KODIAK, Alaska — A Finnish researcher and expert in Alutiiq archery is on Kodiak Island to do some learning but is doing some teaching as well, spreading the skills needed to make authentic Alutiiq bows.
Marcus Lepola, an ethnologist and doctoral student at Åbo Akademi University in Finland, is in Kodiak to gather information for his doctoral thesis and to share some of his knowledge with Kodiak.
Making authentic bows is just one of Lepola's skills; he specializes in hunting paraphernalia and has a vast knowledge of Alutiiq culture. He is also fluent in Finnish, Swedish, French and English.
The main purpose of Lepola's trip was to gather information for his thesis by researching and studying Alutiiq objects.
"I wanted to see how these objects were perceived by Finns in the 19th century," he said. "It's research about defining the role of Finns in Russian Alaska."
Lepola's thesis discusses Finland's role in the colonial era as Finns — then part of the Russian Empire — took part in the Russian colonial initiative in Alaska.
"I've learned a lot about my own country," Lepola said. "Finland today wouldn't exist without access to Alaska. It's one of the many big reasons our country is as it is today."
Lepola said that Finnish people, like the Russians, also collected large numbers of Alaska artifacts because they spent time here.
The Furuhjelm Collection, which is housed in a high school in Hämeenlinna, Finland, contains Alutiiq artifacts.
Lepola said he had the opportunity to study the collection, which has 18 categories of objects that are "typical Alaskan artifacts." The collection includes miniature kayaks, hunting weapons, clothing and a few hats. He has been studying the Alutiiq objects to see how they are perceived by Finns, and why Finns started collecting Alaska objects.
The Alutiiq Museum has given Lepola a space to work during his time in Kodiak, and also took him to work at the Cape Alitak kids camp.
"This is something we've been building toward," museum executive director Sven Haakanson said. "Having scholars like Marcus come to Kodiak to share their knowledge, and we can teach them as well."
Haakanson has visited the Alutiiq collections in Finland several times.
"I've been studying those collections," Haakanson said. "We've done various projects from them throughout the years. Now we're thinking about bows. It's a process of relearning things that were here that were basically set aside. Hopefully this will inspire others to make bows traditionally."