Faith, Food, and Family in a Yupik Whaling Community
Publication Year: 2002
Published by: University of Washington Press
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It has been twelve years since my first trip to Gambell. I would like to thank each person and each organization that has helped me over the years, but with so many, it is hard to know where to begin. The people of Gambell have treated me with tremendous kindness and generosity and I am truly grateful for their support. In 1987, the Session Elders of the...
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I often think that for those who were born and raised on St. Lawrence Island, Alaska, the landscape itself must be part of their being. Even people’s names tie them to this land: some come from the island’s geological, topographical, and marine features. Others come from the plants and animals found on the island or from the weather that molds the character...
2. Where It All Takes Place: The Village of Gambell
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Gambell is one of two second-class cities1 on St. Lawrence Island, the largest island in the Bering Sea. Including the three small Punuk Islands near its northeastern edge, the island covers an area about the size of New Jersey. It is located at 63� 10' north latitude, 172� 12' west longitude, approximately 150 miles south of the Arctic Circle.
3. Early History
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In the warm days of late spring, when Gambell turns from whaling to walrus hunting, men and women trek to the archaeological sites that cover most of the town. It is a joy to go outside without heavy winter clothes to dig in the ground and to contemplate the past. The community is so old and so rich in ancient resources that even twelve- and thirteen-...
4. Names and Families
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For centuries, St. Lawrence Island has been home to northern marine mammal hunters who settled along its shores in small extended family groups. Each group had its own homeland with its own special name, and here, as elsewhere across the Arctic, people identified themselves both by their homelands and by homeland names. Islanders...
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When I first visited Gambell in April 1987, I was the guest of Rhea and Marina.1 Rhea was 82 years old, a widow, and a respected elder. She was the head of her household and the oldest person in the large A—— family. Later, as I lived with Rhea and one of her grandsons, I learned about marriage from her married children,...
6. Life Passages
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In 1928, fifty years after the 1878 tragedy, the abandoned nenglus and manteghapiget at Kukulek and Kiyalighaq still held the bones of those whose untimely deaths kept them forever entombed in their homes. The original survivors and their descendants, cautious and respectful of the restless and sometimes angry spirits of the dead, had left...
7. A Religious World View
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In Gambell, all institutions and occupations—birth, naming, marriage, death, care of the sick and injured, and traditional and nontraditional work—embrace some form of religious thought and practice.1 At its heart are the deep religious philosophies and concepts that have supported people in the community over the last 150 to 200 years. It...
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At the turn of the century, both islanders and the laluramket who came to the island accepted the premise that religious thought, behavior, and life style were interwoven. All were eventually transformed in the community, although the new life style and the new concepts were adopted slowly. The community gradually incorporated a set of new beliefs that com-...
9. Men, Women, and Food: A Subsistence Way of Life
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Sitting down together to share food, which family hunters have brought home from the sea or which men and women have gathered from the cliffs, the beaches, and the tundra, is the enduring symbol of Yupik life, and it embraces all within it. 2 Almost all conversations eventually turn to food. Men discuss hunting for hours at a time.
10. Conclusion: The Land, the People, the Future
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At the end of 1879, St. Lawrence Island was devastated. Its settlements were filled with dead bodies. The strangers whose seductive goods had led islanders to engage in foreign trade had brought diseases whose consequences were awesome. The island, inhabited for centuries, had been reduced to a few remaining families. It is now more than...
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Publication Year: 2002