•Thursday, November 24, 2011
It's about 12:30 p.m. and the feast is at 1:00. We're in the school gym, and people are bringing their "potlatch" or potluck dishes. So far there is whale meat and blubber, turkey, caribou soup, and a cake frostened to look like a turkey! The gym smells a little fishy because of the frozen whale that they brought in. Terry Tagarook, Carl's Army buddy, has a nephew who is one of the whaling captains. The community got 3 whales in the spring and one this fall. Yesterday the kids told me they were looking forward to "tutu" or caribou and "maktak" or whale blubber.
We took Tootsie Rolls over to the community center before we came here. There is a smaller gathering of about 90 people there, and there will be 250 here. Carl is in his element giving out Tootsie Rolls to the little kids (and bigger kids) as they come in.
Here are photos of Carl and Terry taken yesterday at school. Terry came for one of the classes where Carl showed his slides, and then he came over to the hotel for supper last night. We went through the slides again (and those they didn't show to the kids of the 500), and Terry found himself in a couple of photos. He said he got to Vietnam earlier than Carl and came home first. He commented how HOT it was to him, being from the Arctic, and he REALLY got a dark tan because his complexion is darker.
Here Carl tries on Terry's parka.
Tomorrow morning we are going to try to fly back to Barrow at 9 a.m. (we're 3 hours ahead of the Midwest). I looked at our ERA Airlines tickets, and we were scheduled for the evening flight, but people tell us there is no problem going earlier, so I left a message with ERA using one of the teacher’s cell phones that we wanted to go on the earlier flight. There is no terminal because the airstrip is smaller than the Iowa Falls airport. We just get a ride from one of the native school personnel at 8 a.m. in their pickup. The pilot will have our name on his clipboard! Then we are going to see if we can catch an 11:30 a.m. Alaska Airlines flight to Anchorage instead of waiting until 8:30 p.m. That way we'll get to spend more time with our friends Vic and Kathi Johns in Palmer. We’ll have to call them from Barrow if we can change our flight.
One of the elders said grace before the meal. Then a woman asked everyone to remember those she named who had passed away recently. At the feast we had caribou soup, duck soup, whale blubber, and whale meat called quaq. First came the caribou soup, which was a broth with rice and caribou which is like venison. Then came the duck soup which we didn’t care for although the duck itself tasted okay. Everything is brought around to people who either sit on school lunchroom tables or sit on the front row of the bleachers and use their cooler as a makeshift table. Some things are given to the elders first—that’s anyone over 60. Then if there is some left, they bring it around again to the younger people. Next they brought around roast turkey to the elders. Then they had spiced apple-peach-and-raisin served warm and fruit salad that had pudding on it. It seemed strange to us because you eat one thing at a time. Then at the end there was an elder in the community who served hot tea.
Then they kept bringing around whale blubber and quaq and even blubber from the fins. That has skin on both ends but there is sort of a cartilage in the middle that is used for teething babies because you can’t really eat it. Some of the whale was from the spring whale and that had a different flavor from the fall whale. The difference is that the spring whale is aged in the ice cellar, and I could tell that the fall whale was fresher.
I really liked the quaq because it was like kind of like dried beef. Terry used his ulu knife to cut the whale because it was frozen. The blubber is sliced into really small slivers with the skin on it, and you eat it with salt. Terry jokingly called it whale sushi, and that wasn’t far from the truth. They also served Sailor Boy Pilot Bread (they’re really crackers which are 3-inch rounds sort of like saltines without salt on the top). They were used back in the 1800s and are a favorite of the Eskimos. Mary Jane, Terry’s niece who is about 40 years old, told me that a box costs $10 in Wainwright at the store, but they only cost $5 a box in Anchorage.
Now it is evening. After the feast at about 4:00 everyone went home to either take a nap or have turkey and pie with their extended families. At about 7:00 people were to gather for the Eskimo dancing back in the school gym. They weren’t really punctual—Terry called it “Eskimo time” meaning they weren’t really prompt and filtered in until about 7:45 when the drums finally arrived. Kids were running around the gym playing the whole time. About a dozen men sat on chairs facing the bleachers and played their flat (like a tambourine) 2-foot in diameter drums with a stick that was a little longer than the drum. Each drum has a short little handle which they hold in the left hand with the stick in the right hand. The men who are the drummers chant and their voices undulate without words.
The girls would bend at the knees in time to the beat and wave first one hand and then the other from in front of them to their sides. This was the Motion Dance (for girls only). Then the whaling captains would come out in certain dances and begin to stomp their feet. Only the men stomped their feet. The whole whaling crew would go out on the floor to dance together with the women and girls doing the hand movements. Then later on a different whaling captain would bring his crew out. Towards the end of the evening the girls did a Motion Dance that they had learned in school. For this once they faced the audience instead of the drummers like for the other dances.
Then a group of boys and young men came out to do the Walrus Dance in which they roared and stomped along with hand movements. Lastly the women did a Motion Dance facing the crowd and they sang as they moved their arms.
There were times when different people got out onto the gym floor from the audience, but most often it was the elementary girls who danced. There were several 5 year olds and younger who did the Motion Dance, and one little toddler boy, the son of a drummer, who got out there and stomped his feet. Many were dressed in their everyday clothes, but a few women and girls had the fabric “parkas” with gathered skirts or their outdoor parkas with the fur. When the whaling captains danced, they often grasped a glove in each hand.
What a unique opportunity it was to see the Eskimo dancing!