Voyages of Ivan Veniaminov
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Ivan Veniaminov

Ivan Veniaminov, Russian Orthodox priest from Irkutsk, Siberia ministered to the inhabitants of the Unalaska district from July 29, 1824 until August 15, 1834. His home base was the island of Unalaska. To the west, the island of Umnak formed the boundary of his district. To the east, it was the Shumagin islands. To the north, it was the Pribilov Islands. To travel to these islands in the vicinity of Unalaska he most often went by baidarka. To travel to the Pribilovs, he went by ship. He travelled to the Shumagin islands by ship as well, but then visited individual villages in the Islands and on the Alaskan penninsula by baidarka.

In 1834, Father Veniaminov was promoted to Bishop of a region that stretched from Sitka Alaska to the Kamchatka Penninsula of Siberia. When he said fairwell to his congregation in Unalaska, the everyone was in tears.

Later, when Father Veniaminov's wife died, he became a monk and took on the name of Innokenti, Innocent in English. And after his death he was canonized so that now we know him as Saint Innocent.
The church that Father Veniaminov built in Unalaska

Father Veniaminov kept a journal of his activities. These have been published and are available from the University of Alaska Press. On reading these journals, I was at first disappointed because I was hoping for more information about his travels and description of the islands. For the most part, the journals are simply an accounting of his work to his bishop. Entries are short and to the point and primarily account for his ecclesiastical work, baptizes so many people, married such and such people, said mass at so and so village, and so on.

However, Veniaminov does account for his voyages. He tells us where he went, how he went, by baidarka or ship, and how long it took him to get there. Lest he get accused of loafing, he also records when his party gets delayed by bad weather.

The Russian Orthodox chapel and graveyard in Akutan. Though the village and the chapel weren't here during Veniaminov's time, the people of the village carry on the Russian Orthodox tradition.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of these journals to a kayaker is the omission of details on paddling. The journals tell us that journeys were always made in a group. However, Father Veniaminov never tells us whether he did any paddling himself in a solo karyak or whether he sat in the middle of a three holer or in the bow of a double. But he does tell us where he went and how many days these journeys took. We learn that he and his companions averaged 5mph on a normal day of paddling for 12 hours and even did 6.6 mph with a tail wind. That's a pretty good cruising speed.

But Father Veniaminov did write Notes on the Islands of the Unalaska District, a scholarly work on both the natural history and anthropology of the islands. This book contains for the most part the only information we have of the status of the islands during his stay and the period preceding.

All content copyright © 2004 Wolfgang Brinck. Personal non-commercial use permitted.