By the end of June Barrow celebrated Nalukataq (NAH-loo-kah-TUCK), one of the town’s most important annual events. A traditional community thanksgiving after a successful bowhead whale harvesting season and the safe return of the captains and crews.
The celebration starts around noon with a prayer, gospel singing and the raising of the whaling crews' flags. I’ve been told that some elders go as early as 6 A.M. to choose a spot. No matter what time they arrive, everyone arrives armed with foldable chairs, blankets, and coolers for the long day ahead.
Photos (Top left clockwise): This group performs some gospel songs, while filmed by BBC and others, and invites everyone to participate by handing the lyrics to anybody interested / 30F and rainy weather won't stop the joy / Kids get exhausted after running around and playing with their friends while they wait for food / A good seat and warm clothes make a happy Nalukataq
People get different goose and caribou soups, caribou ice cream, bread rolls and Eskimo doughnuts in between many home made dishes.
Whaling crews share their bounty with the whole community. Quaq (frozen whale meat), muktuk (frozen whale blubber and skin) and mikigaq (fermented whale meat) are distributed among the attending families. Everybody carries platters and plastic bags full of raw whale meat and the excitement is much. All this is part of a generous gesture that not only involves the locals but also sharing with the visitors, who get the aqikkaak (whale fluke).
The amount given away depends on the success of the whaling season.
Members of the Nusunginya Whaling crew distribute muktuk with the present families / Muktuk is cut with an ulu (traditional Iñupiat woman knife) in little bits for immediate enjoyment / Rain or shine all family members help out / Yumm! Buttery bread rolls / Everybody eagerly waits for the whale banquet
After all the catch is distributed the blanket comes in. Made of ugruk (bearded seal) skins that once covered an umiak (traditional skin boat), the blanket is held in place by tight ropes pulled between wooden beams. With the blanket raised about shoulder height, people circle it and hold the edges to pull out on the blanket and throw the jumper in the air. The first ones to jump on are the whaling captains & crew After that, any brave participant can join.
Candy is thrown from up high is a gesture that symbolizes the joy of sharing. Kids get incredibly excited and can be seen teaming up and trading different obtained sugary treats.
A member of the whaling crew teases the crowd with a bag full of candy before jumping / Kids of all ages wait for the sweets on every corner / The excitement runs so high that teenagers scream as in a music concert / Candy is thrown up in the air / The scavenging starts / Full pockets and smiles everywhere / The sugary aftermath, energized kids play and run all over the place / Inupiat People wear mukluks (soft boots made of reindeer skin or sealskin) or kamik and parkas or anoraks of seal, caribou, wolverine, wolf and fox skin.
After having fun with the blanket everyone is invited to dance. The drummers get in first and a prayer is said. Each dance lasts several minutes and begins with a soft introductory chant. Then the drummers add to the singing their loud heavy beats, while the dancers perform. Everyone at the gymnasium can join the dance party.
The blanket comes in and a prayer is elevated to thank the bounty and the safe return of the crew members / The drummers and singers accommodate to begin the session / Let the celebration begin! Gordon Brower dances among family and friends / A proud father looks into his son's eyes while playing the drums / A local kid enjoys pranking on tanik (white man) / Remember to hug your loved ones was one of night's motto / Eugene Brower, President of the Barrow Whaling Captains Association, smiles satisfied / Selfies and Instagram photos where taken every second of the celebration
The native Inupiat people have lived in Barrow for four thousand years and continue to practice traditional ways of life, including whaling and subsistence hunting whilst perfecting their tools and techniques with modern technologies. For an archive of historical photographs, check out: http://tundratimeslocal.ilisagvik.cc/
Alaska natives have been hunting bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) for thousands of years. This traditional subsistence hunt is protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and hunting is allowed for registered members of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission (AEWC). A quota for the number of whales taken by the AEWC is determined by the International Whaling Commission (IWC).
Only Alaskan Eskimos who are registered members of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission may hunt bowhead whales in the U.S.