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Alaska LAM Showcase

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Alaska's Indigenous Watercraft

 

Skin boats have been used throughout the world for thousands of years. The hunting kayak is the most sophisticated and highly developed of all these craft. Subsistence patterns and sea conditions effected kayak design. In general, all Arctic people required a boat that could be made of available materials, was fast and maneuverable, could be paddled in strong winds and rough seas and was light enough to carry.

 

The origin of the kayak is not known. It probably descends from another skin boat, the umiak. It is difficult to date kayaks because few of the delicate skin and wood craft have survived. Archaeological evidence for kayaks shows them to be at least 4,000 years old. Further evidence may date them back as far as 10,000 years.

 

The kayak developed as a silent means of getting within hunting range of seals, walrus and whales. They also served to hunt caribou and birds, fish, gather wood, and transport people.

 

The kayak was a hunter's most prized possession and a symbol of manhood. It not only provided him with the means to gather food, it was important in his cultural and ceremonial life as well.

 

Most natives have replaced the traditional kayak with commercial skiffs equipped with outboard motors. Today, kayaks are used for hunting in only a few communities in Greenland. In recent years there is renewed interest in traditional kayak building. Applying the knowledge of a few surviving elders and information gathered by kayak researchers, enthusiasts

 

 
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