Village Life Stories

Whaling in Gambell, Alaska by Ethan

There was a crew of Native men that always went boating from spring to the end of summer time. One morning, they were getting ready to go out whaling, dressing up warmly, making hot beverages, and making food for the trip. As soon as they were done getting ready, they then picked up the gasoline from the Native store and brought it down the beach near the boat. After they had brought the gas to the beach, they had to turn the boat around and push it to the edge of the ground near the ocean.

When they were done turning the boat, they had to put the grub and gas into the boat. They then had to test the motor, check the oil and the spark plugs before pushing the boat directly into the ocean. One of the crew members had noticed it needed oil, so then they had put more oil into the motor. Another crew member had noticed that a spark plug was burnt out, so he then had to ride over to the store really quick for a new spark plug. When the man got back, he then put the new spark plug on.

The motor was then running perfectly fine, so the striker and one young middle man went on the boat while the other middle man and captain pushed the boat on into the ocean. As the boat was getting into the ocean, half way into the ocean, the other two men had hopped into the boat, and then they all had to push the boat out the rest of the way with paddles so that they can start up the motor with a good ground clearance. They had started the motor then started boating northwest, as soon as they got a mile from the island, they had stopped and had a snack along with hot tea while looking out for bowhead whales.

When they got done having some snacks, there was a bowhead whale northeast about quarter mile, so they got the harpoon ready. It isn’t easy putting a bomb together, so it did take some time. Once the striker was ready they had started cruising really fast towards the part the whale went up. They had reached the spot it came up, so they had slowed down and waited to see if it would come up again.

The whale had finally came up again like fifty feet away from the boat; so they had started chasing it. They got so close to the whale, the front man (striker) had tried to strike the whale, but he had missed. So then they had to get the harpoon really quick. As soon as they had gotten the harpoon they had started chasing the whale again. When they caught up to the whale, the crew had gotten ready for whale to come up again, and as soon as the whale came up the striker had struck the whale. But then one strike did not kill the whale, so then they had to get the harpoon, and reload the bomb. When they were done getting the harpoon ready, the striker was ready, and he struck the whale again. The whale was finally dead, more boating crews were arriving to help tow the whale, and as soon as they had got done tying ropes onto the fins. They started cutting some mangtak (bowhead whale skin with a bit of the blubber) and giving some to each crew to snack on while towing the whale back home.

There was a total of six boats, they had tied two boats together in three different rows, and started towing the whale back home. They were only one mile out so it wouldn’t take long to tow the whale to there home. It was about six o’clock during the day, they had just got home, and they had to untie the boats and tie the whales rope onto a dozer (truck). When they had it ready to pull up, they had pulled it up slow, and started butchering it. It was nearly ten o’clock and they were finally done butchering the whale. When they were done, they had started giving each and everyone shares of the whale meat and mangtak. The next day, they had pushed the bones into the ocean.


This piece was submitted to the Bering Straits School District’s 2019 “Honoring My Culture” Writing Contest.

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