Paniyagaq shares Yup’ik wisdom on environment

by Sophie Evan on May 24, 2013

John Phillip Sr. and Paniyagaq Mary Tunuchuk

John Phillip Sr. and Paniyagaq Mary Tunuchuk

ONC’s Environmental Summit ended Thursday at noon in Bethel. Participants from the Y/K region spent three day’s learning about where to get technical assistance for solid waste and landfill management, about Federal air and water quality standards, and about how the Yup’ik kept the environment pristine, both physically and spiritually.

Yup’ik niicugni ‘gguun

listen to story here

The subject was Yagyaraq, to abstain from certain activities, like hunting and fishing, when an immediate family member goes through her first menses, or when a pregnancy is miscarried, or there is a death in the family.

Chefornak elder, Paniyagaq Mary Tunuchuk, was careful to say that what she is about to share is not what she has made up, but is what was taught to her by her parents, grandparents, and other elders through out the region. Paniyagaq started by gently making sure everyone had her full attention and not on their cell phones.

Paniyagaq says it’s disrespectful not to pay attention to an elder when they’re speaking. She stressed that one day we will have to pass on this knowledge to the younger generation and will understand why their full attention is needed.

Paniyagaq was careful to make the distinction between the coastal and inland Yup’ik. The boundary villages are Chefornak on up towards Nelson Island as coastal and from the tundra villages to the Kuskokwim villages as inland. The coastal villages fast for five days, where the inland villages fast for a year. Fasting in this sense is abstaining from certain activities like hunting and fishing. Paniyagaq also noted that fasting is unique to each village.

Paniyagaq started by saying that she will briefly touch on each subject. She referenced what John Phillips said earlier about a young girl going through her first menus, that she sat on a bed of weaved grass, carefully hid from the world. Her dolls and story knives are given away to younger girls, as she is told that it’s time to take on a woman’s responsibilities.

Then on the subject of a miscarriage during pregnancy, Paniyagaq says the old men in the Qasgiq would say that a miscarriage is more potent than a girl going through her first menses. Those who think fasting isn’t something to practice have experienced mysterious weather changes. Paniyagaq recounted an experience by her father and his fellow seal hunters.

Paniyagaq reminded everyone that the man probably went out of need to feed his family, even though his wife had a miscarriage. The hunters started to head down to the sea along with the others in calm weather, before they reached the ice edge they began to hear rumbling and the ocean waves turned to swells, and everyone had to turn back.

Paniyagaq stressed that it is very important for women to let their husbands or boyfriends know about a miscarriage in order to prevent an accident happening to them.

In the next story we will hear about fasting during a death in the immediate family.

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