An Ancient Bond with the Land

Arctic Whalers

Inuit Whale Hunters

Early Inuit were already accomplished whalers when they began moving into Arctic Canada about 1,000 years ago. Like Inuit today, early Inuit depended on a variety of animals for food, including seals, caribou, fish, walrus, and other sea mammals. In areas where whales were abundant, whale hunting provided considerable material prosperity. Whale hunting became the focus of a complex and sophisticated technology, and of spiritual ideas which are among the highest expressions of Inuit culture.

Between about A.D. 1200 and 1500, Thule Inuit in many parts of the Arctic developed an economy and a way of life which depended heavily on the hunting of bowhead whales.

 extent of bowhead whale
 areas of most active Thule Inuit whaling

Map - Arctic Canada - Canadian Geographic

Whale hunting from an open boat (umiaq) took teamwork and planning. This painting incorporates details from 19th century Alaska, where systematic bowhead whaling persists to the present day.

Illustration by Frédéric Back, from Inuit: Glimpses of an Arctic Past, by David Morrison and Geroges-Hébert Germain, Canadian Museum of Civilization, S2002-4627

Whale Hunting - Drawing: Frédéric Back - S2002-4627

You that we are towing along,
Ah, ya ah e ya,
Big whale, big whale,
Stir up the sea with your tail
E ya ah e ya
Give us fair weather today
So we arrive safe and sound on shore
E ya ah e ya
Tug - tug along hard
E ya ah e ya
Row - row

Magic song for towing home a slain whale,
Western Canadian Arctic

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