy on things that would come to pass.

He is greatly respected by his people for the things he had talked about that were fulfilled.

There was no guesswork in Ma neal yuk's messages, because things are coming to pass just as he had given them, although the things that would be used as a fulfillment of his prophecy were not mentioned, like motors to propel a boat or an airplane flying up in the sky. But his words point to those events.

By old man Ma neal yuk's faithfulness and courage, although the old medicine men had planned and tried to kill him for his stand for the truth, he had defeated the powers of this world that were evil. He has given hope for a better world, and thereby given the Ipani Eskimo more courage to survive, in spite of the old superstitions and the old medicine men they had to face, which at that time were the threat of the world they lived in.

Old man Ma neal yuk prophesied concerning better days of living before the purchase of Alaska from Russia more than one hundred years ago by the United States. Now we cannot express in words our gratitude for the wonderful privilege of freedom we have as citizens of the United States of America.