Inupiaq begin preparations for spring whaling season
by Mary Virginia Anniagruk Lum Sage
are some photos of spring whaling season preparations here in Barrow,
High School Homecoming King Ernest Nageak, of the PK13 Whaling Crew, checks the
crew’s umiaq frame. The traditional whaling boat will be covered with a
bearded seal skin cover. The PK13 Whaling Crew was beginning their preparations
Neakok, Josie Kaleak, Mary Ahkiviana, Isabel Kanayurak, Priscilla Sage, Flora Brower, Doreen Ahgeak and
Every February, whaling crews start preparing for the spring whaling season. Some whaling crews replace their bearded seal skin boat covers because of holes or tearing. The ladies in this picture are the usual seamstresses for sewing the skin boat cover, and will sew for 10-15 crews each February. It takes anywhere from 8-20 non-stop hours to sew one skin boat cover, and usually 5-9 bearded seal skins are used. The ladies partner up with each other and begin sewing from the middle, making waterproof stitches and sewing to the outer edge. They check each others' seams for accuracy and work together. The coffee can is filled with seal oil and is used to help make the stitches waterproof.
Skin boat seamstress Priscilla Sage sews waterproof seams on the bearded seal skins . Five to nine bearded seal skins will be sewn together to make the traditional whaling boat cover used for spring whaling only. This particular boat used five skins, two of which were extra large.
boat seamstress Priscilla Sage threads her needle with sinew. Strands of dried
caribou muscle are braided together in a time consuming process to create the
traditional thread used for sewing. Sage teaches local workshops and also
individuals on the Inupiaq technique of extracting the muscle while butchering
the caribou, drying the muscle, pulling strands from the dried muscle and
braiding it into thread.
a few weeks, whaling crews will be taking these next steps preparing for
the spring whaling hunt on the edge of the shore ice:
next step in preparing for spring whaling is to prepare all of the gear
that will be used in the whaling camp (which is always on the edge of the
shore ice). Crew members will be making the bombs that help kill the whale
faster (thus preventing harpooned whales from sinking or from being
wounded and dying later with no harvest).
members also gather all of their camping gear, work on their snow machines
(if needed), prepare their sleds, and buy food and other supplies for the
preparing the gear, then it’s time to break trail. Breaking trail means
clearing a path on the rough ice from the beach to the edge of the shore
ice, which right now is about ¾ mile out. Breaking trail is pure hard
labor and is usually reserved for the younger members of the whaling crew.
Some whaling crews team up with other crews and work together on one main
trail and then divert to different directions.
more information, phone
Roy Nageak or his wife,
Flossie, at 907-852-7696.
Inupiat Heritage Center: http://www.north-slope.org/IHCSite/index.html
Photos copyright: Mary Anniagruk Sage
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