The last couple weeks have been a bit of a blur, what with the end of the semester, several work-related projects, and plenty of random events.
The ocean has been unusually interesting this Spring. By ‘unusually interesting’ I mean ‘rather disturbing’. As mentioned in a previous post, the ice pack had shorn off rather early this year and very close to the shore. That isn’t entirely unheard of, but it is very unusual. It’s particularly problematic for the whaling crews as they hunt from the ice in the Spring. It didn’t take too long for the ice to flow back in and begin bonding with the shore-fast. It even piled up a bit at the meeting point, but the overall effect was a little thin. And by ‘thin’ I mean ‘dangerous’. I understand the ice was still fairly solid out North toward the point, but all-in-all folks seemed a little hesitant this year. As I left Barrow, the whaling crews had begun the hunt, and people were out on the ice.I can only hope they stay safe.
…and bring home the muktuk.
One day, I saw the most amazing ice-bow. It lasted only a minute or so, and I didn’t have my camera or my phone, …cause I suck. But I took my camera the next day when a sun halo came out, complete with a pair of perfect sun dogs. I caught those pics from the school van.
So, here I sit on the 14th floor of an apartment complex in Denver. I’ve finally slept off the jet lag, and I’m starting to think about stuff to do for the day. My head is still in Barrow, not the least of reasons being that I brought unfinished work with me. I miss my cats, but I’m waiting for someone wonderful.
Civilization is beginning to seep into my thick skull, and I’m taking in the new setting. I’ve seen more people in the last day than I have all winter. Plus a fly! I saw a fly. It flew right past me, as if to say; “yes Dan, we still exist.” I don’t miss bugs, really I don’t.
On the other, hand last night’s chicken satay was amazing.
Ice Build Up
I seem to be really fascinated with this one.)
Ice and Open Water
The Ice returneth!
This was the ice a couple days before I left.
This slogan was big on the North Slope in the days of the Duck In
Sun Dogs 2
Sun Dogs 3
The Sun at 10:30pm. By the end of this month, it will cease to set.
The place was messier than usual toward the end, but the kitties didn’t seem to mind
As I mentioned in the last post, my favorite dance at Kivgiq is the Box Drum Dance. As it happens, I got a decent set of videos from a performance of the Barrow Dancers. By ‘decent’ I of course mean for a random guy sitting in the stands with an okay sorta camera. This stuff ain’t gonna make the Home Video Hall of fame. But the subject speaks for itself. The first video is the Box Drum Dance. Unfortunately, I botched the second film, so one key dance is missing. It’s a damned shame too, because it’s an interesting dance. But immediately following that missing dance, there are usually a series of performances usually described as fun dances. I got those.
I wouldn’t pretend to know enough about this dance to describe it accurately. So, I will instead include a link to a wonderful page on the topic.
It’s been over two months since Kivgiq. I’ve been meaning to write something about that since, well, …since two months ago. I’ve also been putting it off while catching up on other things. But you never do catch up, do you? And Kivgiq is worth a moment of bloggetry, so here goes!
So, what the Hell am I talking about? I’m talking about the Messenger Feast! At this point, it’s a biennial celebration taking place in February here in the North Slope. All the other villages of the North Slope are invited to several days of singing and dancing, and of course to a grand feast. Mostly, it means Iñupiat dance troops from all over the place. Sometimes folks even come in from Canada.
February is a special time of year in the North Slope, owing to the rapid return of the sun. It’d difficult to convey just how much that means to folks. After two months of polar midnight, people are ready for it. More than ready for it! And it’s return is spectacular. By February, we are starting to have something resembling an actual day here in Barrow, and yes, this is one more thing to celebrate.
Having recently picked up David Graeber’s chapter on the Myth of barter in Debt: The First 5,000 Years I was particularly interested in the role this feast may have played in the traditional economies of the region. One of the most interesting chapters in Graeber’s work details the absence of barter within small-scale small scale communities (this despite all the efforts of economists to put it there via thought experimentation). What happens in such communities, according to Graeber? Well people share the resources within their own community; they barter with outsiders, particularly those with whom they might be as likely to fight as to trade. Graeber further notes that the possibility of violence is often worked into the symbolism of the exchange.
To see the cooperative economics of the native community in Barrow, one needs only look at the whaling activities and subsequent distribution of muktuk throughout the community, though I suppose if you were looking for a ritual that enshrines this practice it would be Nalukataq in mid to late June. To see the tradition of bartering with neighbors? Well, now that would be Kivgiq, at least as it was initially practiced.
Charles Brower Sr., a town patriarch of sorts, provided a description of a Messenger Feast from the early twentieth-century which is particularly striking. Two messengers had been sent out to other villages, returning with the guests in July. The feast began as it does today with a footrace. Afterwards…
The main body of visitors followed, two hundred or more stretching out in a long line. Some bore mysterious packages on their backs, others dragged sleds piled high with skins. Everyone was dressed in his worst. I never saw a more disreputable looking crowd – nor one whose tatters covered more suppressed excitement.
Just above the station they were met by a picked up group of village men, naked to the waist. Each wore a loonskin on his head and carried a few arrows and a bow. Suddenly they gave a yell and started shooting over the heads of the strangers. Their arrows gone, they then retreated to the dance house where the rest of the crowd was congregated, still a bit put out over the results of the foot race (the local participants from the village of Utkiagvik had been soundly beaten).
At this time our messengers who had supposedly returned with the guests were nowhere to be seen. They’d have a hard time sneaking in the dance house now, I thought unless they too had dressed in old clothes, hoping to mingle with the guests and escape detection.
I was scanning the crowd with this in mind when a riot broke out in the doorway. A group of visitors laden with rolls of deer-skins, were demanding entrance, the guards steadfastly refusing to let them through. Higher and higher rose angry voices until, with final protesting shrieks, the guests were forced to unroll their deer-skins, and there inside lay our messengers, nearly smothered by heat and stifled laughter.
Mungie came by, grinning broadly. an old trick, he said.these inland people must have thought we’d never heard of it.
Our ‘home folks’ furnished the music that first day, visitors doing the dancing. A man and a woman would enter and dance, then loudly announce what they had brought for the one who had invited them. After which the recipient joined in and all three danced together.
Later the women disappeared to make ready the feast – mostly whale meat and seal. Many of the inland people, unfamiliar with such delicacies, couldn’t get the stuff down. Lucky for me that I’d learned to take my muctuc like any coast native, for this enabled me to join the crowd in making fun of our visitors. Their only comeback was to hint broadly at what they expected in return for their presents.
Since it was a matter of tribal pride that visitors be satisfied or else given back their own presents – a most humiliating procedure, our people went to ridiculous lengths to meet the demands. Many sold their whalebone to provide needed funds. A few of the poorest even asked for additional credit at the station. Anything to uphold the reputation of Utkiavie. It was silly – and a little touching.
I hadn’t yet seen our visitors at their best, for all this time they had been wearing their most ragged clothing. But when they took over the drums the second day while our crowd danced it was like the transformation of cocoons into butterflies. Decked in all the finery they had brought in bundles, they certainly were a fine looking lot of people. Many of the men were six feet tall. Even their women seemed larger and better looking than average Eskimos.
The third and last day was given over to the actual exchange of presents. I say ‘exchange.’ In reality it turned into one grand bargain-driving spree. If a gift fell below expectations, the owner kept adding to it until he had nothing more to offer. And when this failed to satisfy, the other par6ty demanded his present back even though he often sold it later for whatever it would bring.
I’ll end the narrative there, both because that is the relevant portion and because the whole story soon takes a tragic turn. After trading with non-native whaling crews, the guests contracted a disease, Brower figured it to be a kind of flu. Severely weakened from the flu, they elected to return home. For some time, the bodies could be found scattered along the river way headed inland, Brower doubts that any made it home.
What Brower saw was one of the last celebrations of the Messenger Feast held in the early twentieth-century. By the 1920s, natives had stopped holding this feast entirely. It would not be revived until 1988 when North Slope Borough leadership held the first Messenger Feast in roughly 80 years.
The Messenger Feast still retains many of the same themes present in Brower’s description, though specific details vary considerably. If I had dragged my butt out of bed early enough to catch the race, I could tell you all about that, but well, …I suck.
Seriously, I do.
The tradition of gift giving is still present, though it is less central to the ritual. People give a broad range of gifts to others (though items with a distinctively Iñupiat cultural significance seem to figure prominently in these events). One often sees the gifts sitting on the floor of selected open dances (in which any in the audience are invited to participate). Special gifts sometimes merit a moment in the spotlight for those involved. Either way the giver and the recipient will be out there for at least one dance.
I have asked a number of people whether or not reciprocation is expected, and or how that might be structures. The range of answers I’ve collected so far defies my ability to interpret all the variations. I most definitely did not see haggling, or heated exchanges over the value of the items in question. And if the significance of this theme has faded a bit, I would suggest that is at least partly due to the changing local economy. Gone are the days when inland and coastal peoples would have provided distinct contributions, much less the days when an event such as this could have presented a truly unique opportunity to get exotic foods or products. What remains is a symbol of generosity, albeit one with a very interesting history.
My favorite event in Kivgiq would have to be the box-drum dance, but I’ll save that material for a follow-up post. I wasn’t that happy with my pictures this year, but I think a few of them are worth sharing. If you click the pictures they will of course embiggen.
Entertainment during a massive potluck. …yes, it was bluegrass.
Elder and child dancing together
It ain’t all serious.
Looks like an open dance, these come at the end of a performance.
The follow up to a Box Drum Dance.
Look at the crowd!
Yep, she dances.
Box drum preparations.
Note the gift on the floor
Event staff and security was called up for this dance.
I just have one video here that I will include in this batch. It stands out for me, because it illustrates so wonderfully the role of children at these events. Planned or unplanned, they are seemingly always involved in the performances. And if that lends a little chaos to a dance, then so much the better.
So, we recently celebrated Piuraagiaqta here in Barrow. That’s our Spring festival for those of you whose tongues aren’t feeling adventurous. I was pretty busy during this several-day event, but I snuck outside on a few occasions to catch the outdoor games held on one of our lagoons.
Simon Says “Click to embiggen!”
yes, this is what a parade looks like at the top of the world.
Gotta Have Emergency Vehicles
Balloons and moar!
“ASRC” stands for “Arctic Slope Regional Corporation”
an I get a little Elevation?)
This one makes me feel warm, …almost!
Yes, they throw candy (everyone throws candy)
College float. Hey why aren’t you in class!?!
Games on the Middle Lagoon
The Harpoon toss turned out to be a 2×4 aimed at a painted picture of a whale. …mind you, some guys were pretty good.
Did I mention this whole thing is held on a lagoon?
Coming Around the turn!
Sculptures, and the whaling theme is on everyone’s mind. It’s about that time, if the ice will just cooperate!
Youngsters racing snow machines
A Sledding We Will Go! (Pic taken with my phone.)
Moar Sculptures (And golfers in the background) (pic by phone)
A view of the games from above.
The Final Race. It was held at 4:00pm Barrow time, which turned out to be about 5:00pm. For the longest time it looked like they were going to have 3 racers, but a fourth showed. (and my battery died just before the second place guy crashed. I think he was okay, but maybe his machine wasn’t)
I don’t know why I didn’t post this way back in August. Maybe it’s because the video quality is so bad, or maybe I just didn’t notice that it was a video. Anyway, I have a small clip of some Polar Bears from Barter Island, and for all its poor quality, it is kinda neat. I present it here for your enjoyment.
What can a beach bum say; the ocean is fascinating. I don’t mean that in a body-surfing or bikini-watching way of course, and no I haven’t dipped more than a foot in the local waves, even in the summer. Folks do that here in the summer, go in the water. By ‘folks’ I mean ‘mostly tourists’ of course. Some get a certificate. I don’t know who produces it, but I still think the whole prospect falls under the let’s-not-and-say-we-did variety. Anyway, no, I haven’t done that, and I don’t plan to do it any time soon.
But the arctic ocean is certainly cool (pun intended). One of the coolest things about living on this coastline is the changing geography of the ocean surface. You walk out one day and a big old ridge-line is sitting where flat ice had been the night before.
That was starting to happen this year; it was getting interesting. And then suddenly I come out to find open water just a few hundred feet out from shore. Folks would be expecting a lead to open up between the shore-fast ice on our coastline and the larger ice-pack out in the deep, but this much open water is a bit unusual.
It’s strange. Most of Alaska seems to be having a colder-than-usual year. Here in Barrow, it’s been abnormally warm. Might be the open water is due to other reasons, and it might even be that other folks would know more about that than I would.
…I don’t mean folks swimming in the waters of course.
That would be insane!
I have to apologize for the quality of the first video. I was actually talking the whole time, but you can’t hear me over the wind. I should probably also apologize for the second video cause it shakes horribly (and the sound sucks in this one too, but it’s just good enough that you can enjoy my nasal-sounding narrative, complete with ridicu-pauses for that unintended type of comic effect. …there is a reason I’m not a video-blogger). Anyway, I’m a bad man. So, just think of it as a cognitive assault.
I spent a couple days at Point Hope in August of 2010, and I thought I’d share a few of the pics from out that way.
Point Hope is a community of a little over 700 people at the far end of the Lisburne Penninsula reaching out into the Chukchi Sea. It is commonly thought to be one of the more culturally conservative communities of the North Slope. At least that’s what folks say up here in the North Slope.
In his Autobiography, Charles Brower, Sr. relates a number of interesting stories about Point Hope and its residents before travelling up to settle in Barrow. It’s a great read anyhow, but I think Brower’s comments on Point Hope are particularly interesting.
(If you zoom out on the map one click at a time, it’s kinda cool.)
There are at least 2 interesting things about Point Hope.
First, according to some sources, Point Hope is the oldest documented settlement in the arctic. I’m a little wary of that particular claim, so we’ll just say it’s damned old. The initial Inupiat settlement at this spot was known Tikagagmiut (there are a few small variations on the name), and its people were somewhat of a force to be reckoned with in the region.
So, why did people settle here? After two days of wind and freezing rain, I was inclined to think it might have been the climate, but I guess that wasn’t it after all. Actually, it was the fact that the region is ideal for hunting both sea and land mammals***. Anyway, the archaeological digs here go back a thousand years or so. I didn’t see anything that old myself, or if I did, I may not have recognized it, but I did get to walk around an interesting collection of old homes and sod houses.
Before going out to look in the old houses, I asked a local if it was acceptable to approach them, and if it would be okay to take a camera. I didn’t want to do anything disrespectful. The advice I got was to call out at the door of any home I saw and if anyone answered, they said; “don’t go in!” …Good advice. One of my colleagues says she lived out here in the 70s. She lived out in the old abandoned houses as a child. Wish I had had her along as I was looking around. I was still new to the area, and had lots of questions.
You can see at least two different types of dwellings in the abandoned housing area which sits just on the other side of the tracks. There are basic wooden houses, many of which piled sod up outside for insulation. One also finds traditional Inupiat sod houses. Sorry folks, Inupiat in Alaska didn’t live in ice houses. They dug down a ways and then used driftwood and whale-bone to create a structure around the pit. Sod was then piled up around this to make the walls. This is a traditional home (or at least the Cliffnotes version thereof). The ice houses most people associate with Eskimos? Well you gotta go way East to find people that live in them.
Older remains can be found underneath the buildings in my pictures and some of the older remains have been washed out to sea (cause all these shorelines up here are receding).
The second thing that is interesting about Point Hope is an event that didn’t happen after all, …thankfully. Around 1958-62, the Atomic Energy Commission decided to create a deep water harbor about 30 miles south of Point Hope.
They were going to do it in a jiffy, so to speak.
Spokesmen for the AEC held a gathering at Point Hope and assured its residents that there were no lasting effects from radiation in Japan, and that any harms experienced by those in the Pacific were due to their own negligence. You may think they neglected a few facts in saying this. One additional fact they neglected to note was that the Inupiat were taping the meeting.
**** I am grateful to Barbara and Jack Donachy of Cutterlight.com for correcting my initial presentation here. If you scroll down a bit, you’ll see that they left a very informative comment on the topic. Y’all might also want to check out their own blog, because they live in Point Hope right now. ****
All of these were taken on an old Blackberry. I don’t seem to have taken too many pictures in town, so most of these are of the old houses and such. Sadly, I missed one of the most interesting features of th community, it’s huge graveyard. I saw it from above, and my Blackberry went wacko as I was trying to take the picture. Very disappointing!
If you click on a picture it will embiggen.
I’ve flown in smaller.
I think this was my first view of the tundra.
Point Hope from the Air
As I recall, this room cost about 200 a night.
Yes, the fuselage is built into the home.
Fuselage Manner from the alley.
Old House II)
Old House III
Traditional Skin boat (Umiaq) frame and sled frames.
Earlier this week I was fortunate enough to spend the day at Anaktuvuk Pass. We flew in at about 10ish in the morning and back out at 8ish in the evening. Anaktuvuk Pass is a small community on the North side of the Brooks range. It is currently home to about 300 people, having grown out of the settlement of Nunamiut (interior Inupiat).
At one time, I am told caribou herds used to come through this pass in the thousands. Today the numbers are not so high, and I hear they don’t come quite so conveniently close-by for supper. Still, I’d wager you can get a good bowl of tutu stew in this community.
Anaktuvuk Pass is also the home of Rainey Hopson, whose blog Stop and Smell the Lichen is a favorite of mine. I didn’t get a chance to meet her, but some day… Anyway, if you really want to know what life is like, read Rainey’s blog. She also makes mustards and jams, etc. from local berries and sells them online. …yes, I’m giving her a plug.
Highlights of the trip included a visit to the school, another visit to the museum, and several walks around the community, a camera in my frozen hand.
See how I suffer for you, my dear readers!
Actually, I was rather surprised to find it was only 25 below, because it sure felt worse than that. By this time of year, I should be getting used to that kind of temperature, but we’ve had a rather warm winter thus far in Barrow. It’s just 6 degrees below here at the moment. …getting spoiled!
When I tell people I live in Alaska, I almost invariably hear about a visit to Anchorage. Either that or a relative who lives there. It’s the geographic equivalent of saying; “Oh you live in Denver; I’ve been to Albuquerque,” except that Denver and Albuquerque are closer to one another, and more similar. There really is a world of difference between Barrow and Anchorage. The Anchorage skyline is full of mountains, and it doesn’t lack for trees. I always notice those first. And then I notice all the people.
I also notice the artwork.
From my first visit to Anchorage, I took a shine to its public artwork. There is a particular downtown alley so full of murals I find myself headed towards it every time I make it into town. And yes, I am happy this city is part of he state I now call home, which is probably why it makes sense after all hat people bring it up. I never get into or out of Alaska without going through this stopping point.
…which is a very good thing.
I am particularly fond of a number of murals featuring themes from Alaska Natives. The Raven and Eagle symbolism is of course a prominent feature of Tlingit life, and a number of murals feature hunting motifs familiar to Yupit and Inupiat. A few specific highlights of the tour would include:
- A rather bland looking multi-panel piece with just a hint of something devious in it. (Honestly, I don’t know if I got all the panels right, but look closely. There is an interesting twist in there somewhere.)
- A Mural commemorating Alaska statehood. It is sometimes referred to as the ‘Alaskan Mount Rushmore’. It features portraits of Robert Atwood, Bob Bartlett, William Egan, and Ernest Gruening, each of which has been generated out of a range of smaller murals. You can find out more about this piece here.
- A Whaling Wall, one of a series of spectacular pieces created by the Wyland Corporation.
- The Anchorage History Mural by Bob Patterson, …which should probably get its own post some day.
- I’m particularly fond of the murals on the backside of Phyllis’s Cafe, not the least of reasons being that she was kind enough to talk to me about it for a little while. the Tlingit symbolism in the mural is no accident as Phyllis belongs to the Eagle Moiety, Killer Whale clan as I recall. She told me the mural still has a little work to go. Perhaps, I will be taking new pictures of it some time in the near future. I also enjoyed a wonderful meal of King Crab and amber ale in the cafe that evening, the perfect ending to a long trip.
I have by no means captured all the artwork anchorage streets and alleys have to offer, which is good, because I plan on going back for more.
(You may click on a picture to embiggen it.)
Twin Dragons Mongolian BBQ on Gambell and 15th.
He tags because he cares!
More School Murals!
I do not understand this mural. Is it poetry?
An original name for a bar, so to speak.
Yes, that really is what you think it is.
Moar fur panties! …and a bikini too.
Mural on a Bar
Statue dedicated to William Henry Seward (I think it looks just like him!)