She leaves her home and carries this bucket of fresh water and gives the whale a drink of fresh water, so that it can move from the ocean to the land.
—Ron Brower, Sr., 2002
The wife of an umialik [boat captain] brought water to the whale and sang a greeting song, welcoming it to the community. This is the handle for a bucket used in the ceremony.
Region: Sledge Island, Alaska
Object Category: Ceremony
Dimensions: Length 30cm
Accession Date: 1880
Source: E. W. Nelson (collector)
Museum: National Museum of Natural History
Museum ID Number: E044690
Ron Brower, Sr.: Taimani aġvaŋman—umiaqtuqtuaq aġvaŋman—aġnaq tuvaaqataa aġvaktuam saavitchuuruq. Aasii tavra aġviq imiqtiłługu fresh water. Tamatkua tavra tigumiaġutait qattauramik, qattamik, ipu. Taamna qiñiŋavlugu qattauramik.
(Traditionally a whale caught—a crew captain caught a whale—the woman [his wife] goes out to where whale is caught. And the whale is given fresh water to drink. There are small water buckets they carry, water containers, [with a] handle for carrying the water bucket. And I had seen the small water buckets.)
Doreen Simmonds: Those are handles for the woman carrying the water to give the whale water to drink.
Ron Brower, Sr.: These are a special kind of handle reserved for a particular bucket that the whaling captain’s wife would use to carry a bucket of fresh water to the whale, once she hears [that a whale was caught].
At that time, she leaves her home and carries this bucket of fresh water and gives the whale a drink of fresh water, so that it can move from the ocean to the land. And this would be the handle for those buckets.
[From discussion with Jane Brower, Ron Brower, Sr. (Iñupiat Heritage Center), Doreen Simmonds (Commission on Iñupiaq History, Language & Culture) and Kenneth Toovak at the National Museum of Natural History and National Museum of the American Indian, 2/04/2002-2/06/2002. Also participating: Karen Brewster, Wanda Chin and Terry Dickey (University of Alaska Museum) and Aron Crowell (NMNH).]
Sea mammals were believed to have special and very powerful spirits, which were highly respected. It was believed that the spirits of dead mammals would return to their own kind to report on how they had been treated in the village where they had been killed. If they had been treated well, other animals would be willing to give themselves to hunters of that village.
- Margaret Seegana (Iñupiaq, King Island) (1)
Carved and engraved bowhead whales decorate this carrying handle for a ceremonial bucket. It is carved from dark, mineral-stained walrus tusk or mammoth ivory. The handle would have been attached to a wooden or baleen pail that served a special purpose—to bring fresh water to quench the thirst of a newly-killed bowhead whale.(2)
A boat captain’s wife made this hospitable gesture to welcome and honor the whale, so that its human-like iñua [spirit] would be pleased.
When the iñua was reborn in a new whale body it would allow itself to be taken again by humans.(3) All of the rituals and ceremonies of whaling shared this basic purpose. A storyteller at Wales in 1927 described the Land of the Whale People, where whale spirits gathered in a large qargi [community house] out in the ocean. Those who had been killed by hunters who performed the proper ceremonies wore new parkas, while those who had been mistreated dressed in shabby old garments.(4)
1. Seegana 1988:25
2. Curtis 1930:141; Osterman and Holtved 1952:26; Spencer 1969:345; Stefánsson 1919:389
3. Rainey 1947:259, 261
4. Curtis 1930:151-52