Alaska Native Heritage Center
YUP'IK AND CUP'IK
Who We Are
Traditional House Types and Settlements
Many of todays villages were ancient sites that were used as seasonal camps and villages for subsistence resources. Historically the Yupik and Cupik people were very mobile, traveling with the migration of game, fish and plants. The ancient settlements and seasonal camps contained small populations, with numerous settlements throughout the region consisting of extended families or small groups of families.
All males in the Yupik/Cupik community lived in a qasgiq, or mens house/community center. Boys old enough to leave their mothers joined male relatives in the qasgiq, where they lived, worked, ate, bathed, slept and learned how to be men. Women prepared and brought food to the qasgiq. Ceremonies, singing, dancing and events usually occurred in the qasgiq, thus making it a community center.
Women and girls lived in an ena, which had architectural features similar to the qasgiq, although the qasgiq was twice as large. Bearded seal or walrus intestine provided a removable skylight window. Like most other winter dwellings, the qasgiq and the ena shared the distinctive, partially semi-subterranean winter entrance passageway which in the ena also provided space for cooking.
Tools and Technology
Technology was highly adapted to survival in the sub-arctic environment, and was fine-tuned through the centuries by trial and error. Technology was mostly geared toward the marine environment along the coast and more riverine habitats in the delta regions.
Womens important household items included the versatile, fan-shaped, slate knife (uluaq), stone seal-oil lamp and skin sewing implements made from stone, bone and walrus ivory. Mens tools were associated with hunting and were elaborately decorated with appropriate spiritual symbols to aid in hunting success. These items included a variety of spears, harpoons, snow goggles, ice cane, and bow and arrows for hunting and warfare.
Social norms and behavior were all geared toward survival and compatibility among family-village groups. Roles and social rank were largely determined by gender and individual skills. Successful hunters, nukalpiit, usually become group leaders. Women roles included child rearing, food preparation and sewing.
Role of shaman
There were good and evil shamans that had separate roles within the village. Good shamans would heal, search out animal spirits for the hunters, ask for survival necessities such as driftwood and good weather. The bad shamans battled good shamans for power, placed curses on people, generally made life miserable for others and could even kill. It is believed that some Yupik/Cup'ik people still possess shamanistic powers.
Traditionally, skins of birds, fish, and marine and land animals were used to make clothing. Hunting clothes were designed to be insulated and waterproof. Fish skin and marine mammal intestines were used for waterproof shells and boots. Grass was used to make insulating socks, and as a waterproof thread.
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