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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/853

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WHALE-CATCHING AT POINT BARROW.

who intend to command whaling boats during the coming season assemble, with all their gear, in the public room and hold a solemn ceremony, with drumming and singing, to insure good luck. Charms and amulets of many kinds are carried in the boats. They believe that the whales are supernaturally sensitive. If the women should sew while the boats are out, or the men hammer on wood, the whales, they say, would leave the region in disgust.

Let us see, now, how the boats are carried out over the path I have described. The boat is firmly lashed on a flat sledge, to which a team of dogs is attached, while the men and women hold on to the sides of the boat, pushing and guiding. Hearing, one day in May, 1882, that one of the Cape Smyth boats was starting for the edge of the ice, two of us set out over the trail, and overtook the party about two miles from the shore, where they were resting, having sent the dogs ahead 'in charge of two women, with another sledge loaded with all sorts of gear—rifles, spears, and so on. The party consisted of five men and two women. The captain of the boat and the harpooner wore on their heads fillets of the light-colored skin of the mountain sheep, from which dangled on each side a little image of a whale, rudely flaked from rockcrystal or jasper. The captain's head-dress was fringed with the incisor teeth of the mountain sheep, and the harpooner had another stone whale on his breast. One of the women was decorated with a stripe of black-lead diagonally across her face. In the boat, for charms, were two wolves' skulls, the dried skin of a raven, a seal's vertebra, and several bunches of eagle's feathers. They say the skin of the golden eagle—"the great bird"—or a bunch of hairs from the tip of the tail of a red fox, bring great luck. In the boat were also five or six inflated seal-skins, which, when we came up, they were using for seats on the ice.

One of the women soon came back with the dogs, the seal-skin floats were tossed into the boat, the dogs hitched up, and we started ahead, the woman leading the dogs, and the men shoving alongside. When we came up with the first sledge, the dogs were unhitched from the boat and sent ahead with a load of gear for another stage, and so on. On smooth ice the boat travels easily and rapidly; but where it is broken it is hard shoving and rough scrambling for the men, while occasional stops have to be made to chisel out projecting pieces of ice and widen narrow places in the path. Then the dogs get tangled up from time to time, and have to be kicked apart, so that their progress on the whole is slow. When they reach the open water the boat is launched and the gear put on board, and the sledges drawn up out of the way. Everything is put in readiness for chasing the whales, and the boats begin patrolling the open water. The harpoon, with the
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