By Tim Malchoff
For safety and travel the Chugach People used traditional navigational knowledge from the elders in addition to observing the environment and animal behavior.
1. Observing and knowing directions.
2. Learn weather and geography from Elders.
3. Use common sense.
“Every day he has to check the weather by watching the stars. When the stars twinkle slow it's going to be a fine day, no wind tomorrow. When the stars flutter fast that means it’s going to be windy the next day.” -Sergius Moonin, Nanwalek, Alexandrovsk Vol. 2 – Old Beliefs.
The Weatherman was one of the most important members of the community, and the lives of many men would depend on him. Unfortunately, we know very little about who the weathermen were or how they operated. One of the few references to the Weatherman is in Birket-Smith (1956:116) who states: On hunting excursions there was a “Weather Prophet” who was not a shaman but an old man of great experience. He was called La’tcuxta, i.e. “Sky Person” and used to advise the chief, who would then tell the hunters what to do. The last known weatherman was Makarka Chemowitsky, who died in the 1940’s. Makarka was the chief of Angik village on Hawkins Island who also played a key role for Birket-Smith and De Laguna during the Danish-American expedition of 1933. While no one today can predict the weather as well as Makarka there are -people who are familiar with the principals of the system and have seen it used.
To make a prediction the Weatherman would go off alone, or with few apprentices, to study the signs. First, he would lie back down on the ground often for hours at a time, studying the speed, direction, and shape of the clouds. The Weatherman knew through traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) that the winds in the lower atmosphere carried the current day’s weather, but the winds in the upper atmosphere determined the movements of large storm systems. Secondly, the Weatherman would take his bidarka offshore to study the size and direction of the swells. Studying the swells was often very complicated because storm systems can send large swells great distances. Determining which swells were important took a great deal of knowledge and experience. One of the most important things the Weatherman would notice was the rate of change of swell pattern overtime. This would allow him to intuit the direction and magnitude of storm movements. Finally, he would take into account the more familiar signs, such as; the amount of dew, the color of the sunrise and sunset, behavior of the birds, insects and usual tide activity.
While conducting an interview with a man who had been on the last bidarka expedition to Middleton Island around 1915, I began to feel that there was a great deal more to the travel systems than was apparent on the surface. “What would happen if you got caught on the open sea in bad weather, I asked. “They didn’t get caught”, he replied, “Because of the weatherman.” he added later that only a few people ever drowned in their bidarkas, and they were usually young men of little experience who did not listen to the weatherman”.
- W.W. Mitchell, Chugach Navigation
The ability to predict the weather through a variety of ways is by observing the clouds, wind direction and speed, the oceans waves, the sunrise and sunset and animal behavior. Each village or communities in the Chugach Region stay observant to the environment and its elements for safety before we travel or hunt because each community has its own particular weather patterns because of its geographic location. Over many generations the Elders and Recognized Experts of the region have acquired TEK and skills to predict the weather through a variety of ways by observing the environmental elements.
The Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) on weather forecasting passed down through generations is still practiced today as we strive to sustain a safe cultural lifestyle
Important guidelines our Elders have passed down still widely used to are as follows: Be safe, so be observant to the environment in which you live. When you are observant, you can predict whether or not it is safe for to go out and hunt or travel. Our Elders have also stressed the importance of being prepared when traveling, be prepared for worst case scenario. Do not over harvest. Always inform others of your plan and route. Try to take a partner with you, travel in pairs is best, but if you have to travel alone, use common sense and be safe. Remember to always share your knowledge with the younger generation who are starting out as young hunters and travelers for safety.
In this Traditional Weather Forecasting heritage kit, our hope is for students to learn about environmental factors and build a stronger ability to predict the weather. The lessons will teach students the traditional observations and indicators of the environment and understand the traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) of our Elders and how they predicted the weather.
It was an amazing experience to have worked with the Elders from across the Chugach Region to gather their TEK to help me build curriculum for Traditional Weather Forecasting. Their hope is that their TEK will continue to be shared on how to predict the weather in each Chugach Region community for many generations to come.
We hope you enjoy the Traditional Weather Forecasting Heritage Kit.
–Tim Malchoff, Local Education Coordinator, Port Graham
The Woman who Married the Moon
title goes here
title goes here
title goes here
• Climate Change
• Food From the Sea
• Honoring Eyak
• Our Water
• Traditional Food & Recipes
• Traditional Housing & Shelters
• Traditional Place Names
• Traditional Transportation
• Traditional Weather Forecasting
• Additional Heritage Kits
1840 Bragaw Street, Suite 110
Anchorage, Alaska 99508-3463
ANA Grant Number S356A150066