Sylvester Ayek / Inupiak from Anchorage, Alaska
Sylvester Ayek is an Inupiaq native. He grew up on King Island, a tiny island far, far north of Anchorage in the Bering Sea. His family lived there until he was twelve years old but abandoned their island village when the school was permanently closed. The villagers scattered to the cities of Nome, Anchorage, and other places. Nobody lives on King Island anymore, but Sylvester and other King Islanders return most summers to connect once again with the land of their birth.
Sylvestor currently lives in Anchorage, Alaska. He is a successful sculptor and his work has been shown in museums and placed in permanent collections in Alaska and the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC. The drum he plays is a large, shallow rim covered with walrus stomach. He sprays the surface frequently with a bottle of water to keep it soft and pliable. It's easy to imagine how that drum, when put with several others in a small community lodge, would fill your soul with its beat.
Sylvester’s mother was a composer and wrote 40-50 songs that have become part of the King Island song legacy. The Inupiaq, which means “the people” in the Inupiaq language, occupied the far northern lands of current Alaska and were divided into four regional groups; those from the Bering Straits (Sylvester’s group), Kotzebue Sound, the North Alaska Coast and the Interior. All four groups shared a language and cultural base with one another. Depending on the area the bands settled, they hunted whale, caribou, seal and other fish for their subsistence. Often the successful hunting of the land animals during the spring and summer months determined how many hours they would have to spend fishing on the ice in winter.
The Inupiaq were also inventors and technologists. Their elaborate tools and boats were highly regarded and allowed them to travel and hunt and survive in this harsh region. Their clothing design—many layers with the fur turned inward—allowed them to be warm and toasty even in the frigid, killing cold. The houses they built were partially underground with a clever tunnel that went below the level of living and trapped all the cold air and kept it from the interior of the house.
Listen to a Sample of This Show