Masterworks of Yup’ik Science and Survival



This is from an e-mail we received. The writer is part native and, while not raised in the bush, holds deep respect and compassion for those who live there. 

She sent this with a link to the website of last year’s Yuungnaqpiallerput Exhibition at the Anchorage Museum.

The notion that “primitive peoples” have no science is firmly ingrained in our larger culture. This idea lends itself to dismissing native/indigenous cultures as quaint, backward, and any other kind of imperial look-down-your-nose thingy folks can come up with. 

It is imperative to parity that full humanity be granted to all citizens. Taking a look at the science and technology (in the oldest sense of technos- ‘from the hand, of the hand’) of cultures is important to developing an understanding of the full humanity of any group. 

I enjoyed the translated comments of how knowledge was passed down and accepted. It is as good a description of verbal history and knowledge as I have ever seen … the PURPOSEFUL transmission of culture to children via oral knowledge gave me goose bumps… 

Photos are wonderful… enjoy!

 Here’s an excerpt: 

The Yup’ik people have no word for science, yet their tools were so well designed that they allowed the Yupiit to live in a land no one else would inhabit. The exhibition Yuungnaqpiallerput/The Way We Genuinely Live: Masterworks of Yup’ik Science and Survival presents remarkable 19th and 20th century tools, containers, weapons, watercraft, and clothing in an exploration of the scientific principles and processes that have allowed the Yup’ik people to survive in the sub-arctic tundra of the Bering Sea coast. 

So much history and so many traditions are in danger of being forgotten as we as we modernize our planet.

Guides on several recent trips to the Amazon have hinted at pharmaceutical companies doing research into traditional healing remedies from rainforest plants. This could be applied to the traditional science and traditions of the Yupik people as well. Dwellings styled after ancient shelters might cut energy costs and be more dweller friendly than housing units in place today. 

About boat building – Victoria had this to share about her engineer trained  husband’s position on modern marine technology:

He always uses the examples of the Native boats that have been built and the engineering used.

He can take those boats apart and point out all the different things that make our modern versions primitive in comparison in so many ways.

This site gives us an excellent incite into how the Yup’ik people managed to live for thousands of years without petrolium products and grocery stores!

~ Jane


4 Responses to “Masterworks of Yup’ik Science and Survival”

  1. elsie09 Says:

    “The return of fish was synonymous with an abundance of food. In Yup’ik the word for fish, neqa, is also the word for food. Those living along the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers depended on the summer fishing season to sustain them, putting away thousands of pounds of fish for use throughout winter.
    Men rose early and worked late at night, to take advantage of morning and evening tides. Women and children were equally busy–cleaning, cutting, hanging, and smoking the fish.”

    I didn’t realize that the word for “food” in Yup’ik is the same word as “fish”.

  2. Gramiam Says:


    Thank you so very much for sharing this wonderful site with the rest of us.
    It explains so much about the Yup’ik people, both in the past, and those we have been privileged to meet here and at Mudflats. I particularly like the teachings passed from one generation to the other, because they are simple,true ways of dealing with one another is this world. Quyana Cakneg
    to you and the other Yup’ik people I consider friends.

  3. Anne in Juneau Says:

    This exhibit is in Juneau at the State Museum this summer. I was lucky enough to attend a tour this week. Fascinating.

    I’ll be headed back, so I can ponder the stories longer and try the waterproof stitch used for raingear.

    Compliments to the Callista Elders Council who worked on this project.

  4. JuneauJoe Δ Says:

    When I was teaching in Emmonak, I was so impressed and pleased with the insistence that traditional ways be taught to students. Now I am in Juneau and I can also report that Gastineau School in Juneau has an amazing way of teaching traditional ways to all students. In both schools, kids can and do talk and speak in native languages as well as make and discuss stories from elders.

    Keeping the traditions for natives peoples is so very important. I am blessed to see the passing of traditions in the schools.

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