Three Alaska Native Leaders

Apanuugpak: A Yup'ik Warrior

Apanuugpak was a great warrior during the "bow and arrow" wars, which occurred for many decades, ending about 200 years ago in the Yup'ik region of Southwest Alaska.

According to anthropologist Ann Fienup-Riordan, four separate continuing conflicts in the region were part of the wars. Most of the conflicts ended about the time that Russian explorers came to the area in the early 19th century, and before local history was written down. But Native elders in area villages still tell the historical narratives of the war passed on to them by their elders. The stories are filled with the exploits of Apanuugpak. There is no doubt that he was a great warrior, strong and cunning.

It is told that the war started when a child playing with a bone dart accidentally put out one eye of a visiting companion. When the father of the wounded boy was invited to carry out punishment. The enraged parent completely blinded the boy and in return the father of the first boy then killed the other man.

A cycle of revenge escalated among the villages, with new wrongs and old grievances perpetuating the wars. Surprise attacks were common as well as face-to-face combat. When opposing warriors met in the open, it was a fight to the death. Raiding parties might try to surround the community qasgiq where the men lived together, block the exits and set fire to the structure. No prisoners were taken, though one man of the vanquished might be spared and sent back to his village to tell of the battle. All boys in the losing village might be killed and the women and girls might be taken as slaves.

In these times, Apanuugpak was raised to be a warrior. The diet of boys raised to be warriors was regulated carefully, to help them grow to be light and agile. Apanuugpak's training was rigorous. Some stories say his grandfather would make him run to the top of Nelson Island (about 500 feet high). Then, he would receive just one drop of water from the tip of the feather of a snowy owl to quench his thirst. Then Apanuugpak was told to, roll over sharp mussel shells to toughen his body and mind.

Apanuugpak was a virtual "killing machine," according to oral tradition. He achieved victory through his superior strength, courage and ingenuity. Apanuugpak was invisible to his enemies, it is said, though he also had a loud voice, like a crane, that scared them. Arrows bounced off of him, perhaps because of his secret weapon, an armor of mussel shells.

His enemies say that a shaman in the Togiak area put a curse on Apanuugpak, who was turned into a rock as he headed back to his village after a raid. That rock can still be seen along the coast. However, Anna Kungurqaq of Nelson Island tells that he died the natural death of an old man while in a steam bath.

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