The Aleuts refer to the people found on the small islands that lie on the boundary between the Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea. This is to the northwest part of the tip of Alaska Peninsula in the USA.. The major islands include the Islands of the four mountains, Fox Islands, Rat, Andreanof and Near Islands in addition to the Komandor Islands found near the Kamchatka Peninsula. This is what is referred to as the Aleutian archipelago. The name Aleuts was given to them courtesy of the Russian newcomers to their settlements. They call themselves Unangan and they are believed to have migrated from Asia across the Bering land bridge. The Aleutian prehistory is the culture that was developed between 2500 BC and 1750 AD in the Aleutian Islands during the occupation of the Russians in these areas that led to a huge decline in population due to sufferings and diseases.
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It has been documented that the Aleutian Islands were first occupied around 8500 years ago. Physically and culturally, it is evident that the Aleuts are closely related to the Eskimos. These people speak a language with three distinct dialects. Economic activities of the Aleutians included hunting, fishing, weaving and at times gathering. As hunters they hunted for marine mammals such as sea-lions, seals, whales, sea otters, and at times walrus, bears, caribou (The Aleutians, 2008). They also hunted for mollusks and birds. Weaving was mostly done by the women. They wove grass baskets. Since they were settled along freshwater bodies, fishing was a normal activity andthey caught salmon among other types of fish. Other activities included boat making using skin and working on stone, ivory and bones.
After the arrival of Russians, Aleuts moved their settlements to the river mouths. There was an end to internal warfare and there emerged chiefs who governed several villages composed of related families. Due to Russian domination, there was a dramatic decline in the population of Aleuts. By around 1830, only vestiges and no full-blooded Aleutians were surviving and their traditional culture was disrupted. The coming of Russians to the Aleutian Islands can be traced to the exploration of the Islands by fur traders in search of their very treasured and valuable fortune; fur. This signaled the genesis of numerous hardships both for the people and the wildlife of the Aleutian chain. At first the natives were friendly to these newcomers and welcomed them. Little did they know that they had invited all sorts of abuses from these immigrants (Alaska Humanities Forum, 2010)
The treatment the Aleuts were subjected to was horrendous and unimaginable. They tried a number of times to resist but they got overpowered in many of these instances. They were enslaved together with their children and their women forcibly raped. Despite the harsh environmental conditions they had been staying, that was nothing in comparison to what they now experienced. The more the demand for fur rose, the more the Aleuts were oppressed and tortured ( Alaska Humanities Forum, 2010).The fur traders used forceful ways to pressure the Aleut hunters to get for them sea otter skins. In the same light, they would use the wives and children belonging to these hunters to serve as hostages during such missions to act as a guarantee for the safe comeback of their overseers.
The population of the Aleuts was very much affected by Russian activities. The Russians destroyed wildlife indiscriminately. While attempting to fight off the over-dominance of the Russian people by the Aleuts led to the demise of a good number of them since they lacked reinforcements and their weapons were unmatched to the Russian artillery. Despite this, there are certain aspects of culture that the Aleut borrowed from the Russian people. There exist plentiful vestiges of the Russian culture among the Aleuts. Evidence of this is the naming of places, for example Semisopochnoi Island, Shelikof Strait and Baranof Island. The Russians in a way shaped the economy of the Aleuts whereas the cultural practices were partly modified. Depopulation of the Aleutian Islands is directly linked to the Russians (The Aleutians, 2008)
According to the Aleutians (2008), culture and the population of the Aleuts are the major aspects of the Aleutian prehistory that witnessed an effect of Russian dominance with their coming and occupation. The Unangan interacted with the Russians in several instances, some of which are wars, intermarriages, and economically. Presently, no full-blooded Aleuts exist and even those that have some amount of Aleutian blood in them are only vestiges.
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