Alaska Native culture

Taboo in Athabascan

Hutłlaanee in Denaakk'e
Hutłlaanee in Denaakk’e

Hutłlaanee mean “its taboo” in Denaakk’e or Koyukon Athabascan. I grew up learning this at a very young age. I learned what was hutłaanee from mother and late grandmother Lydia Simon of Huslia. There are many traditional beliefs to follow and if you break them it is often times hutłaanee. Koyukon Athabascans survived thousands of years with their strong belief systems.

My aunt, Irene Henry, recently pointed out one belief. When you go hunting, you don’t say, “I’m going out hunting.” We usually say we are going out or going for a boat ride. We don’t want to assume we are going to get lucky when going out hunting. We don’t want to give ourselves bad luck or wish anyone else bad luck.

When we go to a new place, we burn a tiny amount of food as a small offering and prayer. This is called anthła (not sure about the spelling). Many of beliefs are unspoken. We believe in them so strongly, we don’t talk about them too much.

My children in Anchorage don’t know as much about what is taboo. One belief I have shared with them is that woman and girls are not supposed to say the word bear, talk about it or eat it. I’m breaking the belief to share it and sometimes I just have to say it in the city. We refer to it with other words if necessary. It is hutłaanee when we say it. That particular animal is a powerful being. I respect the beliefs.

When we drop food, we say ana’sa baaba (not sure how to spell ‘ana’sa’). The phrase is like saying, precious food. A long time ago, there were starvation days. Athabascans had to preserve food and couldn’t afford to waste even a little bit. We have to respect food and take care of it. If we drop food without saying ana’sa baaba, then it could be considered hutłaanee. I still say the phrase automatically when I accidentally drop food. I might whisper it to myself in a public place in the city, but I still say it.

There are many beliefs that I learned growing up in the village. Some are harder to explain and follow than others. Some make sense. Some of them are easier to understand if you speak Denaakk’e. I practice the beliefs and traditions as much as I can, but I know there so much I don’t know. I better get researching.

7 thoughts on “Taboo in Athabascan”

  1. Thank you so much for the fascinating glimpse into the Athabascan culture! Such an ‘elder’ culture is something to be cherished and I think its wonderful you are doing your part to see it remains remembered.

  2. lol I love you for doing this.. yeah hutlanee was something I had to learn, it started when I first moved to the village at 13.. I was at a potluck, got some bear meat because I was so curious how it was going to taste and chewed it x2 then you’d think record scratched and went quiet, everyone jumped up and screamed HUTLANEE! one person took my plate, another person slapped me on the back and another person was saying spit it out! spit it out!! My dad laughed and laughed lol..

  3. great article – i remember hearing this word spoken on things you just don’t do – i read somewhere that women weren’t supposed to mention wolverines by name – my son has an inupiaq name for wolverines as one of his names given him by family – so i’d call him by his other name if i were to stick with the old rule – and i broke it posting this lol instead maybe call it “that one that’s like a bear” oh i said bear too – i personally made up my own hutlanee by not eating porcupine meat ever – they’re my favorite animals and so darn cute!

    1. Hi Emma. I’m sure exceptions can be made in today’s world, especially for names. Overall, many of our beliefs were about respecting the land and animals. Our words carry weight…spiritually, mentally and physically.

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