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After the Snowbird, Comes the Whale 1.

The 2018 Fortnightly Serial.

←Index and Introduction



Part One.


Night visitors and telling stories.

HE KNOWS I know his name is Tulugaq, but still I call this mighty individual Sharva, who visits me these late spring evenings. A specialist in kungfu manoeuvres reproduced from Bruce Lee movies, small hours, visio­nary conversation, Sharva’s passage through the village keeps the girls awake and some in terror as he guns his machine to the edge of my storm-shed and opens the throttle in a final bellow. Then in the after-blast, he strides through the snow, my outer door groans and his glove smacks the lintel.

The reasons for his visits I slowly start to fathom. Drunk on night’s daylight, Sharva seeks shade, and my house is full of shade. And while his path through Tikigaq is ribald and sublime, what I offer is a margin of banality in which to convalesce from serial intensity. To mark this dull edge to his business, Sharva brings me curiosities because he knows I’ll give him supper. His diet is eccentric. Abjuring the real meat — whale, seal, caribou, walrus, fish and wild fowl — that sustains the village, what he eats is tuna, corned beef, and sardines. So in return for these and crackers, he lifts hunks of Kobuk River jade and Anchorage whiskey from his snow-suit zipper. And while I cache these — against scholarly scrutiny rather than consumption — he gorges on crackers, swigs instant coffee, lights a Marlboro, exhales through his harmonica and crashes on my trestle.

The young god also comes to re-enact his work on enemies: their legs, teeth, genitals and noses. He fought Itqiliks (Indians) at school in Oregon and now he’s come home to instruct his younger brothers. Up swings an elbow caked with blood, salt, motor oil and canned fish fluids. A boot crashes on the lino. Hands, blackened from a leaky carburetor, sweep the light bulb. Parka nylon whistles. Typescripts, notes and carbon paper all go flying. Researched from movies, Sharva executes a high-kick and flourishing a chako stick, smashes my light bulb. The god transforms to house-maid, grovels on the floor, apologises, wipes glass from the floor boards and then striding through the storm shed, rubs the glass-dust in the snow outside and dropping ice-crusts on the lino, stamps in again for pilot crackers.

‘Come! My gloves! Dry! You gonna blood ‘em soon!’ he cries reverting to heroic posture. He bangs his mittens and a shower of glass and ice crusts join the scabs of snow his boots drop on the lino. I offer him toast and peanut butter. ‘First I gotta settle something,’ Sharva mutters.

Since Sharva’s first visit, it helps to diagnose his mood from the sound of his approach. There’s the rapid stride of a marijuana high, the heavy, aggrieved drinker’s gait, the depres­sive approach, in which his movement’s drained of purpose. Finally, the quick walk of a self-possessed young man with curiosity about the world intent on intellectual conversation.

It’s been this latter mood of cheerful interest that has marked our recent conversations, when Sharva sits at my table and rif­fles through my folders, fingering the typescripts with — as is right — proprietary self-possession.

‘How many stories you got here?

‘You got stories about anatkuqs?

‘What’s this story on a brown bear? How come you never tell me about my atiq?’1

‘Everything I know is secondhand’, I tell him. ‘I don’t tell stories. All I know is what Asatchaq records. And these are just streaks of patterns fading on a background I can never visualise.’

‘That’s all anybody knows,’ says Sharva. ‘I see my life like that too. In lines across the snow. And what is snow? What is it? I don’t know. I don’t know where I’m going. Who were my ancestors? Hunters, anatkuqs who took journeys to the moon man. And here’s me tripping round on my Ski-Doo. People say I’m crazy. I guess they’re maybe right. But how’s them different?’

In an unguarded moment I address him as Sharva.

‘How come you say that name?’ he asks, and I explain apologetically.

‘I know you’re Tulugaq. And you have powerful atiqs. I called you that other because you remind me of someone. It’s a god from India called Shiva.’

‘You said Sharva. Not that other.’

‘I know. It’s complicated. Shiva has a thousand-and-seven other names. “Sharva” means lucky. The god’s names are aanguaqs.’2

‘You shouldn’t bother with it,’ Tulugaq said. ‘We’re not India.’

I risked developing the conversation.

‘It isn’t just a thousand names. He’s got just as many usuks.’

Tulugaq had a fit of coughing.

‘Man, a thousand usuks…’ For a moment he was lost in speculation. Then, ‘That would be some kuyak-. Where does he keep ‘em?’

‘I imagine that he’s always at it. He was crazy for the daughter of a mountain. Parvati. She was a sort of uiluaqtaq.3

But he married her finally. They spent thousands of years in one prolonged kuyak.

‘What happened after?’

‘One of their babies got punished for some reason and had his head changed to an elephant’s. Some kind of baby kiligvak…Had a fat belly, ate nothing but candy. One tusk broken.’

‘One tuugaq broken. Crazy story. That many usuks.


ONE EVENING TULUGAQ brings a girl friend. ‘This is Patsy.’ She’s sixteen and pretty. Then after some talk about her father’s whale-boat, ‘Let’s go in there,’ Tulugaq gestures to my alcove and they walk through the curtain.

I’m jealous of their privacy and sublimate with Heidegger, his essay on Holderlin’s ‘Homecoming’ poem.4 This I’d excavated from a cache of books an ex-teacher had abandoned recently: Leaves of Grass and Walden, pacifist writings of Tolstoy and Gandhi and Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse: radical texts that young Americans were reading in the 1960s. These lay in a snow heap on a table in the school house built in Jabbertown in 1900 for the traders’ children, dragged five miles west to Tikigaq and intermittently abandoned. I’d wandered in one lonely Sunday. A pre-school programme used the east end of the building. There were boxes of toys and small cushions in strawberry and banana patterns. Like a mouth jammed open to swallow a whale’s head, the west end held the cockpit severed from a plane that came down in the village recently. Cords, dials and connectors poked out in the twilight and a telephone switchboard was stuffed in beside it. Some kids had set a fire here and the back wall was charred and the window frames twisted.

Back at the house, as Tulugaq and Patsy consummate their moment, I make a stab at Heidegger. The cover’s pitted by an ice pick left still vertically transfixing Hesse’s Steppenwolf that lay on it and I’d copied out the words the pick had skewered. But the words that at first I thought contained a synchronistic series added up to nothing.

NOTE: In The Fortnightly’s online template, illustrations are thumbnails with embedded captions or onward text links. To enlarge an illustration, click on it. To read a caption, hover over the illustration. To play an embedded video in a larger size, click twice.

The scars to Heidegger are superficial, his essay profound and hard to fathom.5 More important, in Holderlin’s poem, I recognize the ice and light of Alpine Europe and an inflection of its contrasts at this Arctic moment, at once spiritually hot and deadly freezing: stanzas that illuminate the winter in an expectation of unbroken summer. In parallel, the poet evoked village people in their valley ‘workshops’ exalted by the peaks around them which rained sacred glamour.

I shared Holderlin’s vision of community, its industrious inhabitants, the encounter between communal existence and a sacred fiat. It expresses an Edenic anthropology of ordinary people, their lives hallowed by imperatives, blessed and expressed by divine generosity. Such people are autonomous but submissive to participation in the workings of authority and dwell content in their share of its operations. There’s eternity to this condition: where everyone is. Just there they belong with the pine trees and glaciers.

This of Holderlin, as taken up by Heidegger, musing in his peasant cabin — perhaps already having joined the Nazi Party and refusing to abandon home in Baden-Wurtemburg — is Heimat, or home’s meaning, but which also demands of people that they make the effort to achieve belonging. Thus Heidegger proclaimed as excavated from the snow heap:

Home is difficult to win.
They’re not yet ready for home’s inmost essence.

Homecoming’s learning, at home, to become at home.
To do this one must know what’s best and innermost:
It’s near, what you seek. In the end you’ll find it.

How far such a venture is joyous or forbidding is difficult to measure.


BY VIRTUE OF his years and learning, Asatchaq is Tikigaq’s acknowledged sage and patriarch. And yet, because he’s also feared and avoided, he lives in exile on the fringes of the village. Still, like a Buddha at the bull’s eye of a mandala, he’s also at the centre, father, village consciousness and history. It’s near, what you seek, as Heidegger tells us, perhaps with a glance at Grimm’s tale of the soldier who found gold in his abandoned kitchen.

What Asatchaq knows and doesn’t need to seek is what we can’t imagine or approach without him. This, because at this stage in the evolution of the village, he lives largely in the realm of fiction: in half-submerged ancestral teachings, myths, legends, narratives of ancestors and dance songs, taboo regulations, shamanistic medicine, spirit visions, sun and moon lore, supernatural histories, celebrated gestes of the umialiks,6 sacred geography that maps ghost dwellings — places where one mustn’t sleep because of murdered baby spirits, subterranean monster iglus — birth and death rites, laws of mutuality with animals, how to butcher and ingest the soul-infused meat of whale and caribou, theories of the threefold human spirit, its origin in previous namesakes, the intricate networks of a century’s kinship and affiliation, chronicles of families going back two centuries that were engaged in patterns of behaviour no one born since 1940 believes in.

He on the other hand lives on the fringes in a cabin loaned him by a teacher and kept alive by intermittent visits from a few relations on the New Town Site two miles away and an Englishman who writes him cheques for songs and stories.


ASATCHAQ’S CABIN LIES due north of mine, while my interpreter/translator Tukummiq’s ex-US army Quonset hut, with its fence of frozen seals her son has hunted for her standing upright on their noses, lies roughly in the middle. The trail that Tukummiq and I negotiate each weekday evening forms a straight line from my south side cabin to the north of the peninsula. Here Asatchaq has settled about fifty yards from his sister Uyatauna who lives in parallel isolation.

‘I like it better here in Tikigaq,’ Tukummiq confesses. The half mile we walk, occasionally backwards if a north wind’s blowing, is deserted. We stop to look east up to New Town Site: a blur on the horizon: American tract dwellings, durable, suburban and sanctioned by contemporary authority. Old post-white-contact Tikigaq village, improvised through nine decades of ingenuity, autonomous, self-made, fragile, crafted out of planks and insulating paper, marine wreckage, a collage of detritus, only just sufficient.

North wind (‘Good for polar bears’ as Asatchaq remarks with a sculptural gesture northward) is part of the landscape. It blows from Cape Lisburne, hits the Point side-on and crosses to the south shore as though connecting the two coastlines. The north wind is male, the south wind female. Like the sun and the moon, the two strive against each others’ sexuality and help define the Point’s self-fructifying energy.

‘New Town is all right,’ Tukummiq continues. She is widowed and has just turned fifty. ‘But it’s not the old village. I’d like a new home but I’ll be dead before I get it.’

The identity of old town, Tikigaq or ‘index finger’, derives from its position, pointing, as if the sand spit were in motion, deep into enclosing ocean. New Town Site lies two miles inland and its geologic form has less particularity. It’s part of inland. The Point, the index finger, with its plunging momentum of harpoon and bird’s bill, is sharper and more complex in its fabrication.

We glance round at abandoned cabins, iglu mounds, sigluaqs (caches) whale bone uprights, animal bones and skins on drying racks, ruts sunk by tractors that dragged half the village off last summer, the slough (where someone in a kayak drowned in myth time — though that may be satire) and tundra hummocks where the bunting and the longspur build in April.

We’re also in ghostly human company. Human bones the missionary omitted to cart west to his new cemetery lie scattered on the tundra between barrels filled with last year’s rubbish. Tukummiq clicks her tongue, contemplatively self-divided. It’s both home and a wasteland, beautiful/ugly, things almost as they were twelve months ago but overlaid by human absence.

The New Town Site is up there, two miles east, connected to us by the roar occasionally of hunters on snowmachines who’ve come to fetch meat from their underground caches. Sometimes I walk to New Town Site to visit, buy goods from the store and simply look round Tikigaq’s reformulation. The shingle on which New Town Site is built is grey, the houses uniform, an embryonic US suburb. The Borough’s rented planes to ferry prefabs from San Franscisco: solid, tightly insulated and identical dwellings unweathered as yet and unmarked by history.

‘Hard to walk on those stones till freeze up,’ old people mutter. Your feet turn sideways. It’s painful on the knees and hips. The feeling’s precarious. Strange to remember that this stony surface pushed by dozers from the south shore, is an aggregration of the old south beach: the same stones shamans walked on in their vision quests and where people still hunt for seal after whaling. But heaped into a pad to support new houses, New Town is the answer to impending flooding that will overwhelm the old site. The move, albeit the rational solution, is nonetheless traumatic.



Kunangnauraq’s Dream.

IT’S THE END of an era though no one talks apocalyptically. Moves have happened since after the Ice Age. And like much history it soon gets forgotten. Bicentennial celebrations start up in the lower States this summer. The US has withdrawn from south-east Asia and Vietnam has now invaded Cambodia. Two Tikigaq men, conscripted to the jungle (‘They pay Natives to kill Natives,’ as Kunangnauraq told me) are back in the village.

The impact of both these things have deeply afflicted Kunangnauraq. Since seeing him last, as a young man, beautiful and powerful, I find his face wasted and refined by thought and suffering. He shows me drawings in which he’s tried to realize a vision of his people and wonders if Ipiutak which vanished in ca. 500 is blended (his word) with early Inupiaq. He’s also deeply worried that the New Town Site lies over Ipiutak ruins.

Given the unknowable extent of the Ipiutak settlement and how much land it occupied has been eroded, there may be truth to his anxiety. I share his worry but it does not haunt me. Kunangnauraq’s kept a more or less intact, small house in old Tikigaq. But he’s living now on the New Town Site. He’s been disturbed by dreams since moving last summer. In one dream he’s in an old iglu.

‘Like that one Nanny Uyatauna lived in. A man came in through the tunnel. He’s wearing a mask. At the centre, at the nose, there’s a bird revolving.’

He told me about two other dreams, but the details are blurred and he’s forgotten most of them. The mask dream derived from the photo of an Ipiutak mask he had been studying. My book, he said, helped him.

‘If Taam was here he’d explain the meaning. After he’s talked to those old people.’ I’m glad I helped, but know only what the old people tell me.

The village move meanwhile involves a huge adjustment. But similar places are worse affected. Kivalina, for example, a hundred miles south and sited between sea, lagoon and river is in catastrophic peril and there’s nowhere local to it that’s not threatened. Tikigaq in this respect is fortunate. Just two miles east there’s higher ground. No-one demurs that the move had to happen, but compared to the old site’s history and topography, the new town’s characterless and sterile. Still:

‘It’s a new world here. It’s left you behind, man,’ a boy just arrived on a snowmachine tells me. But no separating rivalry splits the village. Everyone’s involved. It’s serious and painful.

‘Which-way-you-always-kick-then?’ I’m tempted to ask him but am glad I didn’t, biting back, especially, always: a usage which translates the infix that expresses frequent action.7

I rarely indulge in ethnographic banter. This would have been unfair and arrogant. I have, afterall, the luxury of books and archives. My bitten-back rejoinder was about an ancient ceremonial rivalry. Before the white man came in the 1880s, the village divided into parties that played mass participation football. One group kicked towards the Point from inland, the other team kicked from the Point, inland.8 Informally got up on full moon nights and a favourite of old women who knew in the past there had been murders, it was often violent. I held my tongue on this occasion.


Inupiaq Migrations.

AS WE CROSS to visit Asatchaq, I think of the migrations that brought people to Alaska. Specifically to Tikigaq some two thousand years back, in two main movements: first the pre-Eskimo Ipiutak people until 500. Then early Inupiat around 800.

In addition to Tlingit and Athabaskan Indians and Inupiat of the interior, the Inuit have moved everywhere along the north shores of Alaska’s sixteen hundred miles of coastline adapting to propitious hunting places.

Besides Tikigaq which holds the latest wave of the late Thule people, there were, among the northern Inupiat, the flint knappers of Denbigh, Choris, Norton, Okvik, Punuk, Birnirk, Old Bering Sea, Ipiutak and Thule whale hunting Inupiat. The first migrants arrived from south-east Siberia. When the sea ice started melting about ten thousand years back, the continents separated. One Tikigaq story describes two distant points that once were united: here, on Tikigaq’s north coastline and somewhere near East Cape, Siberia. Presumably a construction of the imagination.


Kiligvak, the Mastodon.

IN CONVERSATION ABOUT names and namesakes, we shuttle the old man’s surname back and forth between us. Tukummiq laughs. The old man’s birth is inscribed in a ledger as James Asecak Killigivuk. Thus missionary Driggs baptized Niguvana’s baby.

Asatchaq’s father’s name was Kiligvak, ‘mastodon’. And because he was little, people called him kiligvauraq, ‘little kiligvak.’ This echoed, I imagined, wrongly, the presence of the Pleistocene: the beasts and early people that migrated from Siberia.

Still, in truth, like ancient hunters that pursued it, the mastodon migrated from north-eastern Europe and when it died out it left its presence in Alaska. At Qauttaq, ten miles north of Tikigaq, there is kiligvak ivory under the beach stones. And whole tusks tumble out of river bank subsidence. I was with Kunannauraq’s brother when he hauled into the village an enormous, curling set of tusks he had recovered from the Kuukpak River. More modestly, I kicked up some gravel for a fish net north of Tikigaq and unearthed a perfectly preserved kiligvak molar.9

‘How old you think that tooth is?’ one of my companions asked me.

‘Maybe ten thousand years,’ I casually suggested, picking up, on which to place the molar for a photo, a small packing case lid from a driftwood tangle. Inscribed on the wood in magic marker was the number 10,000.


THE EMPTINESS PROMPTS me to imagine I feel time’s passage. Like Tikigaq’s beaches, time, so I thought, comes and goes like the sides of the peninsula in palpitating repetitions. But time’s always the same thing, nothing, and it has no movement. We and the kiligvak inhabit the same medium.


Asatchaq’s World View.

THE ANCIENT MASTODON we’re crossing Tikigaq to visit lives within a gyroscope of incompatible cosmologies. Or rather, the world views coinciding in him — Inupiaq, Episcopalian, American materialist — are, as circumstance arises, interchangeable. Or again, they’re adjacent. This is not uncommon. A prayer to Jesus at the whale hunt followed by an avataqpaksiun, a charm steadying the harpoon float.


The Peninsula’s Geology.

People have lived here since about 800 and the Point has existed for several millennia. Created by stones, gravel and sand ground up from the frangible Cape Thompson that waves and currents throw up on the south beach every summer, every seventy years a new beach ridge is created and so the Point is built of mounds and troughs that stripe the peninsula, east-west, parallel with one another: the most recent on the south side, the more ancient to the north before they’re ripped off by storm waves. It’s deeply, culturally, American, this sand spit in the Arctic. Cape Thompson is the endpoint of the Rocky Mountain cordillera.

Just as the peninsula enlarges from the south shore, so the north side is eroded. But while build-up from the south is gradual, the north shore visibly collapses in summer and autumn. Paradoxically, there’s also growth here. The same water that carries off the bluffs deposits silt from the Kuukpak River. These opposite forces both created the peninsula but now render life impossible.

The Storm of 1893.

THE MOST DETAILED account of a Tikigaq flood comes in a letter of John Driggs, who’d been Tikigaq missionary since 1890. In October 1893, a violent storm blew across from Siberia and in Driggs’s letter of next summer, we witness the storm’s impact on Tikigaq peninsula:

On the 13th of October 1893 during a very severe blizzard, the sea came breaking on the land, driving the Natives out of the village and forcing me to desert the mission. At first I did not intend doing so, but a wave burst in the door and I thought it best to leave. After an absence of seven days I returned home and found that no damage had been done to the house outside of the bursting in of the door, a damage that was easily repaired with a few screws.

Out of doors everything looked desolate. Along the ocean front the land had been cut away to a considerable extent and all the snow had been thoroughly saturated by the ocean water and spray that no suitable snow could be procured to melt for household use. On the night of my return another big storm arose and the following evening I thought it best to desert the house before I was again forced to repeat my former experience of dodging waves and wading though ice water and slush, an operation I did not care to repeat, as I had slightly frozen my feet and had been forced to thaw them out with snow.

That night I slept alongside of a dog sled, with a few clumps of snow thrown up as a wind break and then continued my trip back to the mountains, where I met some belated Natives and stayed with them in a sort of brushwood shelter living on uncooked, frozen fish. By the first of November there having been an abundance of snow storms and the weather being sufficiently settled, I again returned home and opened school for the second time…A young woman who had been a pupil at the mission was overtaken by these blizzards, while on the cliffs on the mainland and is supposed to have been blown off into the ocean; she and a young man with her, have never been heard from…10

In July 1894, Driggs took Elijah Edson, a priest who had arrived relieve him for a year’s vacation, to view the north shore and they formed a plan to relocate the Mission. In July 1895, Edson wrote:

During the last four years autumn storms have driven heavy seas diagonally along this side of the point with terrific boring force, cutting off fully fifty feet of the shore in front of the house. The doctor believes it is only a question of a short time when, if it is not moved back, it will be washed off. He has selected a school new site about 300 yds inland upon a ridge slightly higher than the present location.

The Mission House, which four years previously, Driggs had built a mile east of the village, was at the time the only frame building. This could, with difficulty be relocated — though that never happened.



Summary of Survey Report

Point Hope Beach Erosion

Alaska District, Corps of Engineers,

Anchorage, Alaska

1 January 1972 .11

The purpose of this report is to evaluate beach erosion due to storm waves and periodic flooding and to investigate measures necessary in combating this natural force which threatens Point Hope. Corps personnel conducted engineering studies, field investigations to assess the present economic status of the area, and informal interviews with local residents.

The District Engineer finds that serious beach erosion and flood problems exist at Point Hope, Alaska. In addition, residents are affected by severe sociological and economic problems stemming from the remoteness of the townsite. Further, they are deeply disturbed by the loss by erosion of the ancestral habitation sites of Ipiutak and Old Tigara [sic]. Groins and bulkheads were evaluated as structural measures for protection and prevention of further losses. The District Engineer finds that shore protection structures are feasible but not economically justified at this time; only non-structural alternatives are applicable. Consequently, archaeological authorities should be encouraged to salvage data from the area as soon as possible. Further, local citizens must avail themselves of flood plain management services for wise development of new construction.

Erosion – North Shore 1880-1967

Ipiutak and old Tigara are eroding at an average loss of 8.8 ft. per year. Total average loss will be 860 ft. per century. The present village proper will be subjected to erosion attack within 40 years, with attack to the school site in 47 years or less. However, the village will be subjected to increasing inundation by storm waves in a lesser period of 10-20 years… Customary structures for control of beach erosion include off-shore breakwaters, groins, protective beaches, seawalls, bulkheads, shore stabilization, revetments, or sand bypassing. From data presented and discussed in this report, it is concluded that structural measures for beach erosion control are not economically justified.

The only alternative plan that will provide long range solution to the present townsite problems is relocation. This [1971] plan appears impractical at this time for two reasons: 1. it would be costly because many buildings would crumble if taken off their foundation and 2. the villagers do not favour and would resist relocation. Their preference for the present site with its problems to a new site is undoubtedly based on many varied reasons. Whatever these are and however real they may be, the conclusion is unmistakable: the damage and discomfort of being flooded does not outweigh the disadvantages as seen by the Natives of a new site. As conditions change, the relative advantages and disadvantages of alternative courses of action will change. If problems increase, as undoubtedly they will, the desirability of remaining at the present site will diminish. Present circumstances, however, do not favour relocation.

Tom Lowenstein was born near London in 1941 and educated at Cambridge. He has worked since the mid-1960s as a teacher. Between 1973 and 1989 he recorded materials deriving from intermittent residence in an Inupiaq (north Alaskan Eskimo) village. Previous publications include three books of poetry: Filibustering in Samsara (The Many Press), Ancestors and Species: New and Selected Ethnographic Poetry (Shearsman Books), and Conversation with Murasaki (Shearsman Books). His three studies of Point Hope are The Things that Were Said of Them (University of California Press 1990), Ancient Land: Sacred Whale (Bloomsbury, Farrar Strauss and Harvill, 1993-2001) and Ultimate Americans: Point Hope, Alaska 1826-1909 (University of Alaska Press, 2009).


  1. Anatkuqs: shamans; atiq: name, namesake
  2. Aanguaqs: amulets.
  3. Uiluaqtaq, mythological separatist female shaman; kuyak, sexual intercourse; usuk, penis; kiligvak, mastodon, or mammoth; these words recur.
  4. Homecoming


    There in the Alps a gleaming night still delays, and composing
    Portents of gladness, the cloud covers a valley agape.’

    — Holderlin; translated by Michael Hamburger, 1994: 275

  5. I blush, albeit, to be reading a Nazi and am gratified to learn he died this summer.
  6. Umialik — skinboat owner; clan leader.
  7. The kids who used to visit me last year asked, ‘You always kuyak?’ which means ‘Do you habitually have sexual intercourse?’ It took me longer to comprehend ‘always’ than the easier-to-understand Inupiaq verb stem.
  8. Argaugaq (football) ‘was played with a ball, about the size of an indoor baseball, made of a bundle of baleen shavings sewed into a sealskin cover. Most of the Tikigagmiut…belonged to one of two classes called qapqaumiu (land people) and upquamiu (point or sea people).’ Rainey 1947:256. The counterpoint of land and sea the game expresses is repeated in symbolic ‘two-ness’, often gendered, found in Tikigaq’s intellectual culture. See below, The Life of Asatchaq.
  9. I learned later that people believed the kiligvak had been a giant rodent. It was vast but timid and escaped underground when it saw human beings.
  10. Driggs, Letter to Episcopal Mission Society, New York, June 1894.
  11. What follows is brief summary of a nineteen-page document. Thanks to the Alaska and Polar Regions Collections & Archives, Rasmuson Library, University of Alaska, Fairbanks.


  1. wrote:

    Utterly fascinating and beautifully written.

    Thursday, 25 January 2018 at 09:41 | Permalink
  2. wrote:

    Infinite riches in a little room. “Thick description” barely points at the wealth heaped here by an oceanic surge of times, frames, details. Amazing, delightful, overwhelming.

    Tuesday, 13 February 2018 at 23:17 | Permalink

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