Whaling: a way Of Life Abvibich lglaunifat Niginmun Written by

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WHALING: A Way Of Life

Abvibich lglaunifat Niginmun

Written by

Tupou L. (Qipuk) Pulu

Ruth (Tatqavin) Ramoth-Sampson

Angeline (Ipiixik) Newlin

From Information Provided by

David (Umigluk) Frankson


Dinah (Aviq) Frankson


Point Hope, Alaska

Music Transcribed by

Thomas F. Johnston

Working with funds provided by the

National Endowment for the Humanities

Grant Number ES27157-77-254

Produced by the

National Bilingual Materials Development Center

Rural Education

University of Alaska

2223 Spenard Road

Anchorage, Alaska 99503

Tupou L. Pulu, Ed.D., Director


Whaling: A Way of Life (Abvibich Iglaunifat Niginmun "the whales [their] journey to the north") has given us, the authors, a great deal of happiness as we labored to complete it. David and Dinah Frankson (Umigluglu Aviglu) of Tikibaq (Point Hope) carefully taught us for many months with patience and love. We are indebted to them for their willingness to leave Point Hope and work closely with us at the Center in the production of this book. They have given us, and to all who are interested in their culture, the knowledge of a fast disappearing way of life. Hopefully, their contribution of this knowledge, recorded here in this book, will help to deter the current erosion of cultural information that is plagueing every Native village in rural Alaska.

We are also very grateful to Thomas F. Johnston of the Music Department and the Center for Cross Cultural Studies at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Alaska, for his transcriptions of the nalukataq songs in this book. The recording of these songs in musical notations is of paramount importance. It ensures their preservation for everyone to enjoy many years hence.

Many thanks are also due to Mary L. Pope for her untiring effort to pull all our work together in final form, to Dennis Remick for the sketches of the whaling equipment and the distribution of the whale shares, to Leslie Boffa for the drawings of the stories and the dedication page, and finally to Simon Koonook for the beautiful cover illustration. Without the contribution and dedication of these people, nothing could have been done to complete this greatly needed book on one of the most important aspects of the Eskimos' lifestyle in Alaska.

Tupou L. Pulu

Ruth Ramoth-Sampson

Angeline Newlin


For numerous centuries, the indigenous peoples of Alaska's sea coasts eagerly await the annual northward spring migration of the bowhead whales. Thoughts of the spring harvest of these mammoth sea mammals have sustained the people in their various activities throughout the long winter months.

For the Tikibabmiut, the people of Point Hope, and other coastal Eskimos, their whole social structure was, and still is to a great extent, dependent on the capture of the bowhead whales and its associated activities. The whaling captain and his crew members become the core around whom life's activities revolve. From the preparation of their hunting gear, to the hunt, to the distribution of the whale shares, and to the various celebrations held throughout the year, the whaling captain and his crew play very important roles. Their roles with each activitiy have been prescribed by ancient customs and traditions to emphasize a spirit of sharing and caring for each other's welfare.

The whaling customs and traditions of the Tikigagmiut were passed on from generation to generation through oral repetitions done in community halls called the qalgich. Originally, when the point of the land now known as Point Hope, or Tikibaq, was larger and it extended further out into the ocean, six qalgich were located there. There was a name for each one. They were Qalgibruk, Agraktabvik, Saugvik, Ufasiksikaaq, Qabmaqtuuq, and Kafixiqpak.

It was to these halls that the older men and the younger men of each clan went to work on their various hunting tools, to relate stories of successful hunts, to recall comical events and to teach the young people through stories, songs and dances the value systems, and the history of their own people. Now the rough waves of the Chukchi Sea have eroded away much of the land upon which some of these qalgich stood, and thereby inadvertently dissolved their people. Only two out of the original six qalgich still remain today, Ufasiksikaaq and Qagmaqtuuq. The people of the other four qalgich have, over the years, joined themselves to the two remaining qalgik. Although the nonexistent qalgich have survived through the remnants of their people, they have all but lost completely their individual identities as expressed in their songs, dances, and other cultural information.

Today Ufasiksikaaq and Qagmaqtuuq are carrying on only a part of their original functions. The activities of their people are presently dictated by outside commercial and cultural influences. They have now evolved into ceremonial houses and function only during times of celebrations which are held at certain times of the year. They have ceased to be the great cultural centers they once were. How long will these qalgik remain intact? No one really knows. Only the old ruins of the qalgich can still be found at the old site on the point. The celebration ground still exists, but the people are now using a new place close to their new village site.

Any prediction as to the survival of the qalgik with their cultural heritage based on the ceremonial activities is made more difficult now with the current bowhead whale controversy. Up to the mid-1970's, the Eskimos have methodically gone about with their subsistence hunts. They were not aware of a mounting concern for the effective control of world wide whaling activities on the part of an organization called the International Whaling Commission. They were not aware of campaigns to end all whaling by some people from different parts of the world. They were not aware that something was going to interfere with their traditional way of obtaining their major source of food from the whales that come yearly to their shores.

In June, 1977, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) ruled to impose a zero quota on the bowhead for the Inupiat people, thus outlawing their hunting of the bowhead. Needless to say, the impact of such a proposal was devastating to all the whaling communities. How could an entity such as IWC impose a regulation that on the one hand preserves an animal species from extinction, but on the other, endangers the survival of a people and its culture?

In response to the moratorium on subsistence whaling proposed by IWC, the whaling captains from the Eskimo whaling communities formed the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission (AEWC) in August of 1977. The organization is governed by a nine-member board. Some of the activities of this group in its efforts to halt what it perceives as a threat to the Eskimos' very physical and cultural survival are presented in a paper prepared by the Arctic Environmental Information and Data Center for the Alaska State Legislature on the "Status of Bowhead Whales, Bowhead Research and Alaska Eskimo Whaling." Through the active work of AEWC, and the support given it by other agencies throughout Alaska which advocate for the preservation of subsistence lifestyles, IWC agreed in its December 1977 meeting to reinstate a limited subsistence quota for bowhead whales. This amounted to twelve whales killed or eighteen whales struck, whichever came first. The number of whales allowed were allocated among the ninewhaling villages, and the quota was met in the spring hunt of 1978. The whaling captains still felt this was not sufficient to meet their community needs so they sought higher quotas but were allowed only two more. That is a total of fourteen killed and twenty struck. AEWC is currently involved along with other scientific and governmental agencies in the studies of the bowhead whales that will increase our knowledge of the species, and perhaps lead us to better management of the hunting of these animals.

Where the present bowhead whale controversy is taking the Eskimos and their culute is an issue that will take the cooperation of all people at different levels of the government, the local communities, and the scientific community to resolve. Perhaps some of the solutions can be derived from considerations based on the Resolution on Subsistence Lifestyles passed by the Friends of the Earth International in its meeting of November 1977 which reads in part as follows: "The preservation of endangered cultures is as important to the diversity and richness of life and to the health of the environment as is the preservation of species."

Thi.s book was written to preserve for a portion of Eskimo future generations the cultural knowledge of their ancestors who hunted the whales with gratitude and respect. Hopefully, others who read this book will come to a better understanding of the relationship of the Eskimos to the bowhead whales and their significance in the Eskimos' way of life.

The book is divided into different sections which are self explanatory. The English is followed by Ieupiat. The Ieupiat sections were transcribed directly from explanations given by David and Dinah Frankson of Point Hope. Students of the leupiat language can study the leupiat texts which are almost equivalent in content to the English. A glossary of Inupiat terms used in the Inupiat text is included to aid the Inupiat students.

There is a video tape accompanying this book on the activities of nalukataq in Point Hope. An audio cassette of the nalukataq songs in this book is also available. These should assist teachers in making the material more meaningful for students.

The following is a short biography on each of our great teachers, David and Dinah Frankson.

David and Dinah Frankson

David Frankson, Umigluk, was born on the 30th of September, 1903 in the village of Tikibaq (Point Hope), Alaska. His parents were Abviqsiea (Frank) and Aqpayuk (Lizzie) Frankson. He had two sisters, lpiixik (Annie) and Asaqpana (Rose). Both of these sisters have died. Only one of his two brothers, Qufuyuk (Alec) is still living today in Tikibaq. The other brother, Qalayuaq (Andrew), died long ago.

Umigluk had lots of fun when he was growing up in Tikibaq. He had lots of friends who went to school together with him. School was not very easy for them, however, as the teacher, Reverend Hall, spoke only English, and they spoke only Inupiat. Learning to read andwrite in a language that was very different for them did not make any sense. They took three years to study one book. It got to be very boring to look at the same thing year after year, but finally, they acquired some mastery of the content of the book.

On the 26th of October, 1924, David married Dinah Aviq Qalayuaq. She was the daughter of Bob and Alice Oviuk (Uvigaq and Tarruq). She also grew up in Tikibaq. She too had to study the same book for three years in school. She learned more, however, from listening to the fourth and fifth graders than she did from the book and the teacher. English language study was very difficult for Dinah. It just took along time to learn new words in English, especially when there was no chance to practice them.

Dinah's brother, Kirk (Tigluk) Oviuk still lives in Tikibaq. Her uncles, Samaruna and Isigraktuaq, who often took her hunting and fishing when she was growing up, have passed away.

The Franksons had four children but only on-e survived to adulthood. This is their son, Theodore (Teddy). Now they have fourteen grandchildren, and twelve great grandchildren. Most of their family live in Tikibaq close to them. They assisted in rearing seven of their grandchildren.

Umigluk worked at different jobs to obtain money for the welfare of the family. He worked as clerk for the native store in Tikibaq. He was an interpreter for the church, the Episcopal Church. He was a part-time teacher at the school. He was also the selective service agent for the public welfare assistance program. He was the clerk for the Reindeer Company in Kivalina and Point Hope. From 1928 to 1968, he served as the postmaster for Tikibaq. After his retirement from the postal service, he served as magistrate for five years in Tikibaq.

Whaling activities began for Umigluk in 1929. Long before this, however, he had many years of training from his own father and his father's crew on what gear to use, how to prepare them, and how to go out on whale hunting trips. He was an aqpaaqtuaq, or qalugialguruaq, many times. Most of his learning was done through close observation and active participation in the activities connected with whaling. The rest of the learning about whaling came from listening to the stories, explanations, and instructions given by the experts in the qalgi.

The first two years of Umigluk's whaling hunts were unsuccessful. His success came in the third year, in 1931. His partner was James Nashookpuk, who was married to Dinah's sister, Jane. Umigluk and James bought their whaling equipment from Charlie Jensen, who is now living in Kotzebue but was originally from the village of Kivalina. They bought all the gear from Charlie for about $250. This included the shoulder gun, two darting guns, tackle, harpoons, knives, and so on. Umigluk had a boat which was given him by his father, and that was how they got started.

The first whale in 1931 was caught on May 2nd. It was an ifutuq approximately twenty eight feet in length. Everyone was excited about the catch especially the captain and his crew. Unfortunately, Dinah was in the hospital when her crew caught the whale, but she did make it back for the fall celebration. Her sister carried out all of Dinah's responsibilities towards their crew for her.

After the first catch, Umigluk bought out James' share of their whaling equipment and went to hunting by himself and his crew. All together, he had a total of eleven whales. This is no small catch as very few whalers can boast of such a number. With all the excitement and the prestige one derives from being an umialik, Umigluk decided to give up whaling in 1966. Therefore, he gave his gear and boat to his son, Teddy.

Teddy took the gear and boat and hunted in 1966. He was not successful that year, but in 1967, he caught a whale. Unlike his father, however, Teddy ceased to continue with the whaling hunt tradition. Now the umiaq rests on the umiivik (the boat rack) without its skin, its bare ribs exposedtothe harshness of the Arctic elements. How long will it be before the umiaq will get its needed new skin? Umigluk and Aviq wonder too.

Now, instead of mailing packages and preparing for the whaling hunt, the Franksons are teaching children the dances of their people; dances that were performed to celebrate the whale catch. They began doing this in 1975 with the school children in the Point Hope School. A dance group of young Point Hopers now performs regularly, and they often accompany Umigluk and Aviq to put on shows at other locations away from their village. The group has performed at the Dance Festival at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, Alaska, and at the Trade Fair in Kotzebue, Alaska. Some of the members went with the Franksons to Washington D.C. for the inauguration of President Johnson, and on a second trip there for Alaska Day in 1976 where they performed at the Kennedy Theatre.

Umigluk and Aviq have been generous with their wealth and their time. They were the first to have a boat with an outboard motor ordered from the Sears Store in 1935. When it came to Tikibaq, Umigluk gave everyone a ride in their boat during that summer. The people were excited about riding in a boat which was driven by a motor instead of using paddles or being pulled along the shore by dogteams. Umigluk took the boat on a hunting trip up the Kuuk River and their motor ran out of grease. He took caribou fat and used it, and it worked very well.

Aviq now enjoys a lot of leisure time, but in the early part of her life, shewas very busy. Being thewife of a whaling captain is a very difficult job. She had to feed a lot of men and women who worked on the preparation of the gear. She had to prepare the skins and have them ready for putting on the frame of the umiaq. She put away all the meat from the shares her husband received from the whales he caught. She took care of the preparations of the food for the whaling festivals and the other celebrations in which her husband and her crew participated. With all this work, Aviq found time to be a midwife. She learned to do this very important work from her aunt, Nibuvana.

Umigluk and Aviq have given generously of their time to recording the information that is presented here in Whaling: A Way of Life. They represent the true spirit of the Umialik and his wife. Through their graciousness, we are all benefitting, and hopefully, will cease to be orphaned from the knowledge and skills of the Inupiat whale hunters.




The scientific name for the bowhead is Balaena mysticetus. It is also called by other names such as the Greenland right whale, the Great Polar whale, and the Arctic right whale. Its various names indicate where it can be found, that is mainly in the northern hemisphere. Its movements are largely dependent on the movement of the ice of the arctic seas.

Eskimos of Tikibaq (Point Hope) who have hunted the bowhead whales for at least a thousand years have different names for them. These names are related to sex, size, and age. The newly born calf which travels with its mother is called abvaaq. The baby female whale is called ifutugrauraq and the baby male whale is called usiffuagrauraq.

The next size female whale after being weaned is called the abvalutauraq. It is fat and its meat is not yet completely dark.

The next size of young whales which travel by themselves are called by two names. The young female is called ifutuq, andl the young male is called usiffuatchiaq. The average length of these whales is twenty-five to thirty feet. The Native whalers estimated the age of these whales to be fifteen to eighteen months.

The oldest of the female whales is called ifutualuk. The older more mature male is called usiffuabaaluk. Another name for a very old male whale is aapsavaaluk. A mature male whale with white afirruk, the section of the tail between the base of the flukes and the anal pore, is called qabixik.

When a female whale travels with its baby, it is called abvaalik, meaning 'one with a calf'. An ifutuvak is a fat, mature female whale with a flat nose, not curved. When a pair of adults, perhaps a mating pair or a mother with a young whale, are sighted, they are referred to as alupaabik.

A group of whales which surface together and blow together is referred to as puiyaqtuat. The last group of whales to pass Tikibaq (Point Hope) in the spring as the animals migrate northward is called by the same name as the old male whale, aapsavaaluk. This group consists of large, mature whales.

When the people of Tikibaq hunt the bowheads, they prefer to catch the ifutuq and the ifutualuk, the young female, and the mature female respectively. These two have very tender meat. The usiffuatchiaq, the young male whale, as well as the older more matured whales are not as delicious and tender as the females. According to observations made by Foote in the spring of 1962 in Point Hope on two male whales which measured between twenty-six and twenty-eight feet, and being identified as one from each of the two kinds of whales, the ifutuq and the usiffuatchiaq, he noted the following:


Body: round, fat

Head: flat; no pronounced bow near the spiracles; perhaps shorter in relation to the body length

Mouth: more curved

Ribs: oval cross section; heavy dense bone

Flipper: less pointed

Flukes: less pointed on tips; smooth trailing edge

Back: a pronounced hump forward of the flukes

Color: greyish

Skin: soft; two layers; thick (2.2 cm)

Blubber: soft; two layers; thick (27cm)

Meat: soft; tender; thick

Baleen: short; most slabs about the same length; longest blade 81.3 cm

Material between baleen: extends higher into the mouth

Tongue meat: fewer nodules of meat within blubber



Body: straight, thing

Head: curbed or bowed witha distinct hump near the spiracles

Mouth: more straight

Ribs: flat and thin in cross section; more porous bone

Flipper: more pointed

Flukes: more pointed tips; an irregular series of waves on trailing edge

Back: a straight back sloping forward from the flukes

Color: dark black

Skin: tough; one layer; thin (1.8 cm)

Blubber: tough; one layer; thin (16 cm)

Meat: tough; thin

Baleen: long; graded from very short in front and back of the mouth to very long in the center; longest blade 175.2 cm

Material between baleen: extends less into the mouth

Tongue meat: more nodules of meat within tongue blubber

Whereas Foote ascribed differences to possible differences in species, David Frankson insisted on these differences being based on sex. Results of preliminary biochemical-genetic studies, the analysis of blood protein, liver enzyme electrophoresis and karyotyping, suggest that ifuntuq is not a separate species from the usiffuatchiaq.

The bowhead can grow to sixty or seventy feet in length. According to the writers of the Alaska Whales and Whaling, Simeon Patkotak, of Barrow, caught a sixty-seven foot whale in 1970, and Amos Lane, of Point Hope, caught a sixty-four foot bowhead in 1964. The bowhead's weight when fully grown averages sixty tons. Some have suggested that a good rule of thumb for estimating its weight is to assume one foot in length is equal to one ton in weight. This is only a rough estimate of the bowhead's weight, however, as there are presently no available reliable weight data.

The bowhead's skin is dark black or bluish gray. Its chin and underbelly are slightly lighter in color than the rest of its body.

Unlike other whales, the bowhead has no dorsal fin. It has, however, a pair of flippers on the sides of its body, and flukes which measure up to twenty-four feet in width.

Its head is its biggest part since it takes up to about one-third of its total length. Located at this head is the huge curving jaw which forms the high bow or arch from which the animal derived its name of bowhead.

The two eyes are located one on each side of the mouth. There are no teeth inside the gigantic mouth of the bowhead, but it is filled with rows of whalebone or baleen plates that hang down from the top of the bowhead's arched upper jaw. Some of the baleen which hangs from the high center of the arch are as much as fourteen feet in length. Those that hang from the down-curving sides are not as long. All together there are approximately three hundred fifty hairy fringed baleen plates on each side of the upper jaw. The bowhead strains water through these baleen plates to get its food which consists mainly of krill. Krill is a form of crustacea found in cold waters close to the ice. The crustacea are chiefly those of copepods, amphipods and euphausiids. According to studies made by scientists on further identification of species from the stomachs of the whales, the following were present: Calanus hyperboreus, Parathemisto libellula, Thyanoessa inermis and T. rauschi.

The bowheads usually move very slowly through water. They travel an average speed of three to four knots. During their travel, they spend some time on the surface of the water breathing through two slit-like blowholes. These holes are approximately eighteen inches long. They are located about half way along the head. The characteristic blow associated with these whales can reach a height of nineteen to twenty feet. What comes out through the blowhole as the whale blows is condensed water vapor and a mist of fine water droplets. These whales must have air to breathe since they are air-breathing mammals. They can stay under water for about twenty minutes but a longer time of up to an hour has been observed. At the end of that period of time, the whale must come up for air again. Eskimos have observed that baby whales surface more frequently than adults for air.

The skin of the bowhead whales is very thick. It has a layerof blubber approximately sixteen to twenty inches thick to protect it from the cold water in which it lives.

The bowheads are social animals. They travel in pods, and sometimes smaller pods join with others to form a large herd. They communicate with each other by sound. Scientists who are doing research with the whales in Alaska have made clear, high quality recordings of a bowhead vocalizing during an aerial survey- hydrophone test in the western Beaufort Sea in October 1978. Other sounds collected by these people during the spring of 1978 suggest that bowheads apparently make frequent vocalizations within the range of approximately 40to 1900 Hz. No one has figured out yet what the whales are saying, but perhaps we will soon find out what all their sounds mean.

The mating of the bowheads take place in the latter part of the summer months. Babies are born after ten to twelve months. The exact length of the gestation period is not known. The female usually has one calf. When the calf is born, its approximate length is thirteen to fourteen feet. Then it feeds on rich milk from its mother for about a year. At the end of the year, the yearling is about twenty four feet in length, weighing close to twenty four tons. The mother whale and her baby are very close to each other. The baby plays a lot but always within touching range from the mother. Sometimes it slides off and on the mother's back and gets very excited. If the baby gets too wild with its activities, the mother rolls over on her back and holds the baby in her two flippers close to her until it quiets down before being released by the mother. A mother whale never deserts a wounded baby.

Because of the slow movement of the bowheads, they were among the whale species that were hunted to near extinction by the commercial whalers. The first whaler to bring news of the abundance of the whales in the Bering Sea and the Arctic was Captain Thomas Roys. Captain Roys entered the Bering and Arctic Seas to hunt in 1848 with his ship the Superior. With the publication of Roys' hunting success, commercial whalers, with some seventy ships or more, sailed into the Bering Sea to hunt in 1849. They were after the oil-rich bowhead which gave as much as one-hundred thirty-one and one-half gallon barrels per animal, and close to seven hundred baleen plates. A very good account of the history of commercial whaling is given in Alaskan Whales and Whaling.

How many bowheads are there in Alaskan waters? The present estimate of the number of whales in theAlaskan herd is 2,264. This number was arrived at during a whale count in the spring of 1978 conducted by Arctic Whales Research Program, National Marine Mammal Laboratory with funds provided by the National Marine Fisheries Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The following verbatim account from David Frankson about the number of whales in Alaska has some relevance to this section:

Before contact with the Westerners, it is said that there were many whales. A man caught from one to as many as five whales during one season. The season included fall hunting, too, when the point was still extended further out. The whales were remembered to be numerous from the earliest times, from as back as anyone could remember. When a captain had caught two, or three, in the spring, he did not attempt to kill any more than he needed. Although a large whale would surface near enough to be struck, the hunter realized that he had caught enough and thinking that the whale was too large, he would merely throw a piece of ice at it, causing it to submerge. They did not kill whales merely for sport. They realized that they had enough food and never wanted to waste a whale by throwing away any useful part of it. Although they did not have 'designated authorities' to regulate their hunting, they used common sense and respect for the whales to preserve the species. I have also heard stories that a captain never caught more than five whales in one season. He no longer hunted after having caught five. After all, he was out of storage space by that time. All his ice cellars would be full. The people were careful about how many they caught in the old days because they did not wish to diminish the number of the whales. They did not hunt to waste and leave the whale unused. Today, they say the number of whales has diminished. This is perhaps due to commercial whaling.

Interest in getting much needed information on the bowhead whales regarding their distribution, food habits, reproduction cycle, how they age, the diseases that affect them, the sounds they use for communication, and other necessary data is presently very high. Information on migration routes during the northward spring migration, and the southward fall migration is being gathered. The knowledge of the people of Point Hope, such as that relating to the three distinct waves of spring migration in the spring, with the first wave consisting of immature young adults, followed by a second wave of mature adults accompanied by suckling youngs, and the final third group of mostly more mature adults, can go a long way toward helping the scientests to obtain more accurate data on the bowheads. Only through gaining greater knowledge about the bowheads can overyone hope to establish a lasting co-existence with them.

Uses of the Bowhead Whale

The uses of the bowhead whale are many. Chief among these of course is its use as the major source of protein in the diet of the people in whaling communities along the Alaskan arctic coasts. The best way to eat whale meat and muktuk is to have them frozen rave, but other ways of preparing the meat include the following:

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