Alaskan Eskimo Songs and Stories - Part 1

Album 1, Side 1

Lorraine Donoghue Koranda with illustrations by Robert Mayokok
Published for the Alaska Festival of Music in Cooperation with BP Alaska Inc. by the University of Washington Press, Seattle and London.

The songs and stories in this publication were selected from the taped collection of Alaskan Eskimo traditional music that I began in 1950 while teaching music at the University of Alaska and continued through 1964. My purpose has been to preserve, document and transcribe such material, which surely cannot long survive acculturation and the passing of those elderly informants who still recall the rituals and musical practices of the past.

The Eskimo informants who contributed to the project share with me a common interest and purpose, the preservation of their musical culture through recording and disseminating their knowledge. All but seven of them were born before 1900, and most were able to recall the ceremonies held during the period of their childhood and youth. All are acknowledged leaders in their communities in the special of singing, dancing, or storytelling. My admiration for them, for their patience, integrity, and generosity in sharing their knowledge and their talents, is boundless.

The ceremonial songs and dances discussed here are rarely performed today except as entertainments at Thanksgiving, Christmas, or on some special occasion. Tourists to Alaskan Eskimo villages may attend group performances that include remnants of traditional or ceremonial songs and dances, as well as contemporary song and dance creations; but there has long been a need for a documented representative collection of the Alaskan Eskimos' musical art. Much has been written about the importance and the function of music in Eskimo life, but very little of the music itself has been available to the general public, anthropologists, and ethnomusicologists.

To facilitate the transcription of the melodic lines and drum accompaniment into notation, solo singers or very limited groups were recorded; large group performances, recorded under less than ideal circumstances, were found to impair the quality and clarity of melody and text.

It must be remembered in analyzing texts as well as melodic lines, that a singer may distort, repeat, or prolong vocal sound, spinning them out to accommodate the duration or repetition of pitch. Add to this the probability that the Eskimo song text is often fragmentary, that the singer may have forgotten a phrase, that archaic words or meaningless syllables have been interpolated, and the problem of text transcription is magnified. Similarly, there is a tendency for the unaccompanied singer to sing "out of tune." These departures from "fixed pitch" are rather obvious to the listener, and no special comment upon them was considered essential to this study.

The language of the songs from Unalakleet, St. Michael, and St. Lawrence Island southward is Yupik. The songs from Norton Sound northward are in lnupiaq. It is significant that informants from the lower Yukon generally could not easily interpret song texts and stories from Point Barrow, Wainwright, or Point Hope. And although Point Barrow and Wainwright are only about one hundred miles apart, there are dialectical differences in the speech. The Eskimo informants gave their own interpretation of the text and meaning of the songs they performed, after which several outstanding interpreters from various areas reviewed the tapes and verified text and meaning.

Many (of the informants have contributed knowledge of their culture to investigators in several fields. Thus it was relatively easy to establish contact with the best informants in each area, and their kindly interest in this project was generally evident. At times a recorded message from an informant in one village to a friend or relative in another was a means of my becoming acquainted with performers.

The greatest difficulty encountered was in finding a suitable place for recording sessions. Some of the performances were recorded in warehouses, storerooms, or schoolrooms. Curious children, barking dogs, or the noise of an occasional motorcycle accompanied some of the songs. On one occasion I had to record while surrounded by the still-dripping laundry in an Alaskan Communications System "washroom–the only source of electrical power available. It did not seem strange, after this, that several extremely shy Eskimo women should insist upon recording in a totally soundproof room, the University of Alaska seismographic laboratory, because the song they planned to sing was somewhat bawdy, and modesty forbade their performing it "in public." I have also had the pleasure of recording sessions in Eskimo homes at Unalakleet, Bethel, Hooper Bay, Wainwright, and Nome.

The information that accompanies each song is largely derived from the comments of Eskimo informants. References to information obtained by several other contemporary investigators are included to point out cultural differences and varied musico-dramatic practices.

It was difficult for me to make the selection of songs and stories to be included here. A wealth of fascinating materials was necessarily eliminated, and it is my hope that all of these outstanding performances will soon be made available, encouraging further studies of this folk art form.

Play song


Performed by


Native Words



The Ptarmigan's Weather Song Paul Green
Music location

Weather Songs and Power Songs

The Eskimos composed songs for nearly every activity of their lives. Among the most important were the weather and power songs. Successful hunting trips, safe voyage and return, and the abundance of game might depend upon the weather. The weather songs, called "seelyahtsun," were composed either by a shaman (angatkok) or by someone else with unusual powers and influence. Many of them invoked the name of Sila, the spirit of air, weather, and the universe, explained as a 'Tower that can be taken possession of by men, a power personified in Sila Inua, the Lord of Power or, literally, he who possesses power.'"

Weather power songs could be purchased, but had to be used with discretion so that their power would not be abused. Many Eskimos have testified to their efficacy, and there are many who believe that weather can be controlled or affected by the singing of these songs, because they know that this has happened in the past.

Here is a story about a ptarmigan who owned a weather power song and taught it to an Eskimo, as told and sung by Paul Green of Kotzebue and Nome.
1. The Ptarmigan's Weather Song
Once upon a time there was a ptarmigan who was going around and around, flying up the creek and down. Pretty soon he got into a storm. So he ducked into the snow and stayed there; he stayed covered up under the snow. He put a little hole on top of his little snow house, and looked Out to see how the weather was. But it kept storming.

And then the ptarmigan felt kind of hungry. He was getting hungry, and there was no place to eat there where he was. So he thought he might sing for, the weather to become good.
He sang:

I am displeased with this bad weather.
I am real hungry.
I am real thirsty.
I pray for good weather to come tomorrow.

The ptarmigan went to sleep after he sang the song. The next morning when he woke up, the weather was nice-sunny and warm. So he went out and started feeding himself.
Sila sila sila
Sila sila sila
Nigivik Naluvlugu
Sila sila sila
Sila sila sila
Imaq naluvlugu
Sila sila sia ai?
The weather, etc.
It displeases me
I can't find a place to eat
The weather, etc.
It displeases me
I can't find water
The weather, Etc., ai!
Kahnokseeybogee's Song Jimmy Killigivuk
Music location

Long ago an Eskimo named Kahnokseeyoogee was caught in a severe storm while he was out fishing. He could not walk against the wind; he could not build himself a shelter; he had no food and was close to starving. Suddenly through the storm Kahnokseeyoogee saw a mysterious snow-shrouded figure. It appeared to be a man with a shovel and an ax. Kahnokseeyoogee sneaked up behind the figure, stole his ax, and with it was able to cut blocks for a snow shelter for himself.

The stranger followed and found Kahnokseeyoogee. He sang through the skylight: "Kahnokseeyoogee, give me my big ax! Give me my ax, and tomorrow you'll see bright sunshine, green grass, and sparrows."

Kahnokseeyoogee threw the ax out. Next day he awoke to the spring beauty his mysterious visitor had promised.

Later, the stranger's song was sung again to stop a storm, and it did.

Before the boats were launched for a whaling expedition, many rites were observed and special songs were sung for the safeguarding of the men and the success of the hunt. Whaling was, and still is, a dangerous occupation, and it was necessary to call upon supernatural powers to keep the men safe, bring the whale into range for the hunt, and ensure the successful harpooning of the huge animal.

Jimmy Killigivuk also sings a well-remembered ancient shaman's song from Point Hope which is still considered a good omen for the sea hunt. When the boats, the harpoon guns, and the lines were ready, and the men were prepared to start on their dangerous mission, an old shaman sat down on the ice, put on his mukluks and gut parka, and sang:

I want all these animals.
I want the white fox,
I want the red fox,
I want the seal,
the oogruk,
the walrus,
and I want the whale!
Qanuq sayuuki
Qanuq sayuuki
Siktagauna kairun
Siktagauna kairun
Silamunli nak(ru)amun
Tingmiaguit qalguanun
Give me my pickax
Give me my pickax
So I may go outside to nice weather
And to the singing birds
Do you wish to go outside?
Shaman's Hunting Song Jimmy Killigivuk
Music location

The Shaman and His Songs

The shaman, or medicine man (angatkok), no longer practices his magic art among Alaskan Eskimos, but in the past he was a person greatly to be respected, admired, or feared. The shaman was quite often a person of wealth, for he received many gifts and exacted many fees for curing illness, controlling weather and hunting, or driving out some evil spirit. But the shaman was also feared for his power to cast an evil spell or bring misfortune upon an enemy. Therefore, his position in the community was not always an enviable one. In some ways, the shaman's life was one of danger. He could be accused by a rival shaman of having caused the illness or misfortune of a villager. Thus he might become an object of revenge. Threats upon a shaman's life were not uncommon. For this reason, a shaman might come to his calling or profession somewhat reluctantly.

Why or how did a man or woman become a shaman? Some shamans had a handicap or disability that set them apart from the community. If a young boy was unable to hunt, the most important activity for a male, he might become isolated and withdrawn from others, taking refuge in a dream world. Having unusual dreams and visions was an indication of shamanistic qualities. If a young person had a relative who was a shaman, and seemed to possess unusual talent for inducing dreamlike or trance states, he would be considered a likely successor to the older shaman and would become apprenticed to him.

Very important to the shamans were the drum songs that they composed for rituals, for good fortune in the hunt, and for curing. Drumming and singing seem to have been a part of every shamanistic performance. As one shaman told an investigator: "The shaman's drum represented the world. By means of this drum, he traveled all over the world..." As he performed, the shaman entered a self-induced hypnotic or trancelike state, and his songs were likely to affect his audience similarly. The shaman would tremble and speak to the spirits. Sometimes the audience could hear the spirits answering the shaman. If they did, it was likely that the shaman was using ventriloquism.

In the darkened kazigi the shaman performed sleight-of-hand, such as escaping from binding sinews or thongs, or transporting himself from one part of the kazigi to another after he had been tied up.

One very old Eskimo told of an especially powerful shaman who drummed, sang, and then proved his magic power by stabbing himself in the abdomen, with much blood flowing to prove the severity of the wound. Then, before the eyes of his astounded audience, the shaman completely healed the wound by calling on the spirits. No scar was visible.

John Oalanna of King Island tells of a famous woman shaman who, during a ritual dance in the kazigi, grabbed a spear from a dancer, stabbed herself, and fell to the floor with blood poring from the wound. She got up, staggered toward the entrance, and fell dead in the entry way. The people were terrified; they wanted her to come back. So they sang her own song, and she returned to life.
I wonder what I will be
When I come into view
[I hope?] I'll be a white fox
I wonder what I will be
When I come into view
I'll be a red fox
I wonder what I will be
when I come into view
I'll be a seal
Lady Shaman Spear Song John Oalanna
Music location

Shamans often used archaic words or made up their own special language, and the text of this song is vague. It is interpreted as meaning: "Flow is it-what have I here? A sharp implement, a spear. I stab myself!" That this song had great magic power is proven by that fact that the "dead" shamaness "returned" to life when the spectators sang it to her.

The shaman's songs and drumming were of great importance in his performance, but he also relied upon the magic power of charms or amulets. Almost any object-a carved animal image, a bone, a feather, a shell, an unusual rock or anything the shaman chose–might become an amulet. A song or charm could be sold (or given) by the shaman and could be inherited from the one who possessed it. Unless the buyer paid the price agreed upon, the song or amulet would lose its power, or the song would be forgotten. This happened a number of times, according to an informant from Kotzebue. The informant did not explain whether he had been buyer or seller in such a transaction.

The shaman's charms aided him in effecting cures and performing magic feats. A very old shaman song from King Island, sung by John Oalanna, describes the special charm that brings the shaman his power. It is the rock with the hole in it, which he wears on a string around his neck.
Rock With A Hole In It John Oalanna
Music location

One of Me cleverest of the shaman's tricks was his ability to travel under the ocean ice, to return later with tales of the villages or mythical world he had seen beneath the surface. There can be no doubt that shamans were able to place themselves or others safely under the ice and that their disappearances and return were witnessed.

One elderly Eskimo woman from Bethel told me this story of a great shaman's ice act: "When the Bladder Feast was over, the angatkok brought a boy to the shore ice and told us that he would put the boy under that ice. The boy would come back, he said, from a journey under the ice. The angatkok put that boy under the ice. I saw him do it. After three days we saw the boy come up out of the ice. He was dry and unharmed. That was a great angatkok." The angatkok's secret was his knowledge of conditions along the shore. Thick ice had formed along the bank, and at low tide there was no water beneath it. Thus, it would be perfectly safe to use such an ice cave in the performance of his "magic."

Marriage to a shaman, or to a shaman's close relative, was considered unwise. Therefore, a young girl who had shamanistic powers might wish to be rid of them in order to attract a young man of her choice. Soon of Hooper Bay sings a song composed by a shaman girl to help rid herself of her shamanistic power so that she would not frighten away her betrothed. It must have been quite effective, for she subsequently married the young man and gave up her practice of magic. The words, as in many shaman songs, are without specific meaning.
Shaman Girl's Song Joe Seton
Music location

When the Christian missionaries came to Eskimo villages, they largely opposed the shaman's practices and claims to supernatural power. As the Eskimos were converted to Christianity, their faith and belief in the angatkok diminished. One might believe that in the past the shaman had performed these magic feats and had had powerful contact with the spirit world, but for most Eskimos shamanism was no longer acceptable as a source of supernatural power. As contact with non-Eskimos increased, the Eskimos found it less and less important to ask the shaman's help in curing. The missionary brought medical aid. The shaman's influence in the hunt was less effective than were modern firearms. Finally, the shaman retained his importance only as an authority on the old rituals and taboos, a few of which still survive. But the old Eskimos who recall the performance of an angatkok are still convinced that he performed his magic through the mysterious powers that he possessed. Typical of the stories that are told about a shaman of long ago is one that Paul Green tells about his great grandfather, lkinik.

The Shaman Who Went to the Moon
Ikinik was a medicine man in Kotzebue. He had some special kind of power, and he did all kinds of tricks by his powers. One time while he was up on the Noatak River he saw the new moon come out. lkinik wished to go to the moon so he did it by his "doctoring," or power.

He was acting inside the house. They saw his body moving, but he wouldn't speak any more. They couldn't hear or understand what he said. So in this way his spirit left his body and went to the moon.

When his spirit came back to his body again, Ikinik told the people what he had seen. He said that he saw another medicine man up there in the moon. They met and talked. It was the angatkok Ahsuchuk from Point Hope.

Ikinik's grandchildren didn't believe him. His nephew didn't believe him. They thought he was just acting funny and trying to make believe he had been to the moon.

One of Ikinik's grandsons, Nusuk, waited until the Point Hope people came to visit Kotzebue in the springtime, then had his wife invite the Point Hopers to his tent for a big meal. (The Point Hopers had brought muktuk to Nusuk. After they had finished eating, Nusuk asked, "Did anybody from Point Hope go up to the moon when the moon was new? Did one of your medicine men go up to the moon?"

One of the old men from Point Hope answered, "Yes There was a fellow from Point Hope went up to the moon at that time. When he came back he told us he had seen Ikinik up there in the moon. They met together."

So the moon was explored by the two medicine men in early days ago. They went up by their doctoring, by their power.
Shaman's Power Song For Food Joe Seton
Music location

Hunting Songs

The first evidence of a boy's hunting skill was a matter of such importance that his parents celebrated the occasion by giving away the meat, by preparing special foods for the Bladder Festival, by giving presents, or perhaps by making up a new song. At Hooper Bay the bladder of the animal was hung up in the house and saved until it could be properly honored at the Bladder Festival. An informant at Unalakleet recalled the honoring of his first catch, a bird, which was skinned and prepared for him by his mother. Then the skin was honored at the Bladder Festival, and his mother prepared special food for that ceremony. Taboos of fasting, avoiding certain foods for a stated period of time, or wearing particular items of clothing might be imposed upon the young hunter. His body might be decorated with charcoal marks. Any or all of these rites might be observed by the family when the boy first proved his hunting ability, for careful observance of the old traditional rites was essential to guarantee future hunting success for the boy.

It was most important that a young man become a successful hunter. Survival in the Arctic demanded it, and being a great hunter was synonymous with being wealthy. The title bestowed upon such a person was umealik, or "the owner of the boat." The furs, the whale baleen, the walrus tusk ivory, and the food he provided were the sources of the umealik's position of wealth and prestige in the village.

Hunting was a year-round activity for the men and boys. To ensure success, power songs were employed. Often the shaman was asked to sing a special song, such as the following one, sung by Joe Seton of Hooper Bay, which had the power to bring food to the people. By singing this song, the shaman brought good luck to the hunters. The song is at least "four grandfathers old," but it is still sung as a hunting fortune song. The hypnotic effect of this song as it is repeated several times may have helped the shaman cast a musical spell over himself, the hunters, and, perhaps, the spirits of the animals that were about to allow themselves to be caught.

Although there are reindeer in Alaska, they are not native to the area but were brought from Siberia during the period 1892-1902 for the purpose of giving the Eskimos a good source of food and a sled animal well suited to the Alaskan terrain. Dr. Sheldon Jackson, Presbyterian missionary and teacher, convinced the United States government that the Eskimos could be taught to herd and break the animals to harness if they had help. As a result, 1,280 head of reindeer were brought from Siberia, and Lapp herders were brought to the village of Unalakleet and other coastal villages to teach the Eskimos to herd the animals.

Because the reindeer is well adapted to the tundra environment and is easily trained to lead and drive, the reindeer industry was expected to be a great success. It did not prove to be as profitable, however, as the government had hoped. Some Eskimos had difficulty adjusting to the demands of their new industry. They were primarily fishermen and hunters of sea mammals--walrus, whale, spotted seal, and oogruk (bearded seal). Some Eskimos became excellent herders, but others disliked having to round up the strays and the necessity of being away from their homes for long periods of time. An Eskimo who is out herding cannot provide the sea animal food that his family desires. These are some of the reasons (there may have been others) that the Eskimos did not wholeheartedly accept the reindeer industry.

One of the reindeer herders from Unalakleet composed the following song about his own problem-hunger. The chief herder would not allow him to kill a reindeer to eat. The government controlled the butchering of animals, and the herder had to wait for his supper until he returned to camp. The song dates from about 1900 and is sung by Thora
Kachatag of Unalakleet. The words of the "Reindeer Herder's Song," freely translated, are:

Here I am, holding my stomach.
It is empty, and I am hungry.
There is food here, walking all around me.
Walking in front of me, reindeer.
My friend is hungry, too.
Is he going to give me something to eat?
If I ask for some reindeer meat,
He will stand before me with a long face.
Well, I'll try to make the best of it.
Reindeer Herder's Song Thora Kachatag
Music location

Long ago polar bears were hunted with bow and arrow, stone- and iron-tipped lances, or spears. Today the Eskimos use high-powered rifles. Even with modern weapons, however the polar bear hunt is still considered dangerous, though it is also exciting and economically rewarding. The polar bear is a good source of food, and its skin, which may be from eight to ten feet long, brings about ten dollars per foot at the village store.

Eskimos frequently encounter the polar bear while both man and beast are looking for food. The bear roams the winter ice looking for a fat seal. The hunter must be very
alert to ice and wind conditions, for he may find himself marooned if the ice breaks loose from the pack. This happens often enough to be considered the greatest hazard of the hunt.

The following story and song, which tell of the outstanding bravery and daring of a young King Island hunter, have become a tradition in that isolated island village.
Unana-qaa agyagugaa
Nigiksaguva manna
Uvana Chiuqamni-qaa
Uvana aipagalu
Naaga attagum aiguma
Kina una taksugaam
Uvana ciuqamni-qaa
Uvana aipagalu
Kituu! Ui! Ui! Ui! Ui!
Here I am again
I'm tolerating it
While I'm yearning for [good] food
There's lots of food around here
Always passing by
In front of me here
My partner and I
When I get home
I see something with a long face
Standing there
In front of me
Instead of being happy
We're sad
My partner and I
Polar Bear Song John Oalanna
Music location

The Polar Bear Hunt

This is the true story of a polar bear hunt on King Island. Long ago a great King Island hunter went out hunting on an especially fine day. He was happy to be out and happy when he saw a huge polar bear lying asleep on the ice. He sneaked over to the big bear and struck it with his spear, but the blow did not kill it. The wounded bear arose in pain and anger and ran from the hunter. The fearless hunter followed, but could not catch the bear. Unhappily, the hunter returned to the village and went to the kazigi where the King Islanders were assembled. He told them how he had sighted and wounded the bear but had failed to kill it.

The men did not believe the hunter. If he had really seen the bear lying on the ice, they reasoned, he would have killed it. If he had only wounded the bear, it would probably have killed the hunter. Therefore, they decided, the hunter's story was untrue. The hunter tried to explain, but they would not believe him.

The next day was another fine day for hunting. This time the hunter went out with a friend. When they got out on the ice they saw another bear. Carefully they sneaked up to the bear, and the hunter's friend threw his spear and hit the animal, but failed to kill it. The wounded bear ran from the men. The hunter's friend said, "If we go home and tell the other King Islanders that we didn't get the polar bear, they'll never believe us. This time we've got to get that bear!" So they started off after the polar bear.

As they came upon the wounded bear, the hunter dropped his spear and ran after the animal. He caught up to it and, pulling out a short knife which he always carried, jumped onto the bear's back and grabbed the fur at the back of the bear's neck, and knifed the bear on the side of the head. The bear "wheeled and threw the hunter off its back, but the man pursued the animal, jumped on its back, and stabbed the bear again and again, finally killing it.

The hunters returned to the village and told their story, which is commemorated in "Polar Bear Song" as sung by John Oalanna. The words, in free translation, are here:

Thankful I am for the privilege of hunting.
Thankful I am to come close to this polar bear.
I see him now.
I spear him now.
Thankful I am that I killed that bear.

The song is sung to honor a hunter who kills a polar bear.
Nanuqtuni quyasuun
Tainaliugiga aqilikpan
Quayasuun atugigali
Mauchuvlu . . . amali
Tamagalu pagichiyuna
A song of thanks for catching a polar bear.
I'll sing it for you [?].
I'll put words to it!
Let me sing a song of thanks
[?Not clear]
At last I've found something
Crawling [toward me?]
Seal Hunting Power Song Jimmy Killlivuk
Music location

Seal hunting is a winter-long activity for the coastal Eskimos. The seal is a most important source of food, fuel, oil, dog food, and clothing, and the furs can be sold. There is a variety of seals available along the coast oogruk or mukluk (adult bearded seal), hair seal, spotted seal, and ring seal. It must mentioned again how important to the hunter is a knowledge of ice and weather conditions, for the seal hunt demands that he venture far out on the arctic ice in extremely severe weather.

In an earlier day, the seals were harpooned at their breathing holes in the ice. This required much patience and long hours of tedious waiting for the seal to appear, and it was easy to lose the animal when hunting by this method. In the past, nets under the ice have also been used. This system is not so common today. Now the hunter is likely to hunt the seals at an open water lead, using a modern rifle. Fortunately, the seal, because of its thick layer of fat, usually floats after it is shot.

A boy's first seal kill was marked by several rites and taboos. It was not impossible that his first seal would be given away for this would ensure his success as an adult seal-hunter. Another way of securing success in the seal hunt was to sing a seal hunting power song, such as the following from Point Hope, sung by Jimmy Killigivuk. The song was composed by the singer's great-great-grandfather, Shuyuk, who was an >i>angatkok. His seal hunting nets had at each end a carved amulet figure, one in the likeness of a man's face and the other of a woman's face. The song was intended to draw the seal near to the hunter's camp on the ice.
Paddling Song For The Walrus Hunt Rose Ann Negovanna and Nanny Kagak
Music location

The most exciting and important hunting event along Alaska's north coast is the whale hunt, which takes place in late spring. A good whaling season can mean full caches--underground ice boxes dug out of permanently frozen ground-and full stomachs for several months to come. Walruses appear at about the same time as whales, but are considerably easier to take, since they are usually shot while they are sleeping on the ice. The walrus is an important food source for both the Eskimos and their dog teams. Its tough hide has many uses. It provides the covering material for the umiak, or skin boat, and the blanket for the nelukataun, or skin toss. The tusks provide ivory for carvers, and even the whiskers were used as needles by the women in the old days.

As many as twenty walruses may be shot in one week. Hunters may have to go many miles by boat to find them. The animals are butchered where they are shot, and the meat, hide, and tusks are brought back to the village. The umiak "Paddling Song" performed by Rose Ann Negovanna and Nanny Kagak is still sung at Wainwright. The short spoken phrase at the end of the song is meant to imitate the
breathy puffing sound of the walrus.
Captains Wailing Song Jimmy Killigivuk
Music location

When the whales arrive in the north Alaska waters, all else is forgotten. This is what the hunters have waited for all year. Preparation for whaling is of vast importance, for a weak stich in a skin boat or inadequately prepared equipment can mean death to the whalers.

The preparations begin in March, when the members of the whaling crew and their wives start repairing the equipment, cleaning the dart guns, covering the umiak, and making sealskin floats. An excellent description of the darting gun is given by James VanStone. Howard Rock, well-known Eskimo author and editor of the Tundra Times, has described the making of the sealskin floats: "Women skin seals taking the entire flesh and bone out of them using only the neck opening to operate through, and leaving only the last knuckle bones in the flippers. These are made into sealskin floats, a great necessity, because a whale when killed sinks to the bottom. It has to be kept afloat with the use of the inflated seal skins."

The women are responsible, also, for sewing the skins whenever the umiak needs to be re-covered. The side of the skin that is exposed to the water is sewn with "waterproof" stitches (that is, the needle is not allowed to penetrate the skin completely). The men stretch and fasten the covering to the umiak's frame. A special power song accompanies this work. Amulets or charms are often sewn into the skin covering. While this is being done, hunting power songs are sung. Great sewing skill and extreme care are necessary in all these operations because an absolutely seaworthy craft is essential to the whale hunt.

In fact, skill and care are essential to every facet of the whale hunt. As one Eskimo said, "There is little room for mistakes." These hunters are after a sea mammal that weighs from thirty to forty tons, or even more, and may be three times the length of the boat that pursues it. The umealik (emelik or umealiq), or captian supervises the preparations and is responsible for feeding the crew while they are in his employ. He profits from the experiences of old retired whaling captains, whose advice is freely given. The umealik has six or seven crew members, each with an assigned position in the boat and a particular duty to perform. The helmsman whose job it is to place the umiak properly for the strike, and the harpooner, who thrusts the harpoon home for the kill, have perhaps the most exciting and demanding positions; but each man must know his job and do it expertly.

During the preparations for the whale hunt many rites are performed, some of them accompanied by songs. In addition, the shaman or the captain may sing a fortune song for supernatural aid in the hunt. Such is the following song from the whaling village of Point Hope, in which the captain tells his inexperienced young crew that he is watching and waiting and will not give up. When the whale comes up, he will strike it. Think of it-right over the back is good thick blubber. Then, "Don't get lost. Hang on!" The song is sung by Jimmy Killigivuk
Nukatpiayai qinigtu . . .
Qiminaruum tunaanun
Uvuuna kapitchagmigiga
Young hunters spotting game [looking around]
Looking toward the hill [wave]
Waiting for it to come up over ridge [wave]
I will spear it right here
On the hump on its back
Where there is lots of fat
Shaman's Parka Song Charley Jensen
Music location

The whaling crews camp on the ice until the whale is sighted; then swiftly they go into action. The umiak is put into the water, and the chase is on. The boat must be paddled silently, for the whale has exceptionally keen hearing and must not be frightened away by the sound of the paddle hitting the umiak frame.

When the helmsman has placed the boat in an advantageous position for the strike, the harpooner, using a whale gun, strikes the whale just behind the eye, on the temple, where the bone is thin. In the old days, when the harpooner used only a long lance, the animal was struck in the kidneys to cause internal bleeding. The heart was avoided as a target because a strike in that vital organ made the animal react with great violence.

Several crews participate in the kill and help to secure the animal. In great jubilance the huge animal is towed to shore, held fast by walrus line, and there the butchering begins.

The people come joyously to the buchering to receive a share of the meat and the greatly prized delicacy, muktutuk, which is the skin and blubber of the whale. At the conclusion of the wailing season, the nelukatuk, a victory celebration, is held.

Linking modern whaling to the past, and the Alaskan coastal Eskimos to the Eskimos of Siberia, is an ancient shaman song from Point Hope, sung here by Charley Jensen, which was used as a ritual song for success in the whale hunt. This song is doubtless related to the ancient boat-launching ceremonies held near the end of May or beginning of June and called atigak by the Siberian Eskimos. The sea mammal hunt would not begin until appropriate ceremonies had been observed, among them the singing of a power song by the shaman (or possibly the whaling captain) attired in a gut parka. The text, freely translated, says, "My parka, my parka-I'll put it on and go out (set forth)." The song was difficult to transcribe, but a power song of such historical and ritual significance is so rarely heard that even this version is priceless and conveys a sense of mystery and awe.
Atigaa, atigaa
Atigaa, atigaa
Sisuuram amianek
My parka, my parka
I'm wearing a new parka
Made of beluga skin