Rituals

General Hunting Rituals. Nowhere was the exchange or complementary performance of duties more visible than in the performance of religious duties. Captains of whaling boats and their crews were significant actors in the major ceremonies, but at the same time women also played critical roles as both food managers and performers. Food preparation was carried out as an extension of household duties, but food itself was central to all ritual performance. Gifts of food to ancestor spirits as well as the spirits of the great sea mammals were deemed pleasing to Apa (translated literally as great-grandfather), the being now understood to be the Christian god (Jolles, 1990, 2002), and could not be undertaken without the able participation of women. Women's ritual duties performed in conjunction with subsistence suggest that their ceremonial roles were highly valued by members of Sivuqaq society.

Whaling Rituals. The rites associated with the taking of a bowhead whale figured at the center of island religious belief and practice in a series of rituals performed over several months. Each phase included male and female ritual components. Women prepared and stored the foods which accompanied each ritual. Both men and women recited prayers and sang songs at the beginning of the whaling season. Women also performed rituals that would assure the sanctity of the walrus-hide hunting boat (angyapik); they paid respect to the whale's spirit with special songs, they sang welcome songs when successful boat crews, and they respected the taboos that accompanied a successful harvest. Whales, in turn, were the source of the symbols that marked the rites of passage in a person's life: taking a whale or polar bear, and participating in a funeral. Tattoo markings that men and women received in adolescence derived specifically from bowhead whales (Dorothea C. Leighton Collection, 1940: Paul Silook: Autobiography, pp. 103-112; Moore, 1923, p. 345). A whale's tail tattoo on men's joints and on women's hands and cheeks showed that they had participated in these activities. Marine mammals and their harvest supplied the symbols and served as the basis for the complementary participation of men and women in this activity. In this and other matters of ritual, women received equal recognition and/or participated in a meaningful way on such occasions.

Rituals and Hunting Success. At one level, all hunting rituals tend to highlight the cooperation of men and women in the physical and spiritual aspects of subsistence. On another, they demonstrate the manner in which respect for each gender is maintained through an ideology based on obligatory exchanges. Whaling is especially important as an illustration of maintaining respect. In Gambell and Savoonga, as elsewhere in the

Arctic, human-animal relations are often explained as exchanges among "persons." While hunters maintained respectful relations with the animals they hunted, especially the whale and the polar bear, no man hunted alone. His wife was an integral member of the hunting party although she did not actually sit in the boat with him.

Hunters, particularly boat captains, depended on their wives' behavior at home during the hunt. For instance, if a captain's wife moved slowly and stayed quietly in doors, whales were more likely to be drawn to his boat. If his wife paid no attention to her movements while her husband was out hunting, the whales would be aware of her disregard for this hunting rule and take themselves away from the unfortunate hunter.

While the significance of a wife's behavior and her observance of special hunting rules is well-known in Arctic communities, on St Lawrence Island these observances had their own particular features and characteristic behaviors. For example, in one of the two largest clans, the Aymaramka, once a whale had been killed, the boat captain and his crew returned to shore. Their angyapik (walrus-hide boat) was greeted on the beach by the captain's wife. She held up food offerings that she gave or "showed" the animal and Kiyaneq (a powerful spiritual figure) in a small baleen bucket. Her gift was an important indication of respect for the slain animal and an indication of its welcome in the community. For the occasion, the captain's wife dressed in a specially designed and decorated parka of bleached seal intestine with auk-let feathers of red and blue sewn into the narrow parallel seams. After all offerings had been completed, the captain and his striker (the man who actually harpooned the whale) stepped from the boat. The wife, in her symbolic role as whale and woman, took part in a metaphoric reen-actment of the whale's gift of itself to the captain and his crew. The captain's wife spread her legs wide so that her husband could hurl the harpoon between them (Collins, Henry Bascom, Jr. (1899-1987), Papers: Paul Silook's Notes 1928-32). Once this dramatic reenactment had concluded, the wife gave fresh water to the whale so that it might truly feel welcomed to the land and to her home.

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