June 13, 2007

A 19th-century weapon was found in a bowhead whale that was recently shot (by a similar weapon)by native Alaskan hunters. This was a legal hunt, since the whale hunt quotas for native people in Alaska and Russia were recently renewed for five years.

The article speculates that the whale was born around the time of President Rutherford B. Hayes, or when the Edison phonograph was invented. Here is more information on bowhead whales.

  • Wow.
  • Just, wow.
  • While I support the First Nations' whale hunt as a means of preserving their culture and traditions, I find something a little off in using explosives and chain saws in support of that. Strictly speaking, those methods aren't part of the traditions intended to be preserved. Dunno.
  • I know what you mean, Captain, but my opinion is that it's the scale and the cultural meaning that matters more than the instruments. It's not for our culture to say to theirs, "Alright, you can kill this many whales a year, but you have to act like real eskimoes when you do it."
  • Either that's a damn old whale or someone needs to upgrade their weapons.....
  • It's not for our culture to say to theirs, "Alright, you can kill this many whales a year, but you have to act like real eskimoes when you do it." I think I'm gonna start feeling less guilty about putting freshly heated frozen apple pies on the windowsill to cool.
  • Of course, you're right, ND, it just doesn't quite fit somehow.
  • "Alright, you can kill this many whales a year, but you have to act like real eskimoes when you do it." If these people are justifying this on cultural grounds then they really should be going out there in row boats. They really should risk life and limb in the hunt. Otherwise their tradition is maintained as a cheap plastic reproduction. Tough for them that actually it is our culture which tells them how many they can kill, and which villages can participate. Their traditions, as synthetically preserved as they are, are on our dollar. Renault's disquiet is fully justified.
  • So, essentially, you're setting yourself up as more of an authority on Inuit culture than Inuit people. The fact that you think their traditions are invalid unless they're dressing up like some kind of diorama at the Natural History Museum has no bearing on anything at all. You either grant people the freedom to practice their traditions as they see fit, or you don't. You certainly don't tell them how they should practice their traditions. Like I said, quotas based on whale population are one thing, white people and white government attempting to delineate how a traditional Inuit whale hunt should be conducted is completely inappropriate.
  • Nick's got to be right here, even though I'm all for leaving whales alone. No doubt over the course of "tradition," innovations came in to the Inuit whale hunt. We just weren't there to see those. I realise it's a pretty nebulous concept to begin with, but never saw why tradition should be viewed as static.
  • "quotas based on whale population are one thing" Indeed they are. Set by the government too. That's the reality. Inuits get to resuscitate their traditions on the say-so of the 'white' government. Maybe it's inappropriate for outsiders to tell the Inuits how to live, but that would include not just how they hunt but also how many they hunt. Quotas are just as demeaning as methods to their culture, and that the Inuits can live with the quotas says something about their willingness to sacrifice that culture to accommodate the west. "grant people the freedom to practice their traditions" No we don't. We ban cultural traditions in our own jurisdictions, and we become very persuasive in the jurisdictions of others. I doubt you are a total cultural relativist. There are, probably, several traditions around the world you find abhorrent and have no problem with the west making it's judgments on. It's simply that, on balance. you feel that if it makes them happy they can kill X number of Y species, where you decide that X is less than a threat to the health of the population of Y. These guys can kill as many whales as is legal, it just makes me laugh that they use all the non-traditional technology of an alien culture to do it, whilst claiming tradition and culture as a justification. Boy they must know that relativism is uniquely a property of the west.Why do you hate the whales? Other than the stupid whining sounds they make?
  • I can handle a lot of things, but something about whaling always pushed me over the edge. It's not that they kill the blubbery bastards, but it's that it seems like every reason I've heard justifying it has always come across as a bare-faced lie. Though this is slightly better than one the Japanese use (I really wish they'd come out and admit that they just think killing whales is fun, instead of the "scientific research" song and dance after a nice hearty whaleburger).
  • To the Last Whale (Crosby and Nash) Over the years you have been hunted by the men who throw harpoons And in the long run he will kill you just to feed the pets we raise, put the flowers in your vase and make the lipstick for your face. Over the years you swam the ocean Following feelings of your own Now you are washed up on the shoreline I can see your body lie It's a shame you have to die to put the shadow on our eye Maybe we'll go, Maybe we'll disappear It's not that we don't know, It's just that we don't want to care. Under the bridge Over the foam Wind on the water, Carry me home. "sniff"
  • oh,,imagine that YouTube - CSN - To The Last Whale
  • Any animal that can live for up to 200 years should be left alone. Those Mayflies though, kill em all, the midgy bastards!!!
  • their willingness to sacrifice that culture to accommodate the west It would be the south to them, wouldn't it? Difficult to assess the rights and wrongs, but it does seem strange that given the way we've ruthlessly extirpated local cultures and traditions all over the world (and continue to do so) the one custom we suddenly get sensitive about is killing whales. It would be nice, I say no more, if the Inuit were to decide that their traditions could change in this respect.
  • I'm always made queasy by killing something so old, too, whether it be trees or whales or turtles or whatever. I was mainly interested in this story because I had no idea whales could get this old.
  • If a species is threatened to the point of extinction, and if international experts decide a moratorium on hunting them is a necessity, then that moratorium must apply to everyone. Traditions be damned. Cultural relativism is a joke.
  • the one custom we suddenly get sensitive about is killing whales. Not true at all. It's just in the news today. We also have honor killings, castes, dowries, fistulas, rhino horn, sati, gender infanticide and so forth. Thing is whales are just so majestic.
  • You realise that when I say "get sensitive about", I mean "feel should continue and be protected"?
  • Yea, I'm not so good with the cultural relativism on honor killings, castes, dowries, fistulas, rhino horn, sati, gender infanticide and so forth. Whale hunting is an honorable tradition, though. Amazing that the Inuit could survive under such amazing and terrible conditions. Yeah, I'm sure if the whales go extinct we'll be able to blame it on the Inuit and their damn chainsaws. Factory boats can't hardly compete. MonkeyFilter: kill em all, the midgy bastards!!! Tagline goodness.
  • Strictly speaking, those methods aren't part of the traditions intended to be preserved. Dunno. The hunt is for whale; the technology has changed in prehistoric times from stone point modification to stone point modification, detachable foreshafts were added to increase lethality, and poisons were adopted. In light of these adaptions to the whale hunt, chainsaws and explosives are traditional by nature of change.
  • Of course, you're right, IC. Maybe it's just the heebee jeebees of using chainsaws on a hunk of dead, oily meat. Not anything I need to see in my lifetime...
  • Something else popped into my head after I wrote that Cap (and yeah, the chainsaw-blubber image is just a little too nerve-grinding to consider). It seems, at the least, that a lot of people these days (and not here on MoFi, particularly, but rather the people that misconstrue native rights or the study of anthropology or what have you) are locked into this antediluvian notion of "traditional people's culture". Sometimes I think it's due to an inability to see one's own "culture": What I wanted to say earlier is that romanticizing a culture that has advanced to the point that it is now (importantly: post European contact) by leaning towards technology rather than ideology is a drastic mistake. It's ignorant of the culture itself. It's like asking Christians to live pre-Constantine, yet even in post-Roman Roman Catholicism they have dropped Latin from the services in exchange for more modern languages. While technology has always played a role in ideology in North America (for example, the disappearance of the spear-thrower and appearance of the calumet in the wake of bow and arrow technology in the Eastern Woodlands), ideology is not governed by the stagnation of technology; in fact most of the time you might notice that it grows as a measure of technology. The infusion of technology and ideology in many North American cultures is simply a way of providing education on all things, from hunting and skin curing to ethics and philosophy, in lieu of alphabet technology. Mind you, there have been oddities in the past due to culture bending. In pre-colonial Australia, stone axes were ideologically important as a tool of social regulation. With the introduction of steel axes from white people a complicated system of trade, family hierarchy, gender roles and, in certain cases, religion fell into disarray. While I am not saying that the use of explosives and chainsaws is any different than the introduction of steel axes, I am saying that we are way beyond contact, and that social structures of the Inuit will have been irrevocably changed already - not that we should treat humans like preserved museum ornaments or caged animals, which I guess was my point this whole time.
  • As you say, IC, the tradition is not about the technology, but rather the spiritual, communal and *nutritive* impact of the practice. This isn't just a quirky holiday that's being celebrated, but the very reason that these people live in the place they do, in the way they do. I don't think this is a question of some pc cultural relativism at all. It's a question of whether or not we should destroy a way of life because of *our* culture's excesses. Is it possible to allow for some whale hunting and still preserve the numbers of the bowhead? Yes, it quite clearly is. Is there a difference between a community hunting a small number of whale every year for their survival and a corrosive, capitalistic industry that hunts whale with no regard for the sustainability and environmental impact? Absolutely.
  • *favorites last two comments*