Thursday, June 23, 2016

Historic Paddle Illustrations: Single Blade Aleut Paddles

The Eighteenth Annual report of the Bureau of American Ethnology (1896-1897) features a writeup on single blade kayak paddles from the Bering Strait region. Plate LXXX includes 4 examples all of which have some sort of thick centre ridgeline on the blade and a basic cross grip. Below the image is a modified excerpt describing the decorative patterns on the blades.

In Kotzebue sound the blades of the paddles used on umiaks are made rounded and very short. North of this district, at Point Hope, the paddle blades are lanceolate in shape, broadest near the handle, and taper downward to a long, sharp point.
...The forms of the blades vary according to locality. The single-blade paddles have the handles terminating in a crossbar, which is sometimes cut from the same piece of wood, and at other times is formed from a separate piece pierced with a hole, by which it is fitted on the end of the handle.
A single-blade paddle from King island (figure 9, plate LXXX) has a large, broad blade, with a central ridge on the outside. The lower two-thirds of the blade is painted black, and a triangular spot of black is marked on each side; the edge of the blade, where it joins the handle at the upper end, is also black, with a ring extending around the handle. All of these black markings are bordered by a narrow line of red and constitute the private marks of the owner.
Another single-blade kayak paddle, from Kushunuk (figure 7, plate LXXX), has a crosspiece fitted on the top of the handle by means of a square hole. The blade is long and slender and is tipped with black for a short distance; this is succeeded by several bands, varying in width, alternately of red, black, and uncolored wood. The handle near the blade is surrounded by a broad, black band, with a red band above and another below it.
Figure 8, plate LXXX, represents one of a pair of single-blade kayak paddles from Kushunuk. It has a long, narrow blade, and the crossbar at the end of the handle is cut from the same piece. The paddle is marked with black lines and bars representing a female phallic emblem, one-half of the figure being on each of the two paddles forming the set. On each side of the crossbar are incised lines representing the mouth, nostrils, and eyes of a semi-human face. On one side the mouth is curved downward, and on the other it is upcurved. The two paddles are exact duplicates as to their markings,
A single-blade paddle from Big lake (figure 6, plate LXXX) is somewhat similar in form to the preceding. On the middle of the blade on each side is painted a red disk, surrounded by a black circle, from which a black band extends up the median ridge of the blade to its upper edge, where a black ring surrounds the handle; from this point to the tip the edge of the blade is painted black.

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