During a UAA Anthropology Club gathering recently, UAA anthropologists Alan Boraas and Catherine Knott shared an understanding of the “Great Blessings of the Water” that take place annually along rivers in Southwestern Alaska. They worked in collaboration with local residents and were invited to document the rituals. The event they describe took place Jan. 19, 2012, on the Nushagak River near New Stuyahok, about 50 miles northwest of Dillingham. The V. Rev. Alexie Askoak of St. Sergius Church officiated.
In his remarks, Boraas calls the religious ritual “indigenized Orthodoxy,” meaning that the religious event has been shaped by the Yupik people who practice it. The event recognizes the Baptism of Christ by John the Baptist, but since Christ had no sins to remove, the sins they remove in the ceremony are those of human pollution of the water. Their prayer is for pure water, home for healthy salmon.
“People raise to the sacred that which is most important in their lives,” Boraas says.