THE CAMA-I BOOK by Ann--Ed. Vick


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An Alaskan Foxfire, created by 800 teenagers who have been publishing their interviews with local oldsters--and sometimes translating them from Eskimo, Russian, or other languages--in local student magazines in their native southwestern Alaska. For the book, the students insisted on grouping the interviews in three sections to reflect regional differences. Introducing the first, they tell us that ""The city of Kodiak is just about the right size for people to live in."" Also, ""under the modern facade the insider can see the influences of the hunter-gatherer, fisherman, builder, businessman, adventurer, often in the same person."" Long-time Kodiak-area residents (not all of them natives) recall prospecting, fox farming, bear hunting, and bush piloting; to the kids, it's all old-time life. One man tells us about kayak parkas made from whale intestines, ""tight so you can roll over and come up again without getting wet or water inside it."" In contrast, a ""wild""-looking but gentle photographer travels in a naugahide kayak, reflects on going back to nature where ""You're seeing something and at the same time destroying it,"" and ""plans on getting a 200-to-300-gallon fish tank and creating his own little ecosystem so he can observe nature in the comfort of his own home."" Recollections of the Bristol Bay region center on salmon fishing and the canning industry, with specifics on traditional women's handicrafts and a description of Judy Fischer's fried fish eggs: ""It's crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and has a lot of nutritional value in it."" Unlike the diverse population of the Bay, the people of the remote Yukon-Kuskokwim region are all Yup'ik Eskimos; their interviews are a trove of native customs: rules for a girl's first period, arranged marriages (""sometimes the boys would be surprised when they found out that they had a wife to take care of""), old-time medicine, a shaman who could turn into a dog. On how to carve ivory: first you ""just go out on the beach and pick up the ivory tusks that have been washed ashore."" Also from this region come a number of awesome folk tales well worth preserving. One, of a baby who devoured its mother, is printed in the original Yup'ik language as well as in English. Alaska is a natural site for a Foxfire project (introduced, appropriately, by Eliot Wigginton); the three regions provide a fascinating range of cultural history; and the students bridge the different times and traditions with charming ease.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1982
Publisher: Anchor/Doubleday