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)
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.
It wasn’t easy to get a copy of the Orator, but it was well worth it. Filmed in Samoa, using Samoan actors who speak Samoan throughout the film, it is a wonderful peek into a world far from the icy tundra outside my window. It is also a chance to glimpse something of the world from which quite a few local residents have come. People are often surprised to find that the community of Barrow, Alaska, has a significant number residents from the Pacific Islands, but we do. Watching the Orator was a chance to escape to a world of warm green vegetation, land perhaps to learn a thing or two about the place a few friends and coworkers might call home.
My knowledge of Samoan politics is scant – mostly it’s the stuff of textbooks – so I must admit that some of the more nuanced details of this film have escaped me. And yet, elements of the story seem quite familiar. They could almost have been written about Barrow.
This film tells the story of Saili (played by Fa’afiaula Sagote) and his attempts to resolve a number of quarrels threatening the well-being of his family. He lives with his wife, Vaaiga (Tausili Pushparaj), and her daughter, Litia (Salamasina Mataia). It is a small family, but each of them has a quarrel with someone outside the household, and each of those quarrels would be more than enough to provide all the drama needed for one film.
Saili’s problem appears simple enough at first. He is the son of a chief, and by all rights he should rise to the title himself. But Saili is also a dwarf, and his eyes as well as those around him that is a problem. How can he rise to a position of leadership when he cannot command the respect of those around him. He can hardly chase people away from the store where he works as a night watchman; others are planting taro root around the graves of his parents; and he cannot bring himself even to face his in-laws when they arrive to speak with Vaaiga. It isn’t simply that others fail to respect Saili because of his stature; his own lack of self-respect is palpable throughout the film. This is a man with more problems than most, and chief among them is his own inability to deal with any of them.
We learn quite early in the film that Vaaiga (Tausili Pushparaj) has been living in exile for 17 years, about the age of her daughter, Litia. She has been living with Saili ever since she was banished from her own village all those years back. Now her brother wants her to return with him. How they will deal with her banishment remains an open question. But he is quite insistent, returning with additional family members to pressure Vaaiga into changing her mind.
For her own part, Litia is having an affair with a married man, a fact which is rapidly becoming common knowledge throughout the village.
What one must understand about each of these conflicts is that resolving them is not entirely a question of establishing who is in the right. Whatever the outcome of each of the running battles that plague his family, Saili must find a solution that will enable him and his kin to live peacefully with those around them. The characters do not live a metropolis; they will not have the luxury of melting into the larger community after some judge has pronounced a verdict on the conflicts which divide them. They will not have the option to forget about each other in the wake of some legal solution. Each of the conflicts driving this story are as much about future relations with family and neighbors as they are about the propriety of past actions. And none of these conflicts will be resolved until the parties can find a way to live with each other in peace.
But is Saili up to the challenge?
Clearly the High Chief of Saili’s own village does not appear to think so. In an effort to secure his rights to the land wherein his father is buried, Saili seeks to claim the title which is his birthright. Instead he receives an object lesson in bravery. A chief must have the courage to bare his heart and soul before others, but the high chief isn’t sure that Saili has the balls to do the job; so he asks Saili to prove that he does, literally and metaphorically by baring himself on the spot.
Saili was not up to the task.
As events unfold, each of the three major conflicts intersect with one another and spiral out of control. Litia’s affair brings trouble directly into the home, and Vaaiga soon adds a life-threatening illness to her own troubles. For his own part, Saili’s efforts at using brute force to solve his problems by engaging in a rock fight do not end well.
But of course it isn’t really physical force that is required of Saili, which is precisely the point of the High Chief’s lesson. Saili’s adversaries are not evil, but he must find it within himself to earn their respect. It is not rocks that are required of Saili, but words.
And here I am close to saying all that I wish to say about this movie, other than that you should watch it. But I would suggest that the superficial morality tale I have outlined above does not even begin to reveal the richness of this film. It isn’t simply that Saili must learn how to speak up for himself, the lessons of his High Chief extend to the kind of words that he will need to use, and to the manner of his self-presentation.
But of course, his lesson is also about more than that.
It is certainly a memorable scene. Vampires chasing down the residents of a small town on the frozen tundra. It’s residents cannot leave, they cannot contact the outside world, and the sun will not return for 30 days. The town-folk are powerless against their assailants. And the vampires run rampant through the town, slaughtering the residents at will and completely without mercy.
Shot from above, the figures run this way and that across the blood splattered snow. Which is vampire and which is victim? You can just make it out in some instances, mostly when one of them dies. Horribly!
You see the real tragedy in this story is not the loss of human life. That story is so old it hardly merits mention. Yeah, yeah, there is a couple, an adorable grandma, a spunky teen, and even a weird uncle-like character who will do some good before he dies. We even get a token minority, and of course we wonder which wil;l live and which won’t. All been done before.
But no. What makes this film truly original, what separates it from the rank and file horror-flicks, what makes this high art, is the fact that this movie explores the economic ramifications of a completely unique ecosystem. Sadly, the movie seems to suggest that vampires just don’t get it either. Immortal though they may be, they too are doomed to experience the miseries of a Malthusian nightmare. They too will outlast their food supply.
In this case, it is entirely unnecessary.
You see, the Barrow, Alaska of Thirty Days of Night is a vampire’s Utopian dream. Easily cut off from the outside world, and subject to 30 full days of darkness, what blood sucking undead would not regard it as the ultimate dinner banquet, just waiting for an RSVP? And with a little over a hundred and fifty people remaining in town for the winter, there should be plenty of food to go around.
Of course, if a vampire was paying attention, he would have noticed that Barrow actually has about 5,000 people and 2 months of night (or 40-something days of it, depending on what counts as a day without sun). So, Barrow is even more plentiful than the fellows in this movie could possibly have imagined.
So, you would THINK that a small hoard of vampires accustomed to long drawn-out plot lines just to get a single meal in before the second act would be able to make the most of this opportunity. Well perhaps if they had read their Garrett Hardin! …or if they had implemented a proper system of human resource management. If they had even auctioned the mortals off as private property, things might still have gone better. With proper incentives, each of the undead could have had food enough to last for the entire winter.
The greedy vampires regard the entire population of Barrow as common property and so each sets about slaughtering as many town-folk as he can, thus reaping the benefits of extra blood consumed individually while imposing the costs of a rapidly diminishing food supply on the entire vampire hoard.Even at the cost of diminishing returns, this approach grants to each vampire a greater share of the blood gushing from the necks of his victims than he would get by consuming his fair share. That is simply what happens when property, even human property, is held in common, and without a mechanism for properly managing the finite resources of the town’s residents.
It doesn’t help that these wasteful buffoons leave large quantities of their meal to spill out over the frozen snow. But that really is beside the point. What matters most is that they never really did establish a viable means of managing the cornucopia that lay helpless before them. As a direct result, they run through their food supply very quickly and spend the rest of the movie working hard to track down the few remaining humans smart enough t make themselves central characters in the movie.
It really is a damned shame.
You can see the results toward the end of the film as a whole town full of vampires tries to make do with a single teen-aged girl. There really isn’t enough of her to go around. Oh they toy with her; they even say some scary things at her, but let’s face it, nobody is all that impressed when you play with your food. And all that sadistic pleasure taken in tormenting the poor girl doesn’t change the fact that, she was the last meal any one of the gluttonous night fiends was going to eat for a long while.
The hunger of the poor starving vampires leads to still worse events when some of the mortals manage to fight back. Don’t even try to tell me that would have happened if the vampire hoard had not gone hungry in the wake of their wasteful banquet. These guys were bad-ass at the beginning of the film. Bad-ass! In the end, well let’s just say that even the alpha-pire turns out to have a glass jaw. All of that could have been avoided if the vampires had simply instituted some mechanism by which individuals could be held accountable for using up the common resources of the community.
There really is no excuse for any of this. These guys could have ruled the longest night in movie-making history, released a satisfying belch and rode off into the moon-set.
If only they had had a plan.
We are just now entering into Polar Midnight here in Barrow, and as always, some of us are a little worried about the whole thing. I mean it’s just a movie, yeah, we all know. But all that darkness does get a little spooky, and I think I saw something out on the tundra last night. Or maybe it was this morning. Hard to tell.
CAUSE IT’S DARK!
Anyway, I have no idea if the vampires will actually come this time. But if they do, then I certainly hope my life and that of my friends and neighbors will not be wasted frivolously by some foolish fiend who doesn’t finish his plate.
So, I’ve been back in the arctic for a little over a week, and the fog has only just given me a chance to get out with my new camera. I took a walk yesterday, mostly around the perimeter of town, and yes water and pretty stuff seems to have held my attention for most of the day. The place looks pretty much the way I left it which isn’t exactly surprising. Let’s just say that with the onset of drilling in the North Slope there was some cause for doubt.
The housing situation in Barrow is never all that good, but with Shell on its way, several of my colleagues and students were struggling to find a place as landlords held out in hopes of windfall rent profits. But it was never clear that Barrow was going to get a large influx of workers, and Shell has scaled back its plans for this year. So, things seem to be easing up a bit, a little too late for at least one couple.
Sad to see them go.
Most of the migratory waterfowl seem to have left already, but a bird or two remains. Other than that, a few familiar faces are missing and a few new faces have appeared. Barrow remains Barrow, just like paradise.
…only not at all.
(Click to Embiggen)
The Kitties were happy to see me. …no really.
Barrow-side from Browerville
Barrow-side from Browerville 2
Barrow-side from Browerville 3
Barrow-side from Browerville 4
Path out to the Point
(It’s not much of a point, really,
but around here it’s like a mountain-top)
Sculpture (There is a story behind this, but I’ve forgotten it. So um …hey, look at the ice!)
My friend Cindy would probably do something like this
Boat and Old House
Ice in the Background
Bird with Ice in the background
Old Arctic Hotel
What’s Wrong with this Picture?
Dumpster I missed
Been Meaning to Get this Dumpster for Awhile
The bird is the word!
One of several barges dropping supplies off while they can
Another attempt at Cindy-Style
Some Housing with Umiag and Sled Frames
Wind Breaks 2
Building and Reflection
Winter is Coming
Tiny pockets of groundwater trying to make it foggy
It’s about 12:30am, but that sunset looks like the real thing.
Now, because I am away from home and I miss the place (It’s too damned hot here in Vegas!) I’m going to cool down a bit and share a few of my favorite dumpsters with y’all. These are actually part of a youth project; I am told they have been doing this for about 4 years at this point.
I have to admit that there is a good one down by the High school I’ve been meaning to get for awhile now, and I just haven’t gotten around to it. Hopefully there will be more at the end of this summer.