Ancient Land, Sacred Whale

Ancient Land, Sacred Whale

by Tom Lowenstein
     
 

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For the Tikigaq people of Point Hope, Alaska - the oldest continuously settled Native American site on the continent - the annual cycle culminating in the spring whale hunt shaped every aspect of life for more than fifteen hundred years. The peninsula was once, according to myth, a great whale, part body and part spirit. Sustaining this myth, men and women conducted

Overview

For the Tikigaq people of Point Hope, Alaska - the oldest continuously settled Native American site on the continent - the annual cycle culminating in the spring whale hunt shaped every aspect of life for more than fifteen hundred years. The peninsula was once, according to myth, a great whale, part body and part spirit. Sustaining this myth, men and women conducted an elaborate series of rituals, from athletic contests through spirit quests and finally to the hunt itself, which filled the entire autumn and spring. Ancient Land: Sacred Whale, at once a work of anthropology and of poetry, gives an account of their lives and culture, formed in part by a long sequence of poems detailing the ritual year and its stories, narrative by the Tikigaq storytellers who were the author's teachers.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
British poet and ethnographer Lowenstein has done research among the Tikigaq people of Point Hope, Alaska, for nearly 20 years. For three seasons he served as a crewman in a skinboat during the whale hunt; here he introduces the village, the oldest continuous settlement on the continent, and its topography. From the storyteller Asatchaq, Lowenstein heard about the whale myth and the elaborate rituals of the hunt, which he retells in poems in these pages. According to the myth, the Tikigaq peninsula was once a whale-like creature; after it was killed by a harpooner, it lived on as both body and spirit and remains a source of sustenance and the focus of worship. The rituals for the hunt still constitute an extended drama that begins in autumn and culminates with the springtime hunt. In a lengthy narrative poem, Lowenstein reconstructs the hunt as it occurred prior to contact with Europeans. This vivid portrait of an ancient culture is a remarkable blend of poetry and anthropology. Illustrations. (Apr.)
Library Journal
This is a wonderful little book about the annual whale hunt of the Tikigaq people of northern Alaska's Point Hope, the oldest continuously settled Native American site on the continent. The first part includes an elegant description of ritual and mythology associated with the whale hunt. The second part describes the whale cult and the hunt in terms of the annual cycle, hunting patterns, and thought systems. Following is narrative poetry of the hunt, an effective attempt to reproduce the Tikigaq storytelling medium. The book is based both on personal fieldwork conducted by the author during the 1970s and the notes of Froelich Rainey, an archaeologist who worked in the area during the 1940s. Recommended for academic and public libraries.-- John M. Weeks, Univ. of Minnesota Lib., Minneapolis
Jenny Uglow
There is strangeness and beauty but not a scrap of sentiment in this ice-bound pastoral, with its knife-edge consonants and brutal winds ... Lowenstein is a poet as well as a meticulous ethnographer, and as he traces the rituals of each season he mixes formal translation and direct, explanatory prose with sinewy, poetic narrative. Somehow this seems absolutely right: as unpretentious yet humorously self-aware as the gliding shifts between the sea and the land, body and spirit that makes the Inupiaq world. Great stuff.
The Independent
Francis Spufford
A dazzling work of mimesis,
London Review of Books
The Independent
"Lowenstein is a poet as well as an ethnographer, and as he traces the rituals of each season he mixes formal translation and direct explanatory prose with a sinewy, poetic narrative." -Jenny Uglow, The Independent

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781860465758
Publisher:
Random House UK
Publication date:
01/28/2000
Pages:
196
Product dimensions:
5.84(w) x 8.74(h) x 0.66(d)

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