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Uqiquq” (ooh-gee-gook): A Women’s Throwing Party

August 14, 2014

Mike Smith came in to the camp kitchen one day in July where I was preparing dinner for the archaeology crew, he asked if I wanted to attend a throw party that had just started across the street. The invitation was announced over the VHS radio, the primary method of making community announcements in Quinhagak. Thinking he was following me out the door to attend as well, Mike stated that it is for women only and that he would stay back and keep an eye on dinner.

A throw party can be hosted by anyone, and the celebration is related to a “first”: a first fish caught, first picked berries, a first wild animal kill. Most often acknowledgment is subsistence-related, but it is not limited to such rites of passage. Basically, a throw party can be for any reason such as a first marriage, or a first child. I was told that a grandmother named Fannie was celebrating her grandchildren’s first salmon catch and first berry gathering.

DSC02618

Congregated in front of Fannie’s house were already 50+ women and children. What I immediately heard was laughter as Fannie stood on her porch, and with help, threw objects into the crowd to be caught. Everyone was so unassertive and polite. No one was diving for the objects as they swirled primarily in one direction due to the north winds. I stood in the back, and although a rare item made the distance, I immediately learned to never take my eyes away from what is in the air. The split second I turned my attention to a child picking up candy I was hit in the chest with a bar of Irish Spring soap! So then, I admit, my competitive spirit began to control my reaching out a bit further to attempt to catch lidded bowls, spatulas, whisks, knitted hats, and handmade heirloom quilts. In Yupik, Fannie would often stop to tell a short story or a joke, and then gently pass an object to a specific person in the group. Occasionally, she would pause and rest her arm as the throwing continued for an hour. When the basket or bucket was emptied it too was thrown! When walking away, I felt privileged to have had the opportunity to participate in such a joyous community event.

DSC02638In Hooper Bay, Elder John Smith recalls that the first three catches were shared with elders, widowers, and everyone one else in the community and items were not kept for personal consumption. This included the tradition of sharing bearded seal blubber. Sharing translates to more luck in the future, more friends, and more abundance. Throwing parties are another example of the sense of community that is ever so present in Quinhagak. What a delightful experience for all in attendance.

Cheryl

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 15, 2014 01:41

    What a wonderful post, Cheryl. I’m glad you decided to write about your participation in the uqiquq, as we didn’t have the chance to talk about it in detail before you left. It does not cease to amaze me how welcoming Quinhagak residents are. It seems that this year at least, and perhaps in view of the large number of women in our crew, we have had the opportunity to experience aspects of community life from women’s perspective: the women-only maqii, the uqiquq… Thank you Quinhagak ladies.
    Ana

  2. Rosemary Pilatti permalink
    August 15, 2014 15:22

    Thanks for sharing this story about such a cool women’s tradition! Rose

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