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Raven's Survival: Eskimo Spirit and Subsistence in the Far North

 
RAVEN'S SURVIVAL: ESKIMO SPIRIT AND SUBSISTENCE IN THE FAR NORTH - SELECTED DISPLAY TEXT

Origin of the Eskimos:
The peopling of the New World from Asia occurred between 11,000 and 15,000 years ago when extensive glaciation - causing a world wide drop in seal level - exposed the shallow floor of the Bering Sea connecting Siberia and Alaska. At the end of the Ice Age, the 'borrowed' water ran back into the seas drowning the land bridge and breaking the ice barrier separating Alaska from the rest of the Americas. Paleo-Arctic migrations then spread north, south and east from Alaska into the previously uninhabited southern Alaska, Canada and Greenland.

Generally referred to as 'Eskimos' by outsiders (a derogatory Indian term meaning 'raw flesh eaters'), Arctic peoples prefer to use their own name, 'Inuit' (meaning 'the people').

The word 'Eskimo' is used in the exhibit to refer to the people living in the Arctic around and before 1900, which is the correct usage. In recent years the people of Greenland and Canada have requested that contemporary and post-1900s communities be called 'Inuit', a pan-Arctic term meaning 'the people'. This request stems from a Western mis-translation of Eskimo as derived from a Canadian Indian word meaning 'eaters of raw flesh', and while the word Eskimo is in fact derived from another Indian form meaning 'snowshoe-netter' the derogatory connotations have persisted in the Western literature and imagination. While popular in the eastern Arctic, the Alaskan people never adopted the tern 'Inuit', preferring to maintain 'Eskimo' when dealing with contemporary and historical groups.

Whaling:
The most significant activity of the year among the Inupiat of Point Barrow, Alaska was the spring Bowhead whale hunt. With an average of 25 whales per season, the hunt renewed supplied of food and raw materials and symbolised world rebirth. Whaling practices and ceremonies were particularly elaborate, for while a successful hunt meant certain bounty, the venture itself was unpredictable and dangerous. An unsuccessful year - due to shifting migration routes or lost whales - required a dependence on less substantial resources, often causing lean winters and starvation.
Bowhead whales were much too large for a single kayak hunter to take alone. In northwest Alaska and Greenland, these whales were hunted by crews in large open boats called 'umiaks'.
After the completion of the spring whale hunt, the migratory bearded seal (or 'urgrug') were hunted from umiaks. The skins of the bearded seal were eagerly sought as a source of harpoon lines, dog harnesses, and boot soles. Most importantly the toughness of the skin made them ideal for boat coverings - six full skins would cover an umiak frame.
Spring camps were set up along the edges of ice leads to wait for the arrival of migrating herds. About 15 umiaks (open skin boats) were taken to the ice, each with an umilik (whaling captain), harpooner and six paddlers (men or women). As the umiak quietly approached a surfacing whale, the harpooner stood poised at the bow of the boat singing special songs. He raised his harpoon and with a powerful downward thrust, embedded his toggle head and line into the whale's skin. Many other lines - attached to inflated seal skin floats to tire the diving whale - were also secured. Rising for air, the tired animal was lanced. The whale was towed back to the ice, butchered and divided among the community. Almost every part of the whale was used: the meat, skin (mutuk) and blubber were eaten, the bones used for construction, the baleen used as lashing and decoration, and the blubber was stored for use as fuel in lamps.

Inupiat Whaling Today:
After 150 years of western contact, Point Barrow remains a whaling community. The Inupiat of today combine a cash economy - using wages to buy whaling equipment - with their traditional subsistence economy based on the whale. Like countless generations before them, the Inupiat continue to use all parts of the whale, wasting nothing.
Western commercial exploitation (now illegal) for oil and whale bone, seriously depleted the number of Bowhead whales. The native communities of Northwest Alaska are now given a yearly ration of whales by the International Whaling Commission (IWC). This, its hoped, will help replenish the Bowhead population, for as the whales face extinction, so too does the traditional whaling complex of the Inupiat culture.

Harpoon Technology:
The retrieving harpoon was designed to implant the harpoon head and attached line into the body of a marine mammal. As the hunter thrust the harpoon into the animal, the barb of the toggle-head caught on the inner side of the skin, forcing the head to turn diagonally as it entered the fat and tissue. A firm tug on the harpoon line brought the entire head parallel to the skin surface securely implanting it. This action caused the toggle to slip off the loose shaft, leaving the hunter with the harpoon, as the diving animal trailed the 90 foot raw hide harpoon line.

Fishing:
Largely a woman's task in North Alaska, most fishing was done during summer months when inland lakes and streams cleared of ice, or in late winter when supplies ran low. Inland fishing was such an important activity that many coast communities returned year after year to their semi-permanent tundra houses at summer fishing sites. Freshwater fish caught and stored frozen in ice-cellars for the rest of the year included: arctic greylings, arctic charr, humpback or lake whitefish, pacific herring, pacific black smelt, and various species of trout.

Fish from inland rivers in Alaska were harvested in three ways. Hook and line fishing involved a braided sinew or baleen line wrapped on to a bone or antler line reel, dangling bone or ivory fish hooks. Sinew or baleen nets, made by women, were strung across streams and secured with small wood or ivory poles to trap fish. Fish were also speared in shallow water with tripod-pronged spears with wooden shafts and barbed ivory or bone spear points.

Net Making:
Sinew and baleen, cleaned and divided with a hollow circular comb (E22467) of bone or antler, was carefully woven into nets using a double pronged flat shuttle (E22509) and a bone or antler mesh guage (E22550) with a flat rectangular head to ensure even openings.

Bird Hunting:
Several varieties of geese, shore birds and ducks nest on Arctic coasts during the short summer months when the tundra is covered with vegetation. Varieties include eider ducks, king eider, Pacific eider, spectacled eider, the Brant goose, the snow goose, old squaw duck, stellers duck and ptarmigan. Eskimos hunted birds extensively with bird bolas, nets and spears.

Land Mammal Hunting:
Eskimos spent most time hunting marine mammals, but inland animals such as birds and fish also formed part of their protein-rich diet. The fat from marine mammals was welcomed as an addition to the diet and also as a source of oil. In Alaska, the caribour was the life line of inland populations and also the main inland reource for coastal populations. Caribou meat and fur were traded for sea mammal oil and other products.

Processing and Sewing:
Animal skins were processed by women into pliable materials suitable for clothing and bedding. The skin, laid across the knees, was scraped to remove bits of flesh and fat. Processed skins were sewn with ivory, and later traded iron, needles strung with fine sinew thread. Sewing, an acquired skill learned in childhood and practiced through adolescence, was a central activity of all Eskimo wives and mothers. Needles and thimbles were stored in elaborately decorated carved ivory needle cases made by the woman's husband. Needles were stored on the rawhide strip and protected from harm by the ivory sheath.

Garments made primarily from caribou skins were carefully sewn and ornamented with many different kinds of furs. Skins were processed and sewn into clothing and bedding for the entire family by the female head of each household. Each woman was judged (by her family and other women of the community) on her skills as a seamstress, and prided herself on the beauty of her handiwork and on her valuable tools: her sewing and skin-working kits. Clothes made in Alaska showed the most skill.

Stone Lamp:
A central aspect of every Eskimo and Inuit household, the unique stone lamp was used for light, heat, cooking and drying of wet garments. Wicks of rubbed sphagnum moss, willow, catskins or peat and oil were submerged in melted sea mammal blubber and kept lit around the clock by the women of the household. Made of soapstone - which absorbed and retained the heat of the fat (thus keeping the blubber fluid as the wick burned) - or pottery, these shallow, semi-lunar or circular lamps varied in size, holding from one-half a pint to two or three quarts of oil. Seal oil was generally preferred for the lamp, but whale oil was commonly used in North Alaska. Rendered oil in the shallow lamp dish reservoir was often fed by hanging a chunk of solid blubber over the flame.

Driftwood drying racks were erected over the lamp for wet clothing, especially mittens and boots, and a rectangular soapstone cooking pot, a little shorter than the flame length, was suspended from the rack. A symbol of the family and home, lamps were the care and possession of the woman, signifying her place as female head of the household, even in temporary Eskimo shelters. Despite the weight of the soapstone, the family lamp was carefully transported with every move and rarely abandoned even if broken. The lamps were mended with a mixture of clay, blood and hair, often reinforced with sinew stitching. When a woman died, her lamp was placed in her grave.
Related Objects:

Related Objects


(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E017118 - 24/7/1907, glove, , , , , America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E017119 - 24/7/1907, glove, , , , , America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E018400 - 1/6/1910, tusk, , , , , America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E021472 - 26/9/1912, neck ornament, Smith Sound, North Greenland, , Greenland, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E021474 - 26/9/1912, drill, Smith Sound, North Greenland, , Greenland, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E021475 - 26/9/1912, scraper, Smith Sound, North Greenland, , Greenland, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E021478 - 26/9/1912, harpoon head, , Southampton Island, Nunavut, Canada, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E021480 - 26/9/1912, bone tool, Smith Sound, North Greenland, , Greenland, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E021481 - 26/9/1912, fishing rope, Smith Sound, North Greenland, , Greenland, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E021484 - 26/9/1912, lance, Smith Sound, North Greenland, , Greenland, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E021486 - 26/9/1912, harpoon, Smith Sound, North Greenland, , Greenland, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E021490 - 26/9/1912, light, , , , Canada, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E022464 - 26/11/1913, bolas, Point Barrow, , Alaska, United States of America, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E022467 - 26/11/1913, bone tool, Point Barrow, , Alaska, United States of America, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E022468 - 26/11/1913, animal figure, Point Barrow, , Alaska, United States of America, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E022469 - 26/11/1913, footwear, Point Barrow, , Alaska, United States of America, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E022470 - 26/11/1913, footwear, Point Barrow, , Alaska, United States of America, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E022471 - 26/11/1913, bag, Point Barrow, , Alaska, United States of America, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E022476 - 26/11/1913, sled model, Point Barrow, , Alaska, United States of America, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E022479 - 26/11/1913, lure, Point Barrow, , Alaska, United States of America, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E022482 - 26/11/1913, knife, Point Barrow, , Alaska, United States of America, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E022489 - 26/11/1913, handle, Point Barrow, , Alaska, United States of America, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E022491 - 26/11/1913, fish hook, Point Barrow, , Alaska, United States of America, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E022492 - 26/11/1913, fish hook, Point Barrow, , Alaska, United States of America, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E022493 - 26/11/1913, charm, Point Barrow, , Alaska, United States of America, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E022494 - 26/11/1913, charm, Point Barrow, , Alaska, United States of America, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E022509 - 27/11/1913, shuttle, Point Barrow, , Alaska, United States of America, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E022510 - 27/11/1913, fishing tackle, Point Barrow, , Alaska, United States of America, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E022513 - 27/11/1913, pipe, Point Barrow, , Alaska, United States of America, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E022515 - 27/11/1913, scraper, Point Barrow, , Alaska, United States of America, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E022517 - 27/11/1913, scraper, Point Barrow, , Alaska, United States of America, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E022526 - 27/11/1913, handle, Point Barrow, , Alaska, United States of America, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E022527 - 27/11/1913, handle, Point Barrow, , Alaska, United States of America, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E022531 - 27/11/1913, drill, Point Barrow, , Alaska, United States of America, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E022548 - 27/11/1913, mouth ornament, Point Barrow, , Alaska, United States of America, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E022549 - 27/11/1913, textile accessory, Point Barrow, , Alaska, United States of America, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E022550 - 27/11/1913, gauge, Point Barrow, , Alaska, United States of America, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E022555 - 27/11/1913, arrow, Point Barrow, , Alaska, United States of America, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E022567 - 27/11/1913, doll, , , Alaska, United States of America, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E022569 - 27/11/1913, light, , , Alaska, United States of America, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E022578 - 27/11/1913, footwear, , , Alaska, United States of America, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E022579 - 27/11/1913, footwear, , , Alaska, United States of America, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E027314 - 17/1/1923, pot, Angmangsalik, East Greenland, , Greenland, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E027315 - 17/1/1923, bowl, Angmangsalik, East Greenland, , Greenland, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E027323 - 17/1/1923, knife, Angmangsalik, East Greenland, , Greenland, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E027324 - 17/1/1923, textile accessory, Angmangsalik, East Greenland, , Greenland, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E027325 - 17/1/1923, thread, Angmangsalik, East Greenland, , Greenland, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E027326 - 17/1/1923, finger protector, Angmangsalik, East Greenland, , Greenland, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E027327 - 17/1/1923, eyeshade, Angmangsalik, East Greenland, , Greenland, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E027330 - 17/1/1923, bag, Angmangsalik, East Greenland, , Greenland, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E027346 - 17/1/1923, house model, , West Greenland, , Greenland, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E027347 - 17/1/1923, boat model, , West Greenland, , Greenland, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E027348 - 17/1/1923, boat model, , West Greenland, , Greenland, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E027349 - 17/1/1923, sled model, , West Greenland, , Greenland, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E031181 - 31/8/1927, hat, , , , Greenland, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E033440 - 1/7/1930, spear thrower, , , , , America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E052514 - 20/11/1947, seat, , , , Greenland, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E054065 - 25/4/1951, basket, , , , Canada, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E060941 - 1/2/1963, harpoon head, , , Labrador, Canada, America, North

(c) assumed Australian Museum.

E064097 - 10/7/1969, coat, , , , Canada, America, North