Friday, June 15, 2012


The Whaling Crew Flag flies high above the wind block wall.

Wednesday, June 13th, was the first Nalukataq or spring whaling festival of the year. After the whaling season is over, successful whaling crews choose the date for their Nalukataq celebration. This year there are 5 Nalukataq celebrations.

Basically the entire town gathers for the celebration which consists of a full day of feasting. It begins at noon, with a prayer of thanksgiving, followed by soups (caribou, goose and/or duck) and meats (whale, caribou, etc) that are distributed to everyone present. Deserts and more snacks are passed out periodically throughout the day. At the end of the day, muktuk (whale blubber and skin) and whale meat are distributed to the community so that they can take it home and stock their freezers.
Nalukataq is best known for the Eskimo blanket toss. At the end of the day a blanket made of seal skins is hoisted into the air with supports. Men and women circle the blanket and hold the edges, and pull out on the blanket to throw the blanket dancer in the air. After blanket tossing, everyone gathers around for Eskimo dancing. The men play a rythmic beat with the handheld drums and sing tunes, while both men and women dance together.

A server passing out scoops of the cooked fruit.
I arrived at Nalukataq at 1pm. I missed out on the soups and homemade rolls, but I did get some cooked fruit, which was basically like peach pie filling. YUM! I also tried some "Eskimo Candy" or Mamauk (I'm not sure how to spell it). It is the white stuff at the bottom of the baleen, comparable to gums between teeth. They cut it into strips and soak it in cheek oil from the whale. It tastes....interesting.
Later in the day there was a church service with lots of singing. We sang songs like "He's got the whole world in his Hands" with verses changed to "He's got the whaling captains in His hands" and other silly verses.

The support beams for the blanket can be seen in this photo

Around 9pm, the blanket tossing began. People were tossed high in the air. Some people did font flips in the air, while others brought bags of candy to throw out the crowd. After the candy was thrown out, the children would hurry to gather up as much as they could. Blanket tossing can be very dangerous. Usually people are caught by the blanket pullers, but some people aren't so lucky. While I was there, I saw one young boy fly off of the blanket and land on his head. I've been told that each year there is at least one broken leg and many sprained ankles. Rose, the vet technician and my roommate, decided to give it a try this year, but ended up spraining both her ankles... Later in the evening, when there were less people pulling the blanket and watching, I decided to give it a try. I was so nervous and scared that I would get hurt, but it was such a rush being tossed up into the air that my worries went away as soon as I climbed up.

Women & men wear their finest parkas for the evening festivities

This person tossed candy to the crowd

Me on the being tossed into the air

Eskimo dancing didn't begin until midnight. The dancing was amazing to watch, especially since it was an authentic event. They were not dancing for tourists or for any special performacne. They were dancing for themselves. The dancing was still going on when I left 1:30 am. I really enjoyed spending the day immersed in the Nalukataq festivities. I can't wait for the next one!

Eskimo Dancing

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