Posts Tagged 'Whale Hunting'

Object: Harpoon Head

E/48/2/23
Punuk, Alaska, United States of America
Materials: Ivory

This ivory harpoon head comes from the tusk of a walrus, and was made by people of the Punuk Culture, a part of the Thule tradition. It was used for whaling, which is what the Punuk culture is known for. To the Punuk people and its descendants the making of the harpoon and harpoon head was a ceremony in itself. A walrus was only killed for its ivory, and it was as close to a sacred animal as possible to the Punuk people. There were ceremonies to prepare the ivory, after which it was carved very intricately. The carver added his personal mark in order to see which harpooner was the one that had the killing thrust.

The whales which were hunted by the Punuk people were bowhead whales, and the hunt involved the entire family. They assembled in a boat owned by the family and rode along the shoreline waiting for the whales to surface along the ice . When a whale surfaced, they went in for the kill. Cultural and religious beliefs support the use of every single part of the whale. After it has been processed, it goes out to all members of the family.

Many of the indigenous people living within the Arctic Circle practiced whaling, but it was not until the Punuk culture that it became the focus of their society. Some whalebone gravesites show that a particular family could have killed as many as 30 whales in a particular season with a tendency to go for the infant whales.

The modern descendants of the Punuk people still practice whaling using methods similar to those of their ancestors. While it may not be the main source of food anymore due to recent whaling laws, it remains an important part of the cultural lives of the indigenous people of the Arctic Circle.Here is an interesting video that show what happens during a whale hunt.

Work Cited

Alaskan Artifacts.
N.D.  A Brief Overview of the Arctics Cultural Periods. http://www.alaskanartifacts.com/Arctic_Cultural_Periods.html

Fitzhugh, William W. ed J Prusinski
2004 Old Bering Sea Harpoon. Arctic Studies Center.http://www.mnh.si.edu/arctic/features/croads/ekven10.html

Hurst Gallery.
1998  Punuk 600-1200 AD. http://www.hurstgallery.com/HG/exhibit/past/artic/punuk.html

[Manuel Marin]

Object: Harpoon

E/91/2/11
North Alaska Inuit, Alaska, United States of America
Materials: Whale bone, Ivory, Wood, Leather

There are two types of heads for harpoons, the non-toggling head and the toggle head.  This harpoon is of the toggling type that was invented by ancestors of the Inuit people, and it continues to be modified and used today by hunters from all around the world. It is suggested that the toggling head was first used along the Bering Strait, the narrow passage between Alaska, Russia, and the Aleutian Island, but the exact origin is highly debated.  However, among the uncertainty there remains one consensus; it changed the way sea mammals would be hunted forever.  The technology emerged to enhance hunting techniques, because, in the original design, the non-toggling harpoon, the head was fixed to the end of the shaft.  This was effective, but the design was not perfect.  Even though the head was barbed, it could still be dislodged from the animal.  The toggling head was invented to resolve this problem.

In the toggle harpoon the head detaches from the weapon but remains connected to the harpoon by a leather line.  Once the head has penetrated the animal the separation allows the head to rotate and become more securely fixed under the hide.  This technique gives the hunter more leverage to pull the animal from the water and to remain attached until the animal becomes tired.  Additionally, when the head detaches from the weapon, the harpoon does not break against the ice when the animal dives back under the water.

The toggle harpoon has a long history of success.  Its earliest prototypes in 5500 BC began to improve the living conditions of the hunters and their families with its added efficiency, and the invention remained mostly the same until the 19th century.  In 1848 Lewis Temple, a former slave and blacksmith, revolutionized the technology with the addition of the iron head.  Since then, the makeup of the shafts and other parts of the bodies of harpoons continue to be modified, but the toggling head remains a constant in all of the new designs.  This Native American invention transformed sea mammal hunting and continues to thrive over 7,500 years later. To see a toggle head harpoon in action watch the movie below.

Work Cited

Fitzhugh, William W. ed J Prusinski
2004 Old Bering Sea Harpoon. Arctic Studies Center.http://www.mnh.si.edu/arctic/features/croads/ekven10.html

Forbes, Jack D.
2007   The American Discovery of Europe. University of Illinois Press. Ch. 6-7 http://books.google.com/books?id=09tmdIA6cDoC&pg=PA133&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=4#v=onepage&q&f=false
Glenbow Museum
National Park Service.
2008  Lewis Temple and His Impact on 19th Century Whaling. National Parks Traveler. http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/potw/lewis-temple-and-his-impact-19th-century-whaling
NOAA Ocean Media Center
2012   People of the Seal. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3TuC2erWFlI
Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
N.D. Whale Harpoons, or Temple Toggle Irons. On the Water. http://amhistory.si.edu/onthewater/
[Madi Sussmann]

Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

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