Travel Adventure Documentary Magazine
Travel Adventure Documentary magazine
where filmmakers and exhibitors meet

The Adventure: Visiting Eskimo Village for Whale Carving and Walrus Snacks

Dale Johnson Posted by Dale Johnson in Blogs February 21st, 2013

 

                             Eskimoes with whale.

                                                     Eskimos catch a whale.

(Continuing our series of filmmakers and their adventures—while either shooting  films on location or showing them on the road throughout North America.—Editor)

 By Dale Johnson

 A few years ago, hunters in the Eskimo village of Wainwright, Alaska,had taken a whale in the sea near the village.  Historically, the people of the Village would carve up the carcass and distribute the meat to everyone in Wainwright, according to ancient Eskimo rituals.  

 The producers at NOVA were working on a new program about the native people of Alaska at that time, and wanted footage of this process.  Consequently, I was hired to go to Wainwright to film the activity.  

Wainwright is on the northwest coast of Alaska, about 80 miles southwest of Barrow, which is the most northern town of Alaska. 

I flew into Kotzebue and then caught a flight on a small private plane up to Wainwright that day.  The carving up of the whale and the related festivities would begin the next day.

 In the morning there were many cooking fires scattered on the beach surrounding the anchored whale, and I filmed as the entire village helped pull the whale up onto the beach, using rope with block and tackle to drag this behemoth out of the water. 

 The men, using their ulus, an Eskimo knife with rounded blade, began the carving process.  The skin, called muktuk, was considered a delicacy and almost everyone was soon chewing a piece.  It is eaten raw...not cooked.   

As I was filming I felt someone tap me on the shoulder, and I turned to find a tray of meat chunks held out to me, proffered by three smiling young fellows.  They were each chewing a piece, and without thinking I grabbed a small cube and popped it into my mouth.  

 Then I took a closer look at the contents of the tray.  It had a shimmer of green on it!  I didn’t dare to spit it out, as the three guys were happily munching their own snacks.  So I chewed it up and swallowed.  Then I thought, “Oh my God.  I’m going to die!”

It turns out that these tidbits were not from the whale.  It was walrus meat that had been fermented in blood, a long-time Eskimo practice.  The connective tissue in the meat had begun to break down, sort of like aged beef, and was actually not bad tasting.  

I didn’t die, as evidenced by relating this event.  Later in the day I also enjoyed muktuk...the whale skin.  Emboldened by having consumed slightly green meat, I reasoned that the whale parts were at least fresh.

 All my film was turned over to NOVA, so I have only memories of that trip.  There were about five other caucasians in that gathering of approximately 300 villagers during the three-day festival.  I believe I was the only one of the six to partake of fermented walrus. I have to confess…I didn’t ask for seconds.

                                                            _____________

                        Trying to stay on the trail and out of the woods.

                                                   Dale Johnson                                                                                                                                      Trailwood Films

            Eskimoes with whale. 

 

                                                            _____________

   Trying to stay on the trail and out of the woods.

  Dale Johnson                                                                                                                            Trailwood Films

 

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