In the Inupiat Heritage Center our tour group saw a demonstration of the Eskimo blanket toss. The young lady in this picture actually touched the ceiling.
As effective as a trampoline, the blanket toss (or nalukataq) features a walrus-hide blanket grasped by a number of people in a circle. They toss a person on the blanket as high as possible for as long as that person can remain upright. Every true Eskimo festival, and many non-Native occasions, include the blanket toss, which originally was used to allow Eskimo hunters to spot game such as walrus and seal in the distance. Depending on the skill of the person being tossed and the number of tossers, a medium-weight person might typically go 20 feet into the air.
When the ice first breaks in summer several species of whale migrate near the shoreline at Barrow. This bearded seal skin boat, called umiak, and the whalebone and wooden frame for another one, is still used by native subsistance hunters to pursue them.
Whaling in the traditional way calls for strong collaboration among participants. If a whale is harpooned, other boats in the vicinity come to assist. If the whale is harvested, the captain and crew of the boat that first strikes the beast gets first choice of the cuts, then the remainder of the bounty is divided among all members of the community. The blubber is prized. Traditionally the meat was consumed raw and the word "Eskimo" literally means "Raw Meat Eater."
The remains are deposited on the shore far outside of town so that polar bears will be attracted there, and not into the town itself.
Incidently, many of the Inuit of northern Canada, and some in Alaska, take offense at the term "Eskimo," which seems to be politically incorrect. However, I have personal friends who are Inupiat and they refer to themselves as "Eskimos" and have no problem with that designation.
Barrow's reigning "Miss Top of the World" and a young friend are seen here modeling winter wear at the Inupiat Heritage Center. Their parkas, hats, mittens, slacks and boots are all hand sewn from the furs and skins of furbearing animals which have been harvested locally. They are designed according to patterns which have been handed down for countless generations. The care and artistry which they put into these wardrobes make them as beautiful as they are practical.
Let's put it this way...vegetarians and animal lovers will have a difficult time adjusting to the sights and smells. A traditionally subsistance community that hunts everything that walks or swims, the urge to purge when a bowl of muck-tuck is placed before you is a reality. Yet as when visiting any culture, respect is a must. The people have a great many stories to tell, and they are friendly if you show them respect and interest, in other words, do not act like a Tourist.
(Photo - he's as curious as I was :-)You can see an Eskimo blanket toss and dancing, look at whale bones and maybe buy Native crafts, and see some other manifestations of traditional Inupiat life amid a modern, oil-enriched town.
Many Alaskan villages prohibit the sale, transport or possession of alcoholic beverages in their community. As a 'damp' village, alcohol cannot be bought or sold in Barrow. However, it maybe brought in for personal consumption.