Nunivak qayar Revival

In the winter of 2000 I spent two months on Nunivak Island, working
with community members on a qayar revival project. "Qayar" is
"qayaq" in Cu'pig, the language of Nunivak.

This project was community based, and sponsored by the Traditional Council
and NPT, Nunivak's cultural heritage organization. Howard Amos of
Mekoryuk and Robert Drozda of Fairbanks were responsible for much
of the organization and finding funds.

Mekoryuk is the only community on Nunivak, with about 200 residents.
Many of the men work fisheries in the summer. The island has a
cooperatively managed Reindeer Herd, as well as a wild herd of Musk Ox.
Nunivak reindeer is popular all over Alaska.

Hunters coming to cull Musk Ox are another source of community funds.
Nunivak women are known for the soft and extremely warm garments
they knit from Qivuit, the long under hairs of Musk Ox.

Our plan was to purchase the necessary tools and materials to actually
set up a qayar building shop. A table saw, bandsaw and thickness planer
showed we were in the 20th century, but we used traditional tools such
as the crooked knife and adze to a great degree. Nunivak is known for its
carvings and carvers, so there was no lack of skilled woodworkers to draw on.

I worked with a core group of about 6 men, but there was a good flow
of visitors (both villagers and outsiders) and regular visits from the school kids.

Nunivak qayar are somewhat different than mainland style boats.
The bow profile is longer with a slower rise. They use 4 stringers
per side instead of 5, fewer heavy main ribs in the center,
and some details of joinery differ.

We were able to get valuable assistance from several village elders
but a frame built by Edward Kiokan and Walter Amos (Howard's dad)
located in the school was a much visited reference for us.

We followed traditional construction practices to a great degree,
but the use of certain modern tools and materials was actively
practiced. Nunivakers were impressed with modern lashing and covering
materials, which is totally in keeping with the eskimo tradition of
adapability. This included very selective use of bronze carriage bolts and copper rivets,
which may horrify the "ethnologically correct". Actually, all we did
was subsitute non-ferrous materials for galvanized nails,
bolts and screws, which have been used for several generations now.

The Bering Sea qayaq-building process is detailed elsewhere on these pages.

The links below will bring up images of the Nunivak project
(sorry, no thumbnail technology at Kayak Way yet)

Nunivak 2000, Images

Qayaq building starts with wood! Howard and a few others
worked hard to dig out these magnifcent spruce stumps for bow,
stern pieces, and deckbeams too.

Gunwales are where you start.

Traditional rib bending involves clamping the wood
in your teeth and bending. It's very effective.

Our steamer was an old gas can from
the dump. Note brown paper seal for filler hole.

Created with DiDaPro Several scenes of rib work
and details

Howard mixes Uitar with water to form a paste.
Uitar is a traditional mineral pigment,
iron oxide from Nash Harbor.
The stone bowl is a family heirloom.

Gary, Brad and Stephen coat the frame
while elder George Williams Sr. looks on

Here's a stern detail

And a bow

We had help from the past.
Here an old bow assembly is superimposed on
hull # 1 so we can see how to correct our fwd. profile

Gary and Stephen did most of the Sewing

Sewing Sillouette

and heres what it's all about

Nunivak scenes, winter 2000 visit