Posting vignettes based on great postcards found in my mail box and elsewhere.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tossed Alaskans, Part IV

I picked up this great postcard at my local grocery. It is a welcome addition to the other three blanket toss postcards I posted previously. This one, like the others, shows natives and tourists having a great time throwing people into the air. I like that all the folks in this shot have big smiles on their faces.

These blanket toss postcards are popular with my blog readers. It seems people are interested because of the obvious, it looks like fun, and it gives a glimpse into the traditional way of life most people never see. These photo postcards show a relatively new use for a traditional activity -- the sharing of a traditional hunting skill with tourists from outside the community. For eons, the blanket toss is used to spot game, usually during the spring whaling festival (see below).

These postcards show how gracious native communities can be in sharing their heritage. The cards also preserve a snapshot of that heritage for the world. It is obvious that not everyone can travel to Alaska nor live the subsistence way of life, yet everyone can be enriched by learning about these practices. I am grateful that when I lived in Western Alaska, native people openly shared their life and traditions with me. I gained survival skills during that time that served me well on several occasions. It also gave me a whole new perspective on native cultures based on the sometimes harsh realities of life on the coast.

Reader Rob Schmidt was kind enough to send some details about the blanket toss, which is part of the hunting festival called Nalukataq by the Inupiaq Eskimos. According to Ron, "Nalukataq is the spring whaling festival of the Inupiaq Eskimos of Northern Alaska, and is characterized most famously by the Eskimo blanket toss... It (the blanket) is made from several bearded seal skins sewn together in a circle or square. A rope extends from each corner, and is pulled tightly between four wooden beams using block and tackle. This raises the blanket to about waist height. Men and women circle the blanket and hold the edges, and pull out on the blanket to throw the blanket dancer in the air. Anyone may be thrown on the blanket, but traditionally the captains and their wives go first. Originally they threw out goods, such as clothing, tools, or food as a means of demonstrating their ability to provide, but today that tradition has evolved, and wives of the captains throw candy to surrounding children once airborne. This event is the highlight and namesake of the festival, and may last several hours. Following the blanket toss, everyone gathers for a traditional dance."

Rob makes the point that bearded seal skins are used as the material for the "blankets." Several of the postcards I posted earlier note that walurs skins are used. Both animals skins are used. From what I know of living in northwestern Alaska, natives peoples are not adverse to using whatever is available, especially for tourist demonstrations. There is no doubt that seal skins are used and even preferred, especially in the far north, but they are not used exclusively in every location. Many independent sources refer to the use of walrus skins.

For more details on the Nalukataq, see this link:

Rob Schmidt is the author of several blogs and a web site. His Pictographs and Newspaper Rock blogs are Rob's take on current affairs from a multicultural perspective. His web site, Blue Corn Comics, showcases his comic book publication Peace Party in which native comic characters are cast as superheros. It is also filled with links and commentary on Native Americans as they are misportrayed in pop culture. Rob's mission is to dispel stereotypes of Native Americans in mainstream society, especially in popular media.

For some great pictures and videos of the blanket toss, go here, Alaska-In-Pictures and here World Eskimo Indian Olympics.

1 comment: