ANCIENT LAND: SACRED WHALE by Tom Lowenstein

ANCIENT LAND: SACRED WHALE

The Inuit Hunt and Its Rituals

KIRKUS REVIEW

 In this gripping study of the Alaskan Inuit people, British poet Lowenstein narrates Tikigag (Point Hope) seasonal rituals and each year's culmination--the spring hunt for the bowhead whale. For 20 years, including three seasons as a whale hunter on a skin boat, Lowenstein has researched Inuit traditions under the guidance and friendship of an elder, the storyteller Asatchaq. He recites a number of tales, including that of the origin of the Tikigag Peninsula from the body of a mythic whale killed by the first hunter, Raven. With its fingerlike shape, the land ``...has life; it has purpose; it has magical suggestion.'' Living in underground iglus illuminated by skylights, with the bones of their ancestors and more recent dead scattered throughout the settlement, the Inuit hold a pre-Freudian belief that each life is linked to the past. Their shared racial memories, or myths, cover 1,500 years and often have powerfully sexual and violent themes, including incest, mutilation, rape, murder, and revenge. The whale, the manifest object of desire in many stories, often surfaces magically in the iglu, whose structure--including a long passage--evokes the female womb and birth canal. Women, though they stay home during the hunt in enforced idleness, are considered as integral to its success as the hunters themselves. Their passivity at this time is believed to make the whale compliant, capturable. The daily life of the Inuit is also related, including a section on Inuit football. Throughout, Lowenstein uses the rhythms of Inuit song and speech to convincing effect, much as Peter Matthiessen used the patois of the turtlehunters in Far Tortuga. Of value to poets as well as anthropologists, the book also holds universal appeal through the compelling way Inuit symbols and traditions are brought to life, illuminating humanity's cycle of dark, wintry dreams and hopes of plenty in the spring.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-374-10497-2
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1994




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