imiqaġvik “water bucket, water container”
Language: North Slope Iñupiaq
Taimani aġvaŋman—umiaqtuqtuaq aġvaŋman—aġnaq tuvaaqataa aġvaktuam saavitchuuruq. Aasii tavra aġviq imiqtiłługu fresh water. (Traditionally when a crew captain catches a whale, the woman goes out to where the whale is caught. And the whale is given fresh water to drink.)
—Ron Brower, Sr., 2002
Singing her welcome to the spirit of a newly-killed whale, a boat captain’s wife poured fresh water onto its snout from her ceremonial pail. In Iñupiaq belief this quenched the sea mammal’s thirst for fresh water. During winter ceremonies women raised their buckets to Alignuk, the Moon Man who controlled game, seeking the success of their husbands in the spring hunt. The ceremonial pail seen here is made of steam-bent wood and ornamented with polar bear teeth carved to represent whales’ tails and polar bear heads.
Region: Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska
Object Category: Ceremony
Dimensions: Length 29cm
Accession Date: 1952
Museum: National Museum of the American Indian
Museum ID Number: 218952.000
Ron Brower, Sr.: Uvvauna taiminnasiq aa aġnam qattaġisuuvalliġaa aġviq payukkamiuŋ.
(This may be a bucket a woman has to take water to the whale.)
Kenneth Toovak: Imiqaġvikkiuvva.
(Definitely a water bucket.)
Ron Brower, Sr.: This is a water bucket.
Kenneth Toovak: Imiqaġvik. Aŋuniagtit suġautaŋi marra qiñiyunaqusiqsuuraaŋavlutiŋ tainna marra. Marra makkua avataqpaum puvuixutaŋit. Marra makua qixamitautausuŋnaqtut.
(Water bucket.(1) They’re hunter’s items and they added ornaments. These [items strung around bucket] are seal poke plugs. These [items strung around bucket] are probably bolas.)
Jane Brower: Nannum kigutaa.
(Polar bear tooth.)
Ron Brower, Sr.: This polar bear and whale [carvings along rim] are [made of] polar bear teeth. These [items strung around bucket] are a walrus tooth, a rest for one of those harpoons, a plug. The way these items have been added as ornaments to this bucket indicate that it was used for some ceremonial purpose. And you have on the handle, two plugs for making a seal float added to it. This is a piece of ivory that’s rough-cut formed for the handle, tied with sealskin-hide rope. Kenneth was saying it’s a water bucket. And from the looks of it, it’s got its daily use. But it might be also used for bringing water to the whale.
Kenneth Toovak: Imiġviqaġnisuugait nunat.
(They say each village has these buckets for water.)
Ron Brower, Sr.: This is a special bucket or container for bringing water or other things—foods—to a ceremony.
In our part of the country, we also had these kinds of buckets, but they were made out of baleen. All of the whaling communities are pretty much the same in the tradition of whaling. Buckets or containers come in many forms. Some of them are baleen, some of them are wood. Mostly the baleen containers, some of them have wood bottoms. But certainly this is for ceremonial use because of the additions. Like we were seeing yesterday, those whale pieces. This [rim] is where they would go.
In the different communities there’s a headman, and the communities respect the headman. Also that’s indicated by making him gifts of this [bucket] nature, especially if he’s a very successful hunter. This bucket indicates that this person is a successful hunter.
[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).]
1. According to Iñupiaq Elder Martha Aiken, an imiqaġvik [water bucket] is made from wood or baleen with or without a cover. The wife of a whaling captain uses it to bring water to a whale caught by his crew. It is also the type used for sharing ceremonies.
She poured this water first on the snout itself, then on the blowhole of the whale, remarking as she did so, ‘It is good that you are come to us.‘
- “Greeting the Whale” in Robert Spencer, The North Alaskan Eskimo: A Study in Ecology and Society (1)
Iñupiaq hunting of the bowhead whale is rich with cultural meaning and tradition, and very much a part of contemporary life in the communities of Wales, Kivalina, Point Hope, Wainwright, Barrow, Nuiqsut, and Kaktovik.(2) The whale harvest sustains these villages and is celebrated in feasts and festivals including Apugauti and Nalukataq.
Before Christianity, many religious ceremonies were directed to the whale spirits. Spring whaling time was a period of intense spiritual focus, from rituals to prepare boats and equipment before the hunt to the Nalukataq celebration that marked the end of the season.(3) It was understood that whales watched and listened to see if people showed them respect.
This meant living carefully, not making loud noises, keeping houses and the village clean, clearing out the meat storage cellars, and producing new clothing and equipment for the hunt. If all was done correctly, whales would give themselves to the hunters, and when they did the great animals were treated as honored guests.(4)
Women played leading roles in these spiritual practices. The wife of an umialik [boat captain] imitated the spirit of the whale, and her every action could affect the hunt. As her husband’s boat departed, the harpooner pretended to strike her with his weapon. While the hunters were out she stayed very quietly in the house, so the whale would be quiet and easy to kill. She could not sew or use a knife, or the harpoon line might be tangled or cut. She would not stoop or go into an underground meat cellar, or a whale that had been harpooned might go under the ice where it could not be recovered.(5)
When a whale was towed back to the village, she greeted the animal at the edge of the ice.
Singing and speaking to welcome it, she poured fresh water on the whale’s snout from a ceremonial bucket.(6) This practice—of quenching a whale’s assumed thirst for fresh water—was shared by Siberian whaling cultures.(7) Iñupiat gave all sea mammals that they killed a drink of fresh water, and all land animals a taste of seal or whale blubber (which was rubbed on their noses), in the belief that the creatures of land and sea craved these substances that were not available to them in life.(8)
The same ceremonial bucket appeared in other rituals. An umialik‘s wife gave a drink to the whale boat when it was launched, because the sealskin-covered umiak was viewed as a kind of living sea mammal itself.(9) At Point Hope, women raised their buckets to Alignuk, the Moon Man who controlled game. People said that if the water in the woman’s pot was clear and clean “it will reach up to him” and Alignuk would drop a whale into it, meaning that her husband would be successful in the spring hunt.(10)
At Point Hope and Barrow, skilled craftsmen made new buckets each year for the whaling captains and their wives. At Point Hope, these were made bigger each year to show the growing umialik‘s growing experience. Buckets were initiated with special songs and ceremonies in the qargi [community house].(11)
1. Spencer 1969:345
3. Curtis 1930:135-60; Murdoch 1892:272-75; Spencer 1969:332-53; Rainey 1947
4. Curtis 1930:152; Murdoch 1892:274; P. H. Ray 1885:39; Rainey 1947:257-59
5. Curtis 1930:115, 140-41; Murdoch 1892:274; Rainey 1947:259; Spencer 1969:337-38
6. Curtis 1930:141; Osterman and Holtved 1952:26; Spencer 1969:345; Stefánsson 1919:389
7. Lantis 1938:24
8. Brower 1943:16; Rainey 1947:267; Spencer 1969:272; Stefánsson 1919:389; Van Valin 1941:199
9. Brower 1943:48; Rainey 1947:257; Spencer 1969:334; Thornton 1931:166-67
10. Pulu et al. 1980:15-16; Rainey 1947:270-71; see story “How the Spider Came” in Osterman and Holtved 1952:228
11. Rainey 1947:245; Spencer 1969:334