Artifact Reflection

Hunter using throwing board to launch an uxludaq (dart) from his kayak.
Hunter using throwing board to launch an uxludaq (darts) from his kayak. Courtesy of Alaska State Museum – Juneau

This throwing board and dart is from the Unangan/Unangas people of the Aleutian Islands.  The throwing dart in an adjacent display is from the Unangas people of Atka island, so perhaps this one was from Atka as well.   I believe that Unangan is the term for the people of the Eastern Aleutians and Unangas for the Western Aleutians, including Atka.

These peoples are also commonly known as Aleuts along with the Koniag Sugpiat people of Kodiak and the AK peninsula, as well as the Chugach Sugpiat people of the outer Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound.  The Sugpiat people are also known as Alutiit, which I believe is just the Sugpiaq language (Sugstun) term for Aleut.  Aleut came into use around the time of the Russian conquest of the Aleutian islands, though no one seems to really know what it means. Whew.  I think I got that straight.

I honestly have no idea who made the throwing board and dart and when they were last used.  And that’s really what I would like to know. I’d also like to know if anyone is bringing this art-form back to the Aleutians.  It would be really empowering for the Unangan/Unangas people I think.  Traditional kayak hunting is still being done in parts of Greenland, so there is modern precedent…

What drew me to this object is probably that I like to hunt and that I like to paddle a kayak-like-boat (packraft).  This scene brought both together.  The throwing board and dart seem perfectly made for the tight, high cowling of a kayak cockpit. Another distance weapon, like a bow, would be too awkward to carry, handle and draw while seated in a kayak. However, the small size of the throwing board and dart allows for easier handling and the throwing board probably allows the dart to be flung much further than the dart could be launched solely by hand.  And with a smaller, more controlled movement too. Which is nice when you are paddling in really cold water and you have lain your paddle down to ready your weapon (a paddle allows a kayaker to “brace” the paddle blade against the water when the kayak starts to roll to the side from sudden movement and to thereby halt the roll).

Finally the dart can be connected (I think) by a gut string cord that allows the animal to be retrieved once it has been struck and prevents it from sinking to the bottom when it dies.  It’s a perfect tool for the environment that the Unangan/Unangas peoples live in.

One thought on “Artifact Reflection”

  1. Hello Ryan,

    I found your description to be interesting to read and it shows that you clearly did research into this item. Unless the object had paragraphs of text on it at the museum. Anyway, I looked up videos of how the dart board was used and it is much more effective than a spear. It does take practice like any other weapon/tool. While doing research for my lesson plan and for our introduction, I could’ve cited some of your information from your post.

    Thank you for your post,
    Mason Shearer

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