The time is 1:40 p.m. on a beautiful sunny day. Right now it is about45 degrees with a slight wind blowing. But the clouds are moving in from the sea. Today is the second of four celebrations this spring year for the successful whale catches. The celebrations are known as "Nalukataq". The crews that caught a whale invite the whole village for a grand celebration. Throughout the day, food is given out, meat from the whale to smoked fish to fruits. Then sometime between 5 and 6 they will serve a traditional dinner followed by the famous blanket toss and traditional Eskimo dancing. There were twelve different crews that caught whales this spring, so they will be dividing the celebrations up over the next couple of days.
Last Sunday I was installed as Pastor for the Utqiagvik Presbyterian Church. The service is hosted by the congregation but the installing is done by the presbytery, in this case, The Presbytery of Yukon. Usually people would drive to the service from throughout the presbytery to partake. The trouble with Barrow is that you can only fly in or out. (Unless you want to snow mobile or four wheel it depending on the time of year, as well as coming by boat for the six to eight weeks that the sea is open). Right now, there are only two flights a day that connect us with Fairbanks or Anchorage, one in the morning and one in the evening.
My mother and step sister came up for my installation service from Anchorage and decided to stay for the Nalukataq Monday afternoon. Monday's weather was overcast, rainy and cold. Not good for a celebration outdoors. We quickly got the schedule for the celebration, food, dinner, blanket toss, (which is why they stayed) then the dancing. Since their flight was leaving at 6 p.m., they missed everything they stayed for. During the short time I was out, I caught a head cold and my ears plugged up for the next couple of days. Though I wanted to return later that night to watch, my ears hurt too much, so I took some medication and went to bed with the knowledge that there will be more Nalukataqs.
Whales are a major portion of the yearly diet for the people of the Arctic Circle. So successful whale hunts are to be celebrated, because it means that people will be able to eat this year. The Inupiat people also use as much of the whale as possible then returning the waste to the sea with a small ceremony and prayers.
Well, I am going to go check out the celebrations this afternoon before coming back to work for a wedding rehearsal. Hopefully, I will be able to come back from this Nalukataq with something other than a head cold and ear aches.