Honor the Whale
ONCE THE WHALE WAS BEACHED, the entire village went to work to harvest it. Everyone had a well-defined role, which was pursued quickly and skillfully. There was no time to waste. The youngest children, from the age of four, were taught to harvest whale oil from the blubber. Whale oil was the first commercially viable animal or mineral oil. The Inuit used it as fuel for lamps. It also represented wealth; beyond the village’s own needs, excess oil could be stored and traded for other goods.
The whale meat was divided and packaged, to be preserved and stored. All other parts of the whale would also be used in some fashion—especially the bone. Over the years, the Inuit had developed very sophisticated tools and procedures to harvest all of the components. Sometimes the rib cage of bone was used to support a tunnel from the ice to the interior hut for the next winter. Whale bone and teeth or baleen were often carved or etched in intricate patterns known as scrimshaw.
The spoils of the hunt were divided among the villagers. Those families that contributed the most—provided the umiak, for example, or harpooned the whale—were rewarded with a larger share of the whale’s bounty. It was a society in which families could build wealth through hard work and clever innovation. ...