One of the most enigmatic images of Russian America is a small watercolor found in the Ilya Voznesensky’s collection. According to Fiderica de Laguna, this naïve, but expressive image depicts the dance of Tlingit initiate into a secret society known as the "Dog Eaters." De Laguna postulates that the ceremony spread over the northern coast in the late precontact period, probably originating among the Bella-Bella or Heiltsuq. In her interpretation, "the initiate, with red-painted face, is possessed by the motivating spirit and is hungry to east raw flesh. He wears cedarbark rings over his shoulders and eagle down in his hair. He acts wild, and attendants, whose faces are painted and also wear eagle down, restrain him. In the Kwakiutl version, "Hamatsa" which is still performed, rattles are used to calm the new dabcer, as shown at the right. Drumming and singing are also part of the performance (De Laguna 1988:275)."
The caption above the scene identifies the author as a “Native Kolosh of Sitka Island” and dates the painting to 1842. Who was this Native artist? And how did Voznesensky came into the possession of this picture? We may never know for sure, but it is possible that this was a work of Voznesensky’s talented Tlingit apprentice Filat Druzhinin. Druzhinin was twelve years old when Voznesensky arrived in Sitka, and Chief manager Kupreianov ordered him and another local youth to assist the researcher. Filat proved to be a talented and eager disciple. Over the next decade, he traveled with Voznesensky to different parts of Alaska and to California, and was even sent on some solo assignments in the Pribilof and Kurile Islands. After Voznesensky’s departure, Druzhinin remained in Sitka, was married twice, fathered four children and died in 1862 at the age of 35.
Sources and Literature:
Alekseev, A. I. The Odyssey of a Russian Scientist: I. G. Voznesenskii in Alaska, California, and Siberia, 1839-1849. Translated by Wilma C. Follette. Limestone Press, Kingston, Ontario, 1987.
Blomkvist, E.E. Risunki I. G. Voznesenskogo [Drawings of I.G. Voznesensky], Sbornik Muzeya Antropologii i Etnografii XII(1951): 230-303.
Blomkvist, E. E. A Russian Scientific Expedition to California and Alaska, 1839-1849. Article translated by B. Dmytryshyn and E. A. Crownhart-Vaughan. Oregon Historical Quarterly 73 (1972), 101-170.
De Laguna, Federica. Ceremonialism on the Northwest Coast. In William W. Fitzhugh and Aron Crowell, editors. Crossroads of Continents: Cultures of Siberia and Alaska. Smithsonian Institutions Press, Washington DC, 1988, 271-280.
Pierce, Richard. Russian America: A Biographical Dictionary. The Limestone Press, Kingston, Ontario and Fairbanks, Alaska, 1990.