Nalukataq

The Inupiat (plural) or Inupiaq people are the Inuit people of Alaska's Northwest Arctic and North Slope Boroughs and the Bering Strait region.

Inupiaq people
Regions populated by the Inupiaq people

Whale hunting is very important in their everyday life. After the whale hunt, as a thanksgiving for success and to ask for continued good fortune with next year's hunt, the Inupiaq people organize Nalukataq or the spring whaling festival. By organizing the festival people also try to somehow calm the spirits of dead whales.

Nalukataq takes place in June. Festivals are scheduled in a way so people in one community can also attend festivals in others. In Barrow, which is the northernmost city in the United States, there is the Nalukataq in the third week of June.

During the festival quaq (frozen whale meat) and muktuk (whale blubber and skin) are distributed to the community for the first time in year.

For the occasion, Inupiaq people wear mukluks or kamik and parkas or anoraks of seal, caribou, wolverine, wolf and fox skin. Mukluks are soft boots made of reindeer skin or sealskin. Parkas are jackets with a hood worn by the Inuit people.

Nalukataq starts around noon with a prayer and a raising of the whaling crews' flags. After that people get different goose and caribou soups. There are also various dishes made of whale.

The break between events includes lot of singing and story telling. Everybody is enjoying themselves.

After the break the whaling crews start to distribute the catch to each family who attends the festival. The amount given away depends on the success of the whaling season.

Nalukataq blanket toss
Nalukataq blanket toss

When the distribution is finished the Nalukataq blanket is brought. It is made from several Bearded Seal skins. They are sewn together to make a circle or square. A rope extends from each corner, and is pulled tightly between four wooden beams using block and tackle. This raises the blanket to about human waist height. People circle the blanket and hold the edges, and pull out on the blanket to throw the blanket dancer in the air.

Anyone can be thrown but usually the captains and their wives go first. When jumping they usually throw sweets to the children they see watching the event. Everything can last for several hours. It has to be said that in the past people only threw out goods (clothing, different food etc.) to show that they able to provide.

After fun with the blanket everyone is invited to dance. Special dance performances by groups representing communities are organized too.

Inupiat drummers
Inupiat drummers

Groups of men perform traditional songs with drums. Such drums are usually made from the skin of the liver or whale's lungs. Nowadays synthetic materials are used too.

Nalukataq ends with a prayer. Finally, let’s mention that bigger communities like Barrow, Point Hope and some other villages along the North Slope have several Nalukataq festivals each year. It seems that they really like to party.