National Geographic : 1945 Jan
The National Geographic Magazine days and the carcass would wash ashore. The boats of the Aleut were like those of the Eskimo, consisting of small closed skin covered canoes for one or two men, used pri marily for hunting sea mammals, and a large skin-covered open boat used for transporta tion and often capable of carrying 30 persons. Like the Eskimo, the Aleut's principal weapons were javelins or harpoons, propelled by a throwing stick. This weapon also was once used to some extent by the Tlingit. Aleut whaling ceremonies were similar to those of the Nootka. Only the whaling lead ers knew the secret of preparing poison and they made the remainder of the populace be lieve that it achieved its magical potency from the fat of corpses.* When first encountered by the whites the Aleuts were frequently engaged in warfare, but later they became a peaceful people. In addition to the spear thrower, they used bow and arrows as weapons and in war carried wooden shields or wore rod armor. The latitude of the Aleutian Islands is the same as that of England and Germany, so temperatures are not severe. The warm wa ters of the Japan Current here encounter the cold northern waters, producing almost con tinuous fogs and overcast conditions. Aboriginal costumes were Eskimolike. The men wore long shirts, made from feathered birdskins sewn together, while women wore similar garments made from the skins of fur seal or sea otter, outfits which today would be the envy of any Fifth Avenue dweller. Aleuts Wore Hooded Raincoats In rainy weather, light transparent water proof raincoats were worn. They were made from strips of seal intestines, decorated at the seams with tufts of bright-colored feathers. The raincoats were equipped with a pointed hood to protect the head, like the modern woman's oil-silk raincoat with hood. They had drawstrings on the hood and wrists. Because of the abundant food supply sea mammals, fish, birds, and birds' eggs, mol lusks, and various berries and roots-the Aleu tians were about as densely populated in aboriginal times as any section of America. In 1740 there were probably 25,000 natives in the islands, but the effect of white contact was disastrous to them. In 1834, according to the missionary Veniaminoff, there were fewer than 2,500 remaining. The smallpox epidemic in 1848 reduced them to about 900. The Aleut language is related to that of * See "Riddle of the Aleutians," by Isobel Wylie Hutchison, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, De cember, 1942. the Eskimo, and there seems little doubt that their ancestors moved out onto the islands from the American mainland. Then Came the Japs After a long period of relative peace and quiet, the vicissitudes of the Aleuts began anew with the Japanese invasion of the west ern islands in 1942. There have been told many tales of heroism on the part of the Aleuts, who at last had a chance to prove some of their old skills in warfare. The fate of those occupying Attu is still unknown. When the Americans reoccupied this island, all of the natives were gone. Most of the things of which we have spoken are now memories of the recent past. Excepting for those which have been set apart and guarded in parks or museums, only a few rotting totem poles still stand where they were once so proudly raised (Plate VI). Plenty of old men and women still live who were an integral part of the old life. Their forebears inhabited the entire north west coast region from Puget Sound to the Copper River Delta in south Alaska. North ernmost were the Tlingit, who came into con tact with the Eskimo and the Ahtena Indians. They were the first northwest Indians to en counter European civilization, when they were visited by the Russians in 1741. South of them were the Haida, who occupied the Queen Charlotte Islands and the southern part of Prince of Wales Island; and the Tsim shian, who lived along the coast from Port land Canal to Milbank Sound and pushed inland to the headwaters of the Nass and Skeena Rivers. From a point south of Skeena River to the northern coast of Vancouver Island dwelt the Kwakiutl, but their territory was almost split in two by a Salishan tribe, the Bellacoola (Plate IX), who lived along Dean Channel and the Bella Coola River. Southernmost of the typical tribes was the Nootka, occupying most of the west coast of Vancouver Island. Their colorful cedar dugouts now have given way to the gasoline launch. The hunter pur sues the deer and the wild duck with rifle and shotgun. The sea otter, which once supplied the Northwest Coast Indian with his standard of value, is now almost extinct. Skill in war has been handed down to the present. Descendants of the Eagle, Raven, and Thunderbird now ride the backs of P-38's, Mosquitoes, and Flying Fortresses in the United States and Canadian Air Forces. Sons of the Killer Whale and the Sculpin serve in the United States and British Navies.