Subject: umialik sea hunter
Culture: Tagiugmiut / North Alaskan Sea Eskimo
Setting: tribal warfare, northwestern Alaska 1850-1920
Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)
* Paterek 1994 p415-416
"The North Alaska Eskimo lived from Point Hope to the Canadian border; there were two groups: (1) the Tagiugmiut or 'people of the sea,' who lived along the coast and were mainly hunters of whales and other sea mammals, and (2) the Nunamiut or 'people of the land,' who were caribou hunters of the interior. Both groups spoke dialects of Inupiaq. Whaling ships came to the area around 1850, leading to the decline of the whales, and by 1920 whaling had ended, at least commercially. A few North Alaskans continued the hunts, with special status conferred upon the umialik, or owner of the boat."
* Fitzhugh & Crowell 1988 p45
"North Alaskan social organization was relatively fluid, with status being determined by hunting skill and ability to provide for community security in terms of obtaining food resources, protecting against outside attack, and maintaining social well-being. Shamans helped interpret signs and performed seances and ceremonies to protect against environmental disasters, disease, and threats from invaders. Status was determined by individual prowess and accomplishment rather than by hereditary or ascribed means. Despite the flexibility of an egalitarian social structure, powerful leaders, known as umialiks,emerged from whaling activities, and shamans, who might also be umialiks, controlled village spiritual life and had a major impact on community life. In addition, there existed military and trading leaders whose prestige was related to their ability to deal with outsiders, native and European."
* Snaith 1997 p31 (quoting Petersen 1986 p117-118)
"The umiak played a greater role in the daily life of some Innuit groups than others. In North Alaska it was not just a whaling boat but a part of the culture with deep roots in the imagination of the people. It was of special significance for their social structure as whaling requires not only cooperation while hunting, but a tighter organization of the group, unusual for Innuit people. This group had a 'chief' called umialik, the man with the umiak. In this area umiakalik also means leader; in other places the word carries no connotation of special social position to describe social structure or administration, as here in North Alaska. When the church elder in the Barrow area was named, he was called umialinnaq, a kind of umialik."
* Spencer 1959 p152
"A man of wealth was an umealiq, the technical meaning of which is 'boatowner', but not all owners of umiaks were umealit (pl.). In both ecological settings, the umealiq held a position of both social and ceremonial importance. On the coasts, he was the head of a whaling crew, he carried on the ceremonials relating to the success in whaling, and, by virtue of his wealth, he extended material support to the men who had joined his banner as crew members. Anyone might own an umiak, but unless he was able to command the respect and loyalty of others who would join him as helpers, and to support them with gifts during the off seasons, he could not be regarded as belonging to this social category. Similarly, among the nuunamiut, the umealiq was the director of the caribou drive and again, by virtue of his wealth, the one to initiate the rituals connected with it. In either setting he was a man to be respected and in relation to the hunt, at least, obeyed. On the coast the umealiq had great prestige in any community but his actual sphere of influence extended only to the men who formally cast their lot in with his. In this sense, he was not a chief or political leader. To a degree, the same was true in the inland setting. And , as may be seen, the position of the umealiq depended wholly on wealth; his prestige arose on the basis of the goods he was able to control."
* Chance 1990 p24-25
"[S]ince there was no political structure overseeing these various [community] relations, parties involved in conflicts had no superordinate body to whom they could turn. The only real security lay with one's kin and, secondarily, in the hope that an adversary's kin would act to keep the situation from getting out of hand -- a gamble at best. In larger coastal settlements especially, conflicts often festered, leading eventually to blood feuds between families. ...
"... [O]pen warfare between members of differing localities was a normal occurrence. The Inupiat, it appears, were far more aggressive than might be surmised from reading a grade school text."
* Brasser 2009 p347
"The Inuit of Alaska's northern coast were relatively unaffected by Europeans until the mid-19th century, when American whaling ships expanded their operations beyond the Bering Strait into the Beaufort Sea. For the next 60 years, life in the coastal Inuit villages was disrupted by lawless sailors, the introduction of whiskey, guns and epidemic diseases."
* LeBlanc w/ Register 2002 p117-118
"Almost all the early Arctic anthropologists and explorers recorded incidences of warfare and stories about warfare among the Inuit (Eskimos). [...]
"In the 1960s, anthropologist Ernest Burch compiled a very complete description of warfare among the Eskimos of northwest Alaska, probably the best summary for any foraging people. Since that warfare had ended about ninety years earlier, Burch drew his information from historical accounts and secondary accounts from older Eskimo men. These Eskimos fought with closely related Eskimo societies, with Siberian and Southwest Alaska Eskimos, and with Athapaskan Indians of the interior. Burch estimates that there was warfare at least once a year somewhere in the region. His study group had the special term 'great warrior,' and an attacking party could number as many as fifty men, although fifteen to twenty were the norm. A raid could take ten days or more to complete because of the distances involved, the raiding party always had a war leader, and it was generally recognized that the better-disciplined unit always won.
"Burch learned that coastal and inland villages were often located with defense in mind -- on a spit of land, or adjacent to thick willows, which provided a barrier to attackers. Tunnels were sometimes dug between houses so people could escape surprise raids. Dogs played an important role as sentinels. The goal in all warfare among these Eskimos was annihilation, Burch reported, and women and children were normally not spared, nor were prisoners taken, except to be killed later."
* Chance 1990 p26
"Interterritorial hostilities closely followed the seasonal round of subsistence activities. By common agreement, from late spring through the fall a truce was observed. This coincided with the period of greatest productivity and most extensive interterritorial trading. Then in late fall when darkness began settling in, hostilities commenced. Any stranger observed in a given territory at this time was assumed to be either a spy or a member of an opposing group of warriors unless proven otherwise. ... Strangers who could not provide such justification were beaten or killed."
* Paterek 1994 p417
"Transitional Dress The transitional period, from the 1880s into the 1920s, saw the growth of commercial goods and garments worn by the Eskimo of northern Alaska. Men wore cloth pants, jeans, T-shirts, and such. [...] Traditional boots were worn by both sexes, but the men shifted to rubber boots for the occasional whaling trips."
* Steele ed. 2005 v2 p243 (Jill Oakes, "Inuit and Arctic dress" p242-246)
In the western Canadian Arctic and coastal Alaska ... [m]en's parkas were shorter, often of hip-length. Both men's and women's parka hoods were finished with a large 'sunburst' ruff made from strips of wolverine and wolf."
* Paterek 1994 p416-417
"No caps were worn since the parkas were hooded. Some men had a band of leather or beads around the forehead. The brow band of the umialik, or leader of the whaling crew, was hung with beads and the teeth of mountain sheep, as an indication of his importance."
* Paterek 1994 p417
"The important snow goggles, worn to protect the eyes against snow blindness, were more often carved of wood than of ivory, since the former was less apt to freeze against the wearer's face; these were tied around the head with a thong and were often carved to represent guardian spirits."
* Dubin 2003 p35
"Hunters' goggles exhibit an important principle of the Arctic aesthetic: the merging of utility, spirituality, and adornment. Designed to protect against snow and sea glare, goggles offered more than a satisfactory field of vision. Often including spirit-helper animal imagery -- a delicately etched mythical bird, for example -- and eye motifs, goggles empowered the wearer with superhuman vision, and like masks, enabled transformation into several possible identities, including that of one's prey."
Weapons (Atlatl, Ax, Club)
* Fitzhugh & Crowell 1988 p231
"The favored procedure was to mount a sneak nighttime attack on an enemy village, either catching the inhabitants asleep or else all gathered together in the community hall for a festival. If the defenders got trapped inside the hall they might be doomed. However, men were always armed, and many community halls had secret escape tunnels for just such an eventuality. Even successfully launched sneak attacks could sometimes be repulsed.
"Alaskan Eskimos also knew how to form and maneuver battle lines in an open confrontation. They understood interval spacing, the principle of mass, and the importance of terrain and wind conditions. Open battle began with a firefight with bows and arrows and eventually proceeded to shock encounters with spears, clubs, and knives. ...
"In Alaska the sole objective of war seems to have been to kill the enemy: men, women, and children. However, attackers deliberately tried to let one person escape to spread the word to compatriots never to offend the attacking nation again. Women were sometimes taken prisoner, but usually this was for only a brief period; eventually they were tortured -- often horribly -- before being put to death."
* Burch ill. Forman 1988 p38-39
"Most raids involved only a dozen or so men on a side. Occasionally, however, there were armed confrontations in which the combatants numbered in the hundreds. Alaskan Eskimos had some knowledge of how to form and manoeuvre battle lines. They engaged in both fire tactics (armed with bows and arrows) and shock tactics (armed with clubs, spears and knives). They often wore protective clothing in the form of special fur or skin vests, and in some regions they wore plate armour manufactured from pieces of bone or ivory linked together with rawhide."
* Paterek 1994 p417
"Amulets, frequently in the shape of a whale, were attached to garments to ensure success in hunting."
* Dubin 2003 p37
"Amulets were elaborately developed in relationship to the hunt. In the all-encompassing spiritual world, every object was imbued with spirit (inua). For strength and protection, hunters carried personal amulets, carvings, or unworked materials believed to contain magical attributes."
* Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology > Change and Continuity: Hall of the North American Indian
"Chipped stone effigies of whales were commonly worn around the necks of men and boys involved in whaling. Their purpose was to bring luck to the hunters." ...
* Paterek 1994 p417
"Belts girdled the winter parkas to keep icy drafts from the upper body; most were straps of leather, to which were attached various amulets, and at the back hung an animal tail, typically that of a wolverine. Sometimes these were elaborate, such as one shown decorated with black and white ptarmigan quills in a checkerboard pattern."