GAMBELL, Alaska - When it became clear that the elders in this isolated Eskimo village on St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea approved of the marriage, Clifford Apatiki's relatives did what was required of them: They bought him his bride.
That meant, according to a fast-fading custom here among the Siberian Yupiks, a small but sturdy native Alaskan tribe that has inhabited this treeless and brutally windy island since about A.D. 500, that Mr. Apatiki's family would spend at least a year coming up with the payment. They called on their relatives, here in Gambell, over in Savoonga, the other Yupik village on this island 38 miles from the Chukchi peninsula in Russia, and across Alaska, to send them things - sealskins, rifles, bread, a toaster, a house full of gifts.
When the bride's family accepted the offerings, Mr. Apatiki, a skilled ivory carver and polar bear hunter, did what was required of him: he went to work for her family as a kind of indentured servant for a year, hunting seal, whale and polar bear, and doing chores.
The marriage between Mr. Apatiki, 30, and the former Jennifer Campbell, 29, who was a bookkeeper for the village tribal council, was formalized five years ago, when traditional marriages such as theirs were still the norm here. But now the couple worry whether their children will follow suit because even in five years this and other centuries-old traditions in this village of 700 have been slipping away, as one of the most remote villages on earth finally contends with the modern world.