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[Tidbits] Jewelry from the Aleuts

Is it klaatu barada nikto? Or perhaps barada nikto klaatu? Or is it
Et tu Brute? Or perhaps Brute et tu? Or is it lyrics from the Indian
Love Call: When I’m calling you ooh ooh ooh… Or is it perhaps
ivory miniature figurines reminiscent of the birds heads of Attu?
Yup. You got the right “u” in one guess. It’s the figurines.

So who are the Aleuts. And where is Attu? Attu is the westernmost
island in the Aleutians. The language there is/was Aleut. As of 2003
in the entire US there are only 150 people who still speak the
language. In all of Russia. only 5 people speak the language.

They were a primitive people. They made their homes by digging large
rectangular holes in the ground and covering the holes with roofs
framed with driftwood and thatched with grass and earth.

And they made jewelry and ivory carvings and woven baskets. As a
quick segue. without tools being readily available back then in them
thar days. women would let their thumbnails grow long–no no. not to
scratch your eyes out–and then sharpened them to use as tools to
make the baskets and split gut sinews and make them into thread as
fine as hair for sewing garments for themselves. Neat. eh wot? The
garments lasted two years or so. The baskets had and still have
remarkable cloth-like textures. They used the ink bags of the
octopus–among other things–to dye the threads.

Men and women also both carved ivory for their jewelry. And I bet
they each got paid the same amount of fish–or whatever they used
for currency–for their troubles. Equal pay for equal work started
long before political correctness exerted its strangulating hold on
"civilized" folk.

As to the piercings used to accommodate the wearables of the day. it
went something like this. Body art of all sorts was believed to
please the spirits of the animals and make all evil things
disappear. Since the Aleuts believed that body orifices were the
pathways allowing entry of evil beings. they also believed that
piercing these orifices would stop the evil guys from entering into
their bodies. So–they say–they pierced the nose, the mouth, and
the ears. And that’s where it appears to stop. Being an extrapolator
of the highest caliber. it appears to me that if indeed the evil
dudes entered their bodies via their orifices. then the Aleuts did
not cover all their bases.

Being a soul of extreme decency as well as delicacy and a reluctance
to overstep certain social boundaries. I will not even dare to bring
to light the evident flaws in the thinking that chose to limit the
blocking of entryways to the select few chosen above. Though I can
think of none right now. I am sure there most definitely were
entryways overlooked and perhaps not even thought of. I assure you.
I can think of none at this moment. I am only writing out of
instinct. not knowledge. If any of you can clarify my limited vision
here. please feel free to do so.

Instead of earrings as we know them today. men often wore sea lion
whiskers in their ears as trophy evidence of their skills as
hunters. It happens I have some 18 karat whiskers for sale which
would not only show the other Aleuts the hunting skills of any
single man of great standing. but would also bring home to bear the
wealth and ease of spending with which our hunter is endowed. It’s a
bit like having a Maserati in an ancient world at a time before
Maseratis were invented.

Yeah yeah. Your sea lion whiskers are nice. But is that enough? What
else do you have there Benjy? As I said. I have–as mentioned in my
first paragraph–a grouping of 15 old ivory miniature figurines
resembling bird heads probably emanating from Attu. They’re strung
in groups of five. resembling what I conjecture to be bracelets.
They’re about 1.5 cm long. That’s a bit over a half an inch. I do
hope that will suffice.

Okay. You know the rest. The visit to the image… also known as the
viewing experience. You know where. Home page. Scroll down. Left side. Tidbits. Click.
And there for your sensory optic pleasure you will see the 15 old
Attu ivory miniature figurines resembling bird heads.

And there ya have it. That’s it for this week folks. Catch you all
next week.

Benjamin Mark


Thank you again for finding an adornment, which the Aleuts could wear
in their time as we wear a bracelet today. Many of us would have
never had the pleasure of seeing this without your efforts.

There is something wonderfully playful about these bracelets. Does
it remind you of young children playing the game “ring around the

Gratefully, Mary A

Interesting. Don’t know much about the Aleuts but I do greatly
admire the work of Denise Williams and her husband in creating inlaid
figures in various clothing, as well as animals (without the
clothing, naturally).

Check out their work when you get a chance.

Thanks for you fascinating essays.
Noralie Katsu