Alaska Native Heritage- whaling (long)

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Posted by Chris on March 07, 1999 at 13:40:54:

In Reply to: Re: Peripheral MohicanLand News & Comment posted by Pat on March 07, 1999 at 10:55:36:

Your observations on the lack of attention paid to the contributions of American Indians is so on the mark! After the gathering, do you think we might plan something in which we can all participate for the web site in November. Of course, you might be able to come up with something for all year long. Perhaps a page featuring a different person each month - someone like CrazyHorse from history, a contemporary Native American writer or artist. Oklahoma and New Mexico abound with wonderful American Indian artists. Just a thought to kick around.
: Pat

Hi Pat,

Why wait until Nov.? Here is the text of an article which was in today's paper. I thought you might find it interesting.

"For someone quickly driving through Barrow in late February or early March, the town may appear quiet and frozen, with temperatures well below zero, hard-rock gravel streets and a big snow-covered frozen lagoon between Barrow and Browerville.

But behind that exterior, in homes, garages and vacant buildings or workrooms, there is lots of activity as whaling captains, their families and crews get the umiaks, or skin boats, ready for spring bowhead whaling.

According to the calendar from the Inupiat History, Language and Culture Commission, March is "Amiqsivik umianik qatiqsitquvlugich," or "A time to sew the skins onto the boats so that the skins may dry and become bleached in the sun."

Maggie Ahmaogak, director of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission in Barrow, said in late February, "We've had several whaling captains finish their skin sewing for their umiaks.

"There is a lot of preparation that takes place in order to get the (seal) skin ready for sewing," she said. "The crew members are needing to thaw out the skin that has been fermenting during the winter season. And then the whaling captain's wife must get the (caribou) sinew ready for sewing way ahead of time so that the sinews are ready by the time the guys are done scraping the skins ready for sewing.

"Then, on the day of the sewing, the captain's wife must get all the sewers to the house and feed them during the day. So there's been a couple of captains that have finished and some are ongoing right now."

She said the boat of her husband, Captain George Ahmaogak, is a "six-skin boat," so she needed 10 sewers a whole day, 8AM to 7PM, in order to finish sewing all the skins.

She said some captains are having a hard time finding sewers. "Most of our elderly women who have been doing the sinew braiding have passed on, and the older generation are now trying to teach the younger generation how to braid the sinew and getting it ready for braiding."

She said there is one final, very important step to make the skin boat waterproof. "A fresh seal must be caught and used as blubber to seal the sewing. There are two seams- an inside seam and an exterior seam- that are sewn by the women, and, in between the two seams, you must seal the seam with fresh blubber. And the fresh blubber is also used during the drying process for the skin boat itself."

She said the boat takes about a month to dry. "But you must use that fresh blubber to seal the seam so that it will be flexible and not so easy to break during the whaling season."

The boat will have to travel through the ice-filled, very chilly waters, and carry the crew toward the bowhead whales, which can weigh 40 to 50 tons and more.

Maggie Ahmaogak said all the effort is more than worth it in the end.

"It takes a lot of work, but like they say, the women who do the sewing, you're sewing for the lives of those crew members that will be in that boat, so it is very careful work."

She said the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission captains from all the whaling villages in the north and Northwest Alaska and Russia will be holding a mini-convention here March 15-16, to get ready for the spring whaling season.

"I'd like to wish everyone a happy and very successful season," she said."

This is Chris:
I am also hoping they have a successful season as I am going back to Barrow in June for the first time in 31 years to go to the Nalutataq celebration. It is held to celebrate the successful season. BTW, my bedroom window used to look out over that lagoon between Barrow and Browerville that the article mentioned. According to the Inupiaq calendar, March is also "Satkunik nutaqsaivik" or "A time to refurbish weapons and tools" and "Nannut atqurrisuurut piayaamijnik" or "Polar bears would bring out their young."

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