Restoring through rebuilding

December 7, 2015
Burke Museum
For thousands of years, the Sugpiat (SUH-gh-pee-OT) peoples on Kodiak Island, Alaska, used large open boats for transportation, hunting, warring, fishing and more. These boats, known as Angyaaq (ANG-yah-K), were essential to Sugpiat daily life. But in the early 1800s, Russian traders seized and destroyed these vital boats in an act of oppression: Angyaaq were symbols of wealth and power to the Sugpiat. Remnants of these boats are present in archaeological sites; yet very little is known about a type of boat once common on Kodiak Island.
 
“They disappeared from living knowledge,” said Sven Haakanson, Burke Museum Curator of North American Anthropology. But that’s changing. Sven, who is a member of the Alutiiq Tribe of Old Harbor, along with community members from the village of Akhiok on Kodiak Island, Alaska, are reviving Angyaaq boatmaking and restoring this knowledge to the Sugpiat people of Kodiak. 
 
"We're trying to bring this knowledge back into a living context by learning from what we have and by working with communities," Sven said. 
Angyaaq model

Angyaaq model, Sugpiat, Southern Alaska, Late 19th Century. Cat. no. 873. Gift of Mrs. James T. White.
Photo: Burke Museum

Learning from model Angyaaq
To begin, Sven turned to a model Angyaaq in the Burke collection—one of only 13 such models found in museum collections in the world. The model Angyaaq shows the different pieces and materials needed, while giving clues about the engineering techniques used to build a full-size version (said to be over 25 feet long). He reverse-engineered it through sketches and photos, and created a model kit to practice the techniques involved in the construction of the boat.
 
In summer 2014, Sven assembled 14 model kits and brought them to the Petroglyph/Kids Camp in Cape Alitak, Alaska, where the students were able to make their own model boats. This is the first time Angyaaq of any kind were built on Kodiak since the 1850s. “After nearly a century of silence, it was an honor to be able to not just show, but also teach, youth and adults how to build a traditional Angyaaq once again on Kodiak,” Sven said.
Preparing model Angyaaq kits

Preparing model Angyaaq kits to take to the Petroglyph/Kids Camp in the village of Akhiok on Kodiak Island, Alaska.
Photo: Burke Museum

Sven Haakanson (far right) builds model-size Angyaat frames with youth from the village of Akhiok on Kodiak Island, Alaska.
Photo: Burke Museum

Sven Haakanson (far right) builds model-size Angyaat frames with community members from the village of Akhiok on Kodiak Island, Alaska.
Photo: Burke Museum

"We're trying to bring this knowledge back into a living context by learning from what we have and by working with communities."

– Sven Haakanson, Burke Museum Curator of Native American Anthropology

Building full-size Angyaaq
The following spring, Sven, along with a team of Burke staff and students, began cutting and preparing the cedar wood for a full-size Angyaaq on the Burke’s loading dock to learn from the process. After several weeks of work, they had a complete frame ready to assemble!
 
 
With this practice run complete, Sven traveled to the village of Akhiok on Alaska's Kodiak Island to build the frame of another Angyaaq with community members—an experience that brought the community together while restoring a lost tradition. 
A father and son work together to carve part of an Angyaaq

Community members from the village of Akhiok on Alaska's Kodiak Island work on the first full-size Angyaaq to be traditionally built on the island in more than 150 years.
Photo: Burke Museum

The boat frame being assembled

Burke Museum Curator of Native American Anthropology Sven Haakanson traveled to the village of Akhiok on Alaska's Kodiak Island to build an Angyaaq frame with community members in the summer of 2015.
Photo: Burke Museum

Burke Museum Curator of Native American Anthropology Sven Haakanson traveled to the village of Akhiok on Alaska's Kodiak Island to build an Angyaaq frame with community members in the summer of 2015. 
Photo: Burke Museum

Burke Museum Curator of Native American Anthropology Sven Haakanson traveled to the village of Akhiok on Alaska's Kodiak Island to build an Angyaaq frame with community members in the summer of 2015. 
Photo: Burke Museum

Burke Museum Curator of Native American Anthropology Sven Haakanson traveled to the village of Akhiok on Alaska's Kodiak Island to build an Angyaaq frame with community members in the summer of 2015. 
Photo: Burke Museum

Almost ready for water 
Meanwhile, a team of students, staff and volunteers at the Burke Museum are working on the final tying and wrapping steps to make the Seattle-area Angyaaq seaworthy. And this time visitors can watch the process unfold in the Burke gallery during the month of December 2015.
 
 
To tie the boat together, Sven is teaching the team to use traditional techniques—lashing and tying—to hold together all parts of the Angyaaq without the help of nails or glue. While traditional Angyaaq lashing uses marine mammals tendons or guts, they are using synthetic rope to tie the boat and airplane fabric to wrap it. 
Model Angyaaq with full-size Angyaaq being built in background

This model Angyaaq from the Burke collection is one of 13 known to exist in museum collections in the world. This model has played a key role in the revitalization of creating new full-sized boats.
Photo: Burke Museum

Curator of Native American Anthropology Sven Haakanson works on the full-size Anygaaq being built in the Burke Museum's Maker:Market in December 2015. 
Photo: Burke Museum

Volunteers help build the Angyaaq in the Burke gallery

Staff, students and volunteers are helping to build a full-size Anygaaq in the Burke Museum's Maker:Market in December 2015. 
Photo: Burke Museum

Curator of Native American Anthropology Sven Haakanson and Affiliate Curator of Archaeology Robert Kopperl work on the full-size Anygaaq being built in the Burke Museum's Maker:Market in December 2015. 
Photo: Burke Museum

Tools being used in the making of a full-size Angyaaq being built in the Burke Museum's Maker:Market in December 2015.
Photo: Burke Museum

This summer, Sven and several students will go back to Alaska’s Kodiak Island where they’ll build more boats together with the Sugpiat. Practicing this reconstruction with community members is helping to share Sugpiat heritage and traditions, restore knowledge that was previously lost, and provide a research model for others around the world to emulate. 
 
"We're able to put this knowledge back into a living context which makes the museum even more relevant to communities," Sven said. That's what this is all about."
The revival of a lost art
During the month of December 2015, we turned an exhibit space into a work space where visitors could witness the revival of the Angyaaq as part of a special month-long program at the Burke Museum.
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