Tag Archives: tradition

Sarah at the Saturday Market

Early on a Saturday morning, craftsmen and artists set up their tables in the Bethel Cultural Center. Traditional ulus, handmade jewelry, and beautiful wood carvings are laid out in a gorgeous array. Browsers stop to chat with vendors about the goods that are displayed. One of those vendors is a woman named Sarah.

Sarah sits at a corner table, threading beads onto a wire that will eventually become a pair of earrings. Her young nephew sits beside her, also hard at work threading beads.

“I’m teaching him so he can sell his own one day. He’s working hard so he can get an iPod,” she says with a smile.

In front of her, Sarah has a table full of colorful jewelry, as well as some wooden and ivory pieces off to the side. This day, she is looking after two sets of merchandise. Her friend is the one who creates the necklaces and bracelets made of vibrant stones. Sarah specializes in walrus ivory and wood.

The Saturday market is not just a fun activity, it is an important part of life in Bethel. Many people, such as Sarah, rely on the market as a second source of income. Prices of everything are sky high in Bethel, and hunting can only stretch limited budgets so far. The craftsmanship of the vendors has been passed down from generation to generation.  In order to balance out those costs, many families participate in the market for at least part of the year. Sometimes though, the extra money still doesn’t cover it.

“People can come here and trade for the things that they need,” Sarah says. Even if a person is running low on money, they can count on the Saturday market to supply at least a few of their needs. Although the markets were only started in 2005, the long tradition of trade and community support continues to flourish here.

By scanning around the market, one can see the great diversity of both the people and the products. Elders sit behind tables of traditional Yup’ik dress, while young girls are knitting their own variation of the latest trendy hat. Despite the differences, everyone is conversing. Both instructional and lighthearted conversations fill the air.

“I like coming here,” Sarah reflects. She takes a brief pause to correct her nephew’s beading technique. “It’s good to be here where I can talk to family and friends. We help each other out. I like coming here.”

See our video of Sarah at the Saturday Market here.

Story by Morgan Ryan and Hannah Mullally

Watch and Learn

Starting a journalism-project blog with a story about a camera, typical I know, but bear with me. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been a visual learner. When I got my first camera, I took it out of the box, tossed aside the directions and simply played around with it until I understood how to use it. I wanted to watch and see until I could do it on my own.

The other morning, I went to Cecilia’s house to shoot some B-Roll. As we watched her cook and sew, she explained a very crucial aspect to the Yup’ik culture. Like any culture, the Yup’ik people had established a way for their children to learn and pass on their cultures and traditions. They valued and respected their elders, and therefore utilized them as teachers. Children raised in the Yup’ik tradition were taught by watching and memorizing.

Nico watching (through his camera) how to water-proof sew boots.
Nico watching (through his camera) how to water-proof sew boots.

A parent or elder would call the child over as they sewed, prepared dinner, got ready to hunt, etc. and say, “Come sit. Watch.” and from there the child would sit, watch, memorize, and learn how to properly perform the task.

My interest of listening and watching grew even more when we interviewed Charles, a young native Yup’ik. As he timidly sat in his chair, he explained that it was difficult for him to hold eye contact with us because of how he was raised. His grandparents had taught him that to show he was listening, he had to look at the person’s mouth, the complete opposite of western culture.

There is a deep tradition and beauty in learning from someone simply by being quiet and watching. It works along with the Yup’ik’s ways of community and connectivity. In order to learn the skills needed to survive, you had to be present in the moment. You needed to show respect and give attention in order to be successful.

When I tried to teach myself how to work my camera for the first time, I was confused and a little lost. I didn’t want someone to try to explain it to me using words, I wanted to see the different features, the different buttons and how they worked. This theme struck a chord with me. As I continue to learn more, it’s proving that while the Yup’ik culture is different, it’s also one that I could relate to. We both value learning by watching, and eventual doing.

Happiness Can Be Found

It’s already day four here in Alaska, and each day continues to teach me something new about myself, the Yup’ik people and their culture. We have been shown such hospitality and kindness in the short amount of time that we’ve been here.

When we first arrived in Bethel, I had a certain image in my mind of what we were going to see. We had been preparing for our trip months before through articles, videos, photos, and stories, but nothing could prepare me for what we’d actually be encountering.

As we’ve progressed through interviews, and heard a variety of different testimonials, I’ve noticed a common theme amongst many of the people here. We as journalists, as a group here to film a documentary and create and share a story, we’ve been asking a lot of the hard questions. We came here to address the issues facing Bethel; issues of historical trauma, institutional racism, depression, disconnection, and climate change. Yet it’s in situations like these that we forget to look at the positive side as well.

In high school, I remember that when a hard or sad situation was depicted in an area, those feelings of sadness and hardship are all I would associate that area with afterwards. It wasn’t until I got to college, and I got out into the world and heard stories of life, happiness, and positive assets to those communities. It gave me a new perspective and a better understanding. It opened my eyes to seeing both sides of a community, that a place will always been more than its negative qualities.

Bethel is so much more than its issues. It’s about its people; Their dedication to their culture, their tradition, their way of life. It is a society founded on connections, and family, trudging through the struggles of life together, on a beautifully simple path.

During my time here, as I continued to be reminded of this through my experiences and the people I meet and listen to, it helps me to see Bethel as an even greater place. This society is not one that needs me or anyone else to fix it, or address its problems, but instead is a good place.

As we’ve heard so many times in the last few days, from so many amazing people, Bethel is a place with so much to offer. It’s a place rich in culture, values, and love; and I’m falling more and more in love with it.

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Ray Daw, one of the inspirational people we’ve gotten to hear from this week.