Sunday, August 28, 2011

Fun and Games

It is likely at some point you've already seen pictures of the nalukataq (blanket toss). However, you may not have seen this particular take on it. This is a young woman who had a baby son within the past year. When her turn comes on the blanket, the tradition is for her to toss gifts to the crowd, such as furs, candy, food items, and clothing. Only elder women of a certain age are allowed to be the recipients of the gifts. So, they must scramble to catch the items as they are tossed into the air.

The excitement is palpable, the elders move like spry young women, and the crowd is rewarded with lots of stories to later recount.

Once nalukataq is over, the crowd takes a break to prepare for the final events. Many folks go home to change into traditional dress in preparation for the dancing that will take place in the school gym that evening.

The festivities do not begin until the drummers take their place in the chairs set up for them on the gym floor. Stevie is a member of the drummers and explains that the dances are specific to the family of the members performing the dance. Families are called in order from the member who is eldest in the community to youngest.

As the clock approaches 11:00 p.m., the dancing is finished. The drummers have played for over three hours without a break!

The last event of the celebration is the distribution of quaq. This is highly anticipated. This is frozen meat and fish that has been stored in the siń°luaqs (the ice cellars). This is highly prized as the meat and fish take on a special flavor while it is stored in these underground caches.

We all leave with yet more ziploc bags full of goodies. It has been quite a day...long, tiring, and memorable!

Come and Get It!

Under every storm cloud is a silver lining. So goes the story of fellow camper Ben's lost camera. Because he didn't have his own camera to document the day, I asked him to take mine and just take pictures of everything. That, by the way, is why I'm actually in some of the pictures! Also, I get to share some of the activities from the men's side.

You see, there are two windbreaks on this day and the men and women are separated during the preparation activities. On the women's side, all of the cutting and cooking is going on and there is support from men who bring firewood, drop off pieces of meat to be cut, and carry heavy items. We frequently saw some young boys helping with garbage, too.

On the men's side, as Ben explained it, the atmosphere is quite different. The men gather together and tell stories and visit with friends and relatives. I surmise this is, in effect, their "gratitude" day. Their hunting skills have made this feast possible. This is the day they get to relive their adventures and enjoy the fruits of their labors.

Well-deserved, I'd say. Who among those of us reading this story would voluntarily head out on the Arctic Ocean in a skin boat to hunt whale in cold, windy conditions so common to the Spring whale hunt? These brave and courageous men not only keep families fed, but keep age-old traditions alive for the younger generations to learn and subsequently follow.

 The men anxiously await distribution of the "goodies."  At frequent intervals, women will walk over to the men's side with various buckets, pots, and platters of food shares.

The arrival of some food items is more anticipated than other items as Ben found out. In particular, he found it is very important to note when the batches of donuts are being brought over. Once the purveyor starts walking into the area, all of the men rush over to greet her in a swarm of hungry humanity!