Pages of my life…

Whale of A Tail…Tale Of A Whale

Posted on: August 11, 2009

I am one of those dreamy eyed females…whose love of sun, sand, palm trees and the ocean have shaped my life in many ways.  As a young girl I spent months in Hawaii.  The islands were primarily filled with native Hawaiians and the few tourists visiting the half dozen beach front hotels in Waikiki were mostly Japanese.  I was a curiosity of sorts with large brown eyes peering out from under straight bangs framed by long wavy brown hair.  My olive skin was dark brown from forever playing in perfect sunshine.  Tourists took pictures of me day after day as I was a "haole" in a native world.  I loved everything about Hawaii…a story I will save for yet another time.  As an adult I longed for the clear blue waters and returned time and again to explore the tropical paradise that has always felt like home.  I spend a fair amount of time swimming during any island vacation.  I try to add at least one dinner cruise…a catamaran ride and snorkeling.  I enjoy viewing all the local scenery and most of all…I am a whale watching kind of girl.  I have been on whale watching cruises in a variety of locations.  There is something about watching an enormous creature jumping out of the water that makes you feel like all is well with the world.  I love it when they slap their tails…when I capture a picture with the tail end standing straight up in the air…and most of all when they they play with their young or "mug" you.  Law prohibits boats having very close encounters with whales but whales pretty well do what they please…and sometimes they come to look at the people.  There is little more exciting than anticipating when and where they might surface…despite a wealth of knowledge acquired from many, many whale watching trips. Having said all this…imagine if you will my trepidation when I was invited to a dinner party last year where whale hunters would be sharing slides and stories. I thought long and hard about what kind of pleasantries I might be able to exchange with someone who hunts down and kills the very creatures I love and respect.  As hard as I tried…I could not approach the evening with an open mind.  As we were introduced …I found myself across from a smiling couple proudly holding an infant son.  The baby was being adopted by the Eskimo couple…as part of their heritage mandates…and would clearly be a well loved addition to a large number of children waiting eagerly at home to meet their new brother.  In the case of children born out of wedlock or in the event of parental tragedy…babies are adopted by elders in the village to raise.  Tradition also calls for the first born son to be handed over to the grandparents to raise.  If the child is a girl it is an optional offering…but the idea is that being raised by one generation further down the line will preserve the native traditions and survival skills.  I barely had time to absorb the concept of handing over your newborn child…when the slide show and presentation began.  It turns out that their village is allowed by law to kill eight whales a year.  Most years they are only lucky enough to get one…sometimes two…and occasionally none.  The boats used by the natives for whaling are quite tiny.  There may be a half dozen small fishing style boats on any hunt.  The first boat to harpoon a whale gets a fin…the second successful harpoon crew gets the other fin.  The tail is divided by all the boats.  The entire rest of the whale is laid on the ice and divided into thirty two piles of even quantity.  Each of the villages thirty two families get an equal portion of whale meat to last them for the year.  A respected elder from the village walks up and down the ice checking the quantity for each family…making sure the bundles are fair and equitable for all.  I was told that whale skin tastes very much like "shake and bake"…and that frozen whale is dipped in seal oil to be eaten.  Being successful in the whale hunt brings prestige and also guarantees a mean of survival.  Walrus is said to be tasty too…but the primary source of nutrition is the whale meat.  Elderly Eskimos are taken care of by those in their prime as are the young and infirm.  It truly is a village raising a village situation…and while they primarily live in government supplied housing as far north and east as you can go without being in Russia…there are many two bedroom homes with ten people living in them.  All in all the fairly primitive lifestyle is very rich in heritage and provides a wealth of ancient customs to share with future generations.  The images I shall remember the most are the smiles on the faces of the brave men and women who participated in the hunt…and the families enjoying their bounty on the ice that would see them through yet another winter.  The tribesmen prefer to be called "the people" and refer to God as "the Creator".  As the evening came to a close I was invited to visit the village as their guest.  I am glad I had the chance to look at things from another viewpoint.  The world we live in is neither black or white…but many shades of gray and every other color and hue in between.  If the United Nations and formal meetings of government officials around the globe took the time to understand each other’s cultures…it might go a long way toward peaceful resolution…simply by seeing things through someone else’s eyes.   Try it sometime…choose a polar opposite… educate yourself…and walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. 

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1 Response to "Whale of A Tail…Tale Of A Whale"

Enjoyed reading this passage from your journey towards understanding people that approach whales differently than you do. Inuit, Eskimo, Nuu-chah-nuulth, and Makah whale hunters all see the hunt as a spiritual exercise. They do not cringe from the violence, but recognize that life and death are inseparable. Spiritual preparation is necessary for a whale hunt, the Makah tell me, because they believe the whale gives itself to them. Killing, thus, is rooted in a deep respect that differs from the respect of whale watchers. When the watchers and the hunters can share through dialogue their respective views, the best part of our humanity springs forth.

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