The Costs of Sharing
by Barbara Bodenhorn

The organisation of whaling involves marshalling a lot of resources – of people and things. It always has.

In some ways it is increasingly expensive - which does not prevent people from trying to figure out ways to deal, not only with the expense, but also with the social relations involved.

Using the material Maggie Ahmaogak has already presented about whaling activity year-round, I want to look at these costs briefly from four different angles – putting some emphasis on the activities that are the particular responsibility of a whaling captain's wife. Although ‘costs’ have been set out in terms of things that need purchasing, the other cost that needs to be included of course is time. This includes not only the time needed to prepare, conduct and celebrate whaling itself – but also the very considerable time needed to deal with the agencies of state, such as NOAA and the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

The particular points I want to stress are as follows:

·         Without trying to draw a static then/now picture, it should be clear that early 20th century whaling captains used whaling wealth earned through the sale of products like baleen as the basis for purchasing the equipment needed for whaling. Late 20th century whaling captains cannot do this; they must draw on financial resources gained elsewhere.  The (financial) returns of whaling cannot be (and should not be!) used to fund the costs of whaling. And of course, it’s important to keep in mind that now – as then – the costs cannot guarantee ‘an outcome’; the costs of whaling are necessary to undertake whaling – not to catch a whale.

·         Time is becoming one of the scarcest resources of all. Very few whaling captain couples can simply be a whaling captain couple. One or both need to hold down full-time jobs, attend meetings, parent-teacher  conferences and so forth. In addition, to take on the responsibility of captaining a crew, one must also be prepared to act as an administrator – keeping records for the AEWC, for instance, as well as the IRS.

·         The commitment people show to the on-going actions in whaling needs to be understood as economic – it is a commitment to the pursuit and distribution of valued resources – but not as economical  - that is, it should never be evaluated as ‘efficient’ in a neo-liberal sense of effective cost management. To do that is to miss the point of whaling all together.

I have set out the costs of whaling from several different angles. First, by looking  at the division of responsibilities between a whaling captain and his wife (and the men and women who form the crew) over the course of a year, we see how many responsibilities there are – and how interdependent people must be in order to keep the whole effort going. Second, we look at how costs of the actual things people must buy vary depending on the ecological conditions; third we consider shifting demands over the short, medium and long term – making it difficult to assess an ‘average’ annual expenditure. And finally, we look at how costs underpin the annual cycle of celebrations that are so much a part of social life in the whaling communities. Each of these views has been set out as a kind of table on the pages that follow.

The annual cycle and the costs of meeting the responsibilities of whaling captain couples (Additional information)

[construct boat frame – long-term investment]
repair boat frame
ready (purchase lumber, nails, etc.)
crew, under captain’s direction (coffee, tea, etc.)   
hunt caribou – meat needed for whaling; skins needed as mattresses; responsibility of the captain. Purchase food, fuel, ammunition   
(Additional Information)
Begin to consider sewing needs:
fur parkas, fur socks, fur hats;

kammiks, if needed. Responsibility of whaling captain wife. Furs, needles, thread, time.
Pull, scrape, dry caribou tendons
for sinew (discussion re best time)

Begin to prepare braided sinew  whaling captain wife responsibility;    is otherwise purchased. Single or collective activity. According to M. Aiken, this is THE single most important responsibility of the whaling captain wife – namely the safety of the crew – which is jeopardized if anything happens to the skin boat while out on the water.

Prepare new boat cover – professional sewers, invited by the whaling captain wife, arrive to sew the ugruk skins. They will be paid, and often bring their own equipment (needles, thread, etc.); whaling captain wife responsible for ensuring proper supply is on hand. Coffee, tea, snacks also on hand.

The sewers then check the cover for tears and repair them.

Distribute meat/fish from ice cellar

Check over camping clothing; make sure crew’s gear is in good condition; sew qatignisi, snow shirts. Whaling captain wife responsibility. Cloth, etc.

Begin to stock ‘grub box’; buy groceries, supply cooking utensils

Prepare ugruk skins for umiaq (thawing with natural gas;storing so they will stay pliable); purchase supplemental skins if not enough have been caught during the summer; rope for lashing; natural gas. Captain’s responsibility. 






Put on new boat cover (approximately every two years)Men bring the skins into the sheltered area where women will sew. Once the cover has been put together, the men take it to the boat frame and cover the frame.         

The entire process for both women and men takes a full day.

Clean ice cellar

Check and repair gear (whaling gear; camping gear; communication technology, etc.); replace if needed. Whaling captain’s responsibility, with crew’s help

Make ice road (snow-machines, fuel, utensils)

 [I’ve omitted whaling through Nalukatak for the moment; the most familiar to the most people – and detailed in other section] (Additional Information)


Groceries bought, food prepared for day and/or overnight trips. Materials needed for storage: ziplock bags, paper towels; coffee, tea, snacks for helpers.
Ugruk hunting: skins, meat, oil will all be used for the following whaling season. Motorised boats will be used;must be maintained, repaired. Sealing equipment (guns, floats, harpoon, ammunition, etc.) bought or repaired. Gunnysacks for seal skins; fuel, etc. purchased.           
Both men and women help to cut up blubber for rendering into oil; cut up meat for drying; preparing and storing meat. Ulus (women’s knives) need to be kept sharp and in good repair.

Walrus hunting – particularly warming whaling food Same repair, purchase needs as above Primary butchering usually done by the men on the ice floes.

Once meat is brought back to shore, both men and women finish butchering, preservation fermentation of flipper and storage. (Additional Information)

Caribou hunting: for dried meat, sinew and fresh meat. Often camping is undertaken by couples and/or families. Equipment for inland camping needed. Butchering includes removal of sinew from legs and back for thread. Meat is dried on rack.

Fall whaling – demands a sea-going vessel that can withstand potentially rough weather/seas. Basic gear is the same as in the spring.

But because this is not ice-based whaling, separate expenses include: transportation of whaleboat to launch several miles out of town; equipment usage when whale is pulled up onto sand and then transported to butchering site on the tundra. Plastic sheeting laid out on the ground before the whale is placed on the butchering site. Gendered responsibilities are generally the same. (Additional Information)

The seasons and space: What is needed in terms of where – and when – one is going out to hunt; different eco-zones demand different equipment; whaling preparations depend on them all

Hunting on the sea ice
·         spring whaling: skin boat, overnight camping equipment, sleds, snow-machines
·         ugruk and walrus hunting: motorised boats (but generally used for a day trip)

Spring inland travel
·         geese hunting – snow-machines, sleds, tents and related equipment

Fall inland travel
·         caribou and fish – boat appropriate for shallow water, camping equipment, fish/meat drying equipment

Fall marine travel
·         fall whaling: motorised (seagoing) boats,

What needs to be purchased when – i.e., the annual costs of whaling cannot be assumed to stay even approximately the same over the intermediate long-term experience of a whaling-captain couple

Examples of long-term purchases
·         fall whaling boat (motor, etc.) – capable of navigating rough seas in the fall
·         navigational equipment (personal locator beacon, CB radio, etc.)
·         other equipment specific to whaling: darting guns, shoulder guns, lances, harpoons, winches, block and tackle,  butchering utensils, etc.

Examples of occasional expenditures that are incurred only with a successful hunt
·         feeding everyone who comes to help butcher: coffee, tea, uunaaliit (hot boiled maktak); this is likely to be for well over 100 people.

·         feeding entire community. This happens on three different occasions, each of which varies slightly.

·         A) immediately after the catch, a hot meal is served at the house of the whaling captain couple for all who wish to attend. The niqipiaq, or real food, is whale – which demands considerable time to cut up and cook. As well, stewed fruit, Eskimo donuts, sometimes cake, coffee, tea and cold drinks are prepared for 2,000 +/- people. Paper plates, cups, towels are supplied.

·         B) at appugauti (when the whaling boat is brought up for the last time of the season), community members are invited to each on the beach. The captain and crew members have gone geese hunting in order to provide the basics for goose soup (demanding equipment needed for inland hunting); mikigaq (fermented whale meat and blood) has also been prepared, demanding special containers as well as close attention so that the fermentation process does not go wrong.

·         C)  Nalukatak is the most elaborate of all and will attract not only community members but visitors from many other communities. All are welcomed.  In Barrow the feast demands three separate servings, each of which involves different sorts of foods as well as different kinds of preparation: at noon, soup, coffee, tea; at three, mikigak, stewed fruit, coffee tea; at 6:00, quaq, or frozen meat, multiple kinds of maktak, cakes, coffee and tea. The preparation is organised by the whaling captain wife, although the preparation itself is by no means carried out only by the women connected to the successful crew.

·         Freight costs incurred shipping meat to other communities (sometimes, if as a gift from the whaling captain couple, at their expense; if as part of a share, at the expense of the receiving community)

Equipment that lasts more than one season, but needs regular replacement
·         snow-machines
·         snow-machine parts
·         sleds
·         tents, tarpaulins for covering sleds etc.
·         skinboat frame
·         skinboat cover (approx. every two years), women to sew; men crew to put cover on frame
·         braided sinew or other thread, either made by whaling captain wife and helpers, or purchased
·         coleman stoves, lanterns, etc.
·         fur for clothing: parkas, socks, hats
·         storage containers for, eg, mikigaq (currently kept apart to lessen likelihood of botulism)
·         materials for setting up Nalukatak: windbreak, tables

Annual replacement needed – eg,
·         Qatignisi – white snowshirts that are necessary for hunting on the ice, especially for whales – the responsibility of wives.

Ongoing expenses
·         ammunition: whale bombs, shells
·         food
·         clothing
·         fuel for snow-machines, Coleman stoves, lanterns, trucks for transporting boats out to launching site, etc.

The annual cycle of whaling and the special costs of celebratory events within that cycle: the cycle may never end, but neither the costs of things, nor demands on labour are evenly spread throughout the year

·         Fall whaling

·         Thanksgiving

·         Christmas

·         Spring whaling

·         Apugauti

·         Nalukatak

Just as it is impossible to separate fully ‘cash’ and ‘subsistence’ economic spheres in social life, it is virtually impossible to separate fully ‘whaling’ and ‘other’ subsistence costs. Tools, rifles, trucks, snow-machines and the like are certainly used for activities that are not necessarily in support of whaling. But whaling could not happen without them and so, at some level, need to be taken into account.

Although the cycle seen from this angle makes it clear how communal the period between September and June is, these events need to be seen as punctuation marks as it were. As Maggie Ahmaogak’s material shows very explicitly, activities connected directly to whaling take place throughout the entire year, sometimes as a part of communal effort and sometimes in much smaller groups.

Doe Doe Edwardsen, who also has experience as a whaling captain’s wife, once suggested that a way to introduce the whaling cycle visually would be to begin with a shot of blanket toss at Nalukatak – the culminating event of a successful whaling season. It would be followed immediately, however, by a shot of hunters leaving to hunt the ugruich, or bearded seals, in July which are necessary for skinboat covering. There is no end to the cycle.

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