"Ting ee Vik"
Ducks and Geese
The seventh new moon July is called "Ting ee Vik," which means, "The geese and ducks and other waterfowl are now flying."
These birds shed their feathers starting on the 4th. They do not fly for at least three weeks, but towards the last week some have started to fly with their new wings. It is a happy time for the Ipani Eskimo to hunt them, because when he finds a big flock of them he can catch them by the hundreds. When the big flock is all ducks, Ipani hunters drive them to an open place along the edge of the lake. When the edge of the lake has willows the ducks can go a long ways before the men can catch them on foot. But when the place is open, even though it is grassy, it is good. When the men get out of their kayaks to look for them, the ducks just hide under the grass or between the tussocks. The hunters just pick them up and kill them. Sometimes the hunters get them by the hundreds from one big drive. When there are not very many ducks, the Ipani Eskimos can always hunt them with their spears.
The men also get together to hunt geese. They carefully inspect an area by sneaking to the lake. When they find geese in a big flock, they separate to drive the geese. Two or three men go around the lake to make a drive to the men in hiding. When they get to the geese from the other side, they stand up to scare them and away they go to the hiding men. These men watch very carefully waiting for the time to start their kill. When the geese get to the end of the lake they come up from the water and start to run away from the lake, but as soon as the last ones come up, the men at the edge of the lake stand up, and the geese hide away like the ducks. The hunters then have a good chance to kill the geese.
When there are lots of geese in a drive the men can get as many as they can pack. These birds always make a good feed. It is best to roast a duck or a goose over the campfire by using a green willow to stand it with. It really beats chicken or turkey roast. The Ipani Eskimo knows many ways to cook his meals, but for a quick lunch he prefers roasting. When the family wants to have the goose or duck broth along with the meat, the lady cooks the meal in a wooden pot. Wooden dippers are used for drinking the broth. There was no closed season for the migratory waterfowl in the days of the Ipani Eskimos, and even though they used them in great numbers all around the country there was no decrease. But of course the meat was not wasted.
"Ting ee Vik" is really a warm month. The Ipani Eskimo families must be in their moss covered shelters to keep out of the sun and away from the mosquitoes. During this month the darkness of night is now appearing in the evening. Daylight for hunting and berry-picking is getting shorter.
The berries picked are blueberries, cranberries, salmonberries, blackberries, strawberries, and other kinds. People now pick them for winter use.
There are several ways to store berries. First, a seal poke can be used to keep the berries juicy. No flavor is lost through evaporation because the opening is tied up.
Salmonberries and blackberries are good mixed in a poke. Sourdox and salmonberries are also mixed. Another container is made from birchbark sewed together with willow roots. It can be made any size. It is sewed together so it does not leak, and it is usually put in a safe place where it is not moved around when it is filled up. To keep it from molding, the woman puts green sourdox leaves on top.
No other container is used for berries. The next best thing is a hole dug in the ground. The Ipani man digs the ground or sod with his wooden shovel or with a moose horn made into a shovel until he hits frozen ground. Then the lady soaks big green leaves in hot water and puts them on top of each other to cover the ground until they are thick enough to have the sod covered. When this first layer sticks together, the lady once more cooks the sourdox leaves until they are soft. She then uses these greens to cement the first layer quite thick. This hole can now be filled with any kind of berries. They surely keep well covered with sod but with a small vent to keep the berries fresh.
A cache is used to store berries and fish. The Ipani man cuts willows for the framework. He ties up the framework with the roots of the willow and then starts weaving in willows with green leaves to close up the cache so rain does not get through from the side. The top is covered with willows, moss, and sod. Inside, he makes a bench where dry fish can be stored. The berries are stored under the bench.
Once in a while during the summer months they build a small campfire to smoke fish and to keep bees away.
When the Ipani woman cuts up fish, she tries to save as much as she can from them. She puts the fat guts into one container and the eggs into the other. The flesh part is scaled, cut, cleaned, and hung up to dry. A day's work is a big pile.
She cleans up the guts so they can be cooked and the oil saved. After the guts get a little older she can more easily boil the oil out. When they are cooked under moderate heat the oil rises to the top and then it is taken out with a wooden spoon to a birch-bark basket.
The eggs she lays on a wooden platter made out of sticks tied together. The eggs are then put out in the sun to dry. The platter can be put anywhere because the eggs have already stuck to the sticks and will not fall. After the eggs are dry she roasts them in an open campfire to make them brittle. The eggs are then ready to be stored away in fish oil.
The Ipani woman knows how to make a poke made out of a big pickerel skin, taking the flesh and bone out and then drying it up. The pickerel poke holds about six quarts of fish eggs and fish oil.
The duck and crane skins are also used as pokes for eggs and oil.
Anything useful is always put away until it can be used. "It pays to save what you have," the Ipani Eskimos say.
During "Ting ee Vik" the caribou fur is good. The length of the hair is right and the hide is getting thicker. The Ipani woman needs hide and sinews for such winter clothing as parkas, mukluks, and mittens.
So the hunter must leave for one full month of hunting. He needs two dogs as his pack dogs to carry packsacks made with sealskin or caribou hide. She makes two big pockets on each side of the dog's back with a strap on the neck and a loop around the tail. The packsack is measured to fit the dog. The two big pockets on the side are used to carry the supplies the hunter takes along. He likes lots of arrows with points for big and small animals. These points are made out of jade, ivory and horn. The jade and ivory are used for larger animals, and the horn for smaller animals and birds. He also makes the big spear for killing bear. Its point is made out of the bear's forearm bone tied securely to a strong birch pole.
Three or four Ipani hunters go together to the head of Noatak where there are usually lots of caribou during the summer months. The caribou likes to be north during the summer because there is always a cold breeze and fewer mosquitoes.
The hunters have their hunting equipment, their parkas, pants, and mukluks, an extra pair of boots, and a rabbit skin blanket. For food they take along some seal oil, dried fish, and fish eggs in fish oil. They depend on fish from the creeks and animals they can catch for their food.
They expect to be out a long time, because they must get lots of caribou skins for their big families. If they catch enough caribou in a short time, they will come home early. They also want to catch mountain sheep because sheepskins make good inside-parkas and good hunting pants. They save fat and oil to take home besides hides and dry meat. When they are ready for their long walk home, they want to have the packsacks of their dogs filled with fat, oil, and meat. Each dog can carry a pack of at least sixty pounds. Some of the larger dogs can pack about eighty pounds.
The Ipani man makes a pack to carry caribou and sheep hides and some dried meat and fat. As he walks home he eats some marrow mixed with caribou fat melted into oil. His pack is at least one hundred and fifty pounds, a heavy pack to go over mountains and hills. But rafts are used on creeks which drain on down to Kobuk River. When the hunters get to the Kobuk River they continue rafting on down to the place where they can go over the divide to the Selawik area. They are glad to be home safely and welcomed by their families and their neighbors.
The furs and sinew must be stored in the cache, because a superstition must be observed "not to tan caribou or sheep skins or braid sinew for sewing while the people are fishing." A person who disobeys gets sick all of a sudden, suffers unbearable pain, and dies.
"Ah mi ayk si Vik"
The eighth new moon August is called "Ah mi ayk si Vik," which means, "The caribou, moose, and other animals with horns are now peeling off the skin of their antlers."
When the caribou antlers are growing they are covered with skin, and so great is the circulation of the blood in the horns that they grow as long as four feet and even longer on the big bulls. When the big bulls are fat in August they are two hundred fifty to three hundred pounds. The moose antlers never grow so long, spreading out from the head approximately three feet. The top ends are usually wide and strong and heavy. These animals use their antlers for protection from other animals and for fighting during mating time.
The Ipani Eskimos use caribou antlers for sinkers for nets, for picks made with a wooden handle, and for arrowheads. They use jade as a tool to cut the horns. The cutting is done by scraping. It is slow but it does the job.
The bears are fat during this time and the fur is usually right for some kind of use. The caribou too are fat. The more caribou they catch the more Eskimo ice cream they will have during the winter. The more bear they catch the more bear oil they will have and some to spare for neighbors who need it. The bear cubs now grown will be tender when cooked. No animal is killed when it cannot be used for food unless it is killed in self-defense.
When there were lots of caribou around the area where the men hunt, they would make a chute starting from the top of the mountain following a ridge leading to a big lake. The trees or the rocks were set up so they would look like men standing on each side of this ridge where a man would drive the herd of caribou. When the caribou got into this chute, they had to go down to the end because they were scared to get close to these imitation men. There were men waiting at the foot of this ridge who would stand up, one on each side, when the herd of caribou passed them. The caribou were running to get away, but as far as they went other men stood up on each side, and the caribou were finally corralled at the edge of the big lake. They had to jump into the water to get across, but there were men ready with their kayaks to chase them and to kill them with their spears. And there were men on the edge of the big lake ready with bows and arrows to shoot them when they got close. The big herd was killed because there was no way of escape for them when the men were all around.
When the Ipani Eskimos were living centuries ago the hunting grounds belonged to everybody. Anyone wishing to move from one place to another was always welcome to do so.
The men from the Selawik area would hunt in the summer time way out at the Noatak River area, and they would hunt with the Noatak hunters when they go together, and there were no restrictions set by anyone, and so there was no ill feeling. It was also the custom of the Ipani Eskimo that whenever bear, sheep, or caribou were caught in great numbers the hide, sinew and meat would be divided in equal portions for everyone in the big hunt, and even though some of the hunters did not kill a caribou at that time, they were still included in dividing up the big catch.
During "Ah mi ayk si Vik," the Ipani Eskimo hunts all he can for any kind of animal and bird because it is the best time to hunt. The people eat all they can because they know that during the winter months they cannot eat any time they want to.
The berry-picking season is still good for cranberries, blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries, but the salmonberries are now dried up. The Ipani Eskimo uses a wooden dipper to hit the berries into a basket, but the berries must be hit gently because when they hit the inside of the basket too hard they will jump out.
"Ah mi ayk si Vik" is also a busy month of drying fish. Fish that come up the rivers and creeks and go into the lakes from the first run in the spring are now starting their run out. So the Ipani woman gets her willow-bark-braided net set out for fishing. Some families have sinew braided nets, but the willow bark net is just as good.
The people watch the fish as they go into the lakes. The men watch them when they are out with their kayaks hunting ducks. They have their nets set into the creeks and sloughs by the way the fish go out. The first fish runs are usually pickerel and smaller white fish. The women cut as many fish as they can because they will dry very nice as the sun is not too hot during this month.
The Ipani Eskimo usually tell their children, "Never be lazy while the fish are running, because every idle person goes hungry in the wintertime."
There is no other way of getting fish after freeze-up on the lakes and sloughs except by using hooks and fish traps.
The seal hunters are now returning home. They must also fish for their winter food supply while the fish are running. But it was good for them to be out hunting seal and ugruk because there will be lots of seal oil for the winter and they will have ugruk for mukluk bottoms and they will have rawhide for their snowshoes. With their skin boats loaded they sail home with their skin sails, or else they pull along the shore with a rope or use dogs to pull with one person handling a team of four or five dogs.
They move along about three or four miles per hour when they have dogs pulling the boat. When the wind is right it is easier to be sailing. They are glad to get home to be with their neighbors and friends.
"Ovie rhaum Tut ka"
Getting Ready for Winter
Another Bear Hunt
The ninth new moon September is called "Ovie rhaum Tut ka," which means, "the last summer month before freeze up."
Starting in May the ice goes out farther up the river and the ice starts to freeze in the month of October. So the summer months are May, June, July, August, and September five months of open water for boating around the Selawik area. September is the starting point of cold weather. The evenings are beginning to get chilly and the daylight is getting shorter already.
The living standards of the Ipani Eskimos are about the same, fishing nearly every day and hunting ducks, caribou and the bear. Some of the young ducklings are starting to fly, but some are slower than the others. The teenage boys have a good chance to learn how to use the bow and arrow from the kayak by trying to hit these ducks. They also try their dad's spear for the ducks and geese.
The Ipani Eskimo is still cutting fish to dry. But now some of the fish are stored away whole by taking out only the guts. The guts and smaller fish are stored in holes for dog feed. When the fish get old and have a strong smell they will be good for the dogs in the winter months.
The women cutting up the fish to dry leave the eggs inside the fish backbone. Boy, what a nice feed when the eggs have a little smell! Stomachs will be satisfied with this kind of food, along with some berries or Eskimo ice cream.
The last summer month is a good time for hunting ducks as they are really fat. When the Eskimo hunter catches a good number of ducks and geese, the woman picks all the feathers from them, he skins them, and then she cooks them whole after sewing up the holes so the oil will not seep out. When all of them are cooked, she cools them off, cuts them up in small pieces, and stores them in a pickerel skin, adding some small pieces of meat with the skin.
Fried fish are put into fish oil to be used as a ready lunch by the men hunting during the winter.
September has moderate cold air so when anything is hung up to dry it dries out well. This is the time the caribou meat or moose meat is hung up to dry. Even though lots of it is hung it will not spoil.
Some driftwood must be gathered by the people who need to build a new sod house for their winter home. Some people will have to get some rocks that they will use for cooking.
Dry moss must be gathered by the woman because so much of it is used as a disposable diaper for the small children. Their panties are made out of soft leather and the moss put inside the panties as a diaper.
Dry grass is also pulled to be used as insulation for the sod house before the moss and sod are put on. Dry grass is also used for insoles.
Once there was a man going out to the creek to get some birch for making snowshoes. Two of his boys decided to go along to help him out. They took some lunch, a rabbitskin blanket, a spear for bear, and bows and arrows for ptarmigan, rabbits, or squirrels.
They went quietly because the bear usually walk around during this time, looking for a good place to dig their holes for winter. They walked on side by side eating blueberries and watching as they went. They also listened very carefully, for it is mating time for the moose. It is always dangerous to meet a maddened moose because it is liable to attack. They kept on walking looking for some animal their dad could try to catch for their supper when they stopped for the night. They had a head wind so they could not be heard by any animal and they would get close before they could be seen.
After walking along the hill they decided to go down to the creek in a timbered country, and all of a sudden in a small clearing they got real close to a bear with two small cubs. The mother bear caught their scent so she went to the side of the two cubs and put them behind her to protect them. And so the man got his spear ready and said to the bear, "So we are going to protect our young ones, is that it?"
Well, the bear could not talk but she got real curious. The boys had already climbed a big birch and were watching to see what their dad would do with the bear. They had not seen their dad kill a bear before so they were watching closely every move he made. Finally he walked toward the bear, and all of a sudden the bear jumped at him, but the man jumped aside to the right and as the bear was passing him he poked the point of the spear into the bear's chest. Again the bear attacked so the man jumped aside again and gave the bear another hit on the side. The bear could not charge a third time. It was bleeding and dying. The man then chased the young cubs and killed them too, so there were three bears for a good supper.
This was a good lesson for the teenage boys. From seeing their dad, they had learned how to jump aside and how to poke the spear into the bear's chest. They saw that their dad was not a bit afraid of the bear. They could see that the family had another good piece of fat for the winter, another good skin for the door of their sod house, and another two nice cub skins for another rug to sit on.
The food the family eats is from what the hunter catches and also from what the mother stores during the summer season, such as fish oil, fish eggs, and berries.
It is the habit of the people to try and eat fish, meat, and anything else raw, because when they are lost and have no other food to eat, they must be used to eating food raw. For instance, if a man kills a caribou far away from home, he can eat the marrow from any part of the caribou legs. He does not cut up the meat, but he just lets it stay overnight whole, because by morning the liver is sweetened from the blood and the guts, as if it were cooked. O, what chow! Nothing beats it.
"Si Koo Vik"
Fishing Again with Dip Nets
Hunting Bear in Dens
Building Sod Houses
The tenth moon October is called "Si Koo Vik," which means "freeze-up season."
This is the first month of the winter the Ipani Eskimo has prepared for during all the summer months. The weather is now getting cold and the river and the lakes are now freezing up. The ground is also frozen and the snow is falling. Berry-picking is over. It is also getting too cold to be far away from home, so the big game hunters have to return.
Those who hunt too long have to come home by walking on the ice and frozen ground.
This is another busy month for the Ipani Eskimo. The hunters do not rest very long because the creeks and sloughs are beginning to freeze, and it is now time to open the dams that were put up in July to keep the fish in the lakes. The time has come to open the doors for the fish to run.
This is the last fishing season.
The fish in the lakes during the summer are really anxious to be running out. It will really take hard shoveling with a dip net, because when the net is set in too long the net cannot be lifted because it is too full. The men that handle the dip net pour the fish forty or fifty pounds at a time into the hole. The net is pulled up every fifteen minutes and the shoveling continues the whole day. If the fishermen want to stop they can plug the opening with willows made for the dam and have a rest for the night. The next day they do the same thing, shoveling up fish with a dip net hour after hour. Among all those helping the fish are divided in equal portions from each day's catch until the fishing is over. The fish caught are frozen. They are fresh fish for winter.
The fishing continues for a week or ten days depending on the fish run. This is the most important fishing of the year.
In the wider rivers the Ipani Eskimos would make their fish traps by overlapping three or four big dip nets, each six to eight feet wide, right across the river and fencing the ends towards the bank with willows so the fish cannot go around the nets. This big net would be twelve to fourteen feet long. It takes two men to handle it.
The average catch in one haul is fifty to ninety fish. The fishermen catch sheefish, mudshark and nice big whitefish with these dip nets. In the creeks the fish are all whitefish.
When the Ipani Eskimos do their fishing closer to the mountains they go up to the hills to hunt bear also.
After ice is on the rivers and lakes and after the ground is frozen, the big brown bears are still out looking for a good place to hibernate. The bears usually dig their holes in nice dry gravel or in sand. They stay in their holes the whole winter. Smaller bears are usually in their holes during the first frost and snow, in the last part of September.
When the bears dig their holes they never go right in to stay, but they dry out their hole first and then they put in dry grass and moss for their winter mattress.
The Ipani Eskimo walks around up in the hills to look for signs of bears in their holes. When they find these signs they mark the place by chopping tree branches and peeling bark off the tree. Hibernating bear make a good fresh meat reserve for the winter. The bear will be in their holes until the snow starts to thaw out in April. The smaller brown or black bear usually get under the high river bank where it is dry, but when the creek floods they have to get out. That is just too bad for them!
It is hard to believe the stories about the Ipani Eskimos going into the holes of the bears to kill them only with a spear. But that is what they do. The old Ipani men say that a bear cannot attack a man inside his hole. Even so, it seems a risk to the life of a hunter when he so bravely steps into a bear's hole to kill the bear, but sometimes he has to do it to fill up his hungry stomach with fresh bear meat. His stomach sure wants it.
A man once went into a big bear hole. Two witnesses stated that when the door was opened the man just stepped in with a high-powered rifle. He stepped aside from the opening to see where the bear was lying. He carefully watched the wall of the cave and then be saw three bears with their eyes gleaming towards him. He took a shot at one of them and killed him. He waited until he could clearly see the other and he took another shot and killed him too. There was one more, so he waited again until he could see the bear and then he shot again and all three big bears were killed.
He called for a rope and the men threw in the end of the rope. He tied it to the head of one of them and the bear was pulled out. "Give me the rope," he called again and then he tied it to another bear's head, and he was pulled out. "Give me the rope once more," he called and the third bear was pulled out. The three big brown bears were killed by shooting them in one hole.
It took more courage for men hunting only with their spears. When a man sees a bear, it is always necessary that he get real close. The closer he gets the better chance he has to kill the bear. When the bear attacks, some men just poke their spear points into the chest of the bear and then put the end of the spear to the ground, so the more the bear pushes the more the spear point goes in. Lots of times the bears are killed that way by the old hunters. The spear is probably the most used weapon to kill the bear, but sometimes the bow and arrow are used to kill them.
Once two men were out hunting in their kayaks. After a day's hunt, they stopped, pulled up their kayaks, and after a little lunch they lay down close to each other and went to sleep. While they were sleeping a big brown bear comes to them. All of a sudden one of them woke up when something touched him and he saw that the big bear was getting hold of him. He pretended that he was dead.
The bear lifted him up to take him away. The other man now also woke up but did not move. He saw the bear lifting up his partner and putting him on his back and then walking away. Just as the bear was leaving, he got up, got hold of his sharp knife, tiptoed from the back, and slashed the bear's back with his knife all the way to the backbone. In this way he killed that bear.
At other times bears take away people when they find them asleep. A person caught in his sleep must pretend that he is dead even though the bear swings him around.
The Ipani Eskimo tell their children, "Do not boast and say that you can lick a bear any time you see him." Bears want to catch boasters unaware, and many a time it ends up a fatal injury to the boaster when the bear finds him. So it is always wise to take heed of the advice of the older people. Once a bear gets hold of a person he can just tear him up.
For those who do not have sod houses for winter, now is the right time to start building one as the ground is now frozen solid on top. First the size is measured and the line dug about a foot or two and then the framing is set up for the sides and the back. Grass is used to keep the moss and sod from going through when it is put on. On top of the grass a soft sod is laid to cover up all of the holes and then the frozen ground is set on top of the sod to keep it from falling when it is dried up. The sides and the back are worked up in this manner. The roof is put on, by first setting on top of the ridgepole the strong cross pieces. The floor of the sod house is opened up and the soft sod is thrown out through the opening which is to be a window and a place for the smoke to go out when the campfire is lighted under this opening. When the man shovels the sod up through the hole, the rest of the family put on grass and cover it up with the sod and trample it down at the same time. This is done until the sod is thick enough to keep the cold air from coming through it.
Next, the Ipani man fixes up a door frame by slanting the bottom side out so that when the bearskin is put on for the door it just lays there easily. The bearskin is hung with the hair inside and the hide outside. It makes a windproof door.
A big storm shed is built just like the sod house, and another small shed to keep the snow out of the main shed.
The sod house is built for fifty or sixty-five below zero weather. It must be warm because there will only be the open campfire in it. The campfire is set right in the middle under the top opening.
Rocks are set all around the fireplace as a protection from burning and as heaters after the fire is out.
To keep the fire burning the door is opened a little at the bottom end to make a draft so the smoke can go up through the opening at the top. This way no smoke stays in the house.
The Ipani Eskimo are contented as long as they are warm and fed. Sometimes two families live in one sod house, or the parents and their children's family. They live in their sod houses from October to May, when the muskrat hunting comes.
To build his house, the Ipani Eskimo uses a jade axe with a wooden handle and a birch shovel.
Cold weather has come. There are no more waterfowl. The bears are in their holes. The caribou roam around all winter looking for moss and lichen for their winter food.
The wolves are happy to see the snow because now they can track the caribou. They chase caribou into timbered areas so they can kill them in the deep snow.
The busiest season is over when there is no more fishing with nets, but still the older people can go hooking at the mouth of a creek or by a river bend to catch fresh pickerel or mudshark.
The Caribou Call
Powers of Medicine Men
The eleventh new moon November is called "Nulak Vik," which means, "The mountain sheep are mating."
The sheep mate near the head of the Noatak River and below it. Most animals mate earlier.
The people now live in their sod houses and snare ptarmigan and snowshoe rabbits not too far from their homes. Sometimes when the weather is not so cold the Ipani woman goes hooking for pickerel at a special place where she used to go at the mouth of a slough or a creek or at the bend of a river where the small fish usually stop. The old people have certain places for hooking lots of grayling in the creeks. The grayling is one of the best frozen fish. The people like them for lunch. They eat them frozen because they are fat and tender. They eat all kinds of raw, frozen fish. Caribou meat is also eaten this way.
Fur-bearing animals now have prime fur but the hair of the mink and ermine is still too short. The wolverines, foxes, and wolves will also he good to catch, but the longer they stand the cold weather the longer their fur grows. The wolves were not numerous long ago because there were few caribou and no reindeer.
But towards April when the men are out hunting and snowshoeing up in the hills, they sometimes find a litter of young wolves and take them home and raise them for pets like they were puppies. But when they get to be six or seven months old, they are tied up with a piece of alder by boring a hole at the ends where strong rawhide is tied with one end used as a stake and the other end tied to a collar so the wolves can go around and not get tangled up. When the young wolves are tied up they must be fed real well so their fur will be good and so they will not be vicious.
They are kept until their fur gets long and fluffy. Then some are killed so their fur can be used for parka ruff. Others are traded.
Sometimes the hunters are out up on the hill snowshoeing, looking for some caribou or other animals because fresh meat for the family and neighbors is always good. When the weather is good and a nice breeze is on, the hunters sneak right close to the caribou with bows and arrows to shoot with.
Then the Ipani men stand up, the caribou would see them, the men walk closer, and the caribou run away. Well, the hunters keep on walking and make a call by saying, "Hey Ho! Hey ho! Hey, Hey, Hey!" When the caribou hears the call they stop to watch and then start off again. The hunters call again, and the caribou stop because they are quite far away and not too scared. The hunter keeps on making his calls and keeps walking on. The caribou watch the hunters for a while and then they start towards them. The hunters continue their calls, but this time walking in another direction. The caribou keep on coming and when they got close they start to go around, but the hunters still walk on making small calls. Every time the caribou go around a man, they come closer and closer until they are twenty or twenty-five feet away. Then each hunter aims and shoots at a caribou running around. Every arrow hits the caribou. After the hunters work on their meat, they take home the good news.
When the skinned caribou meat ages overnight it gets so soft and tender that it can be eaten raw. The hide is used for bedding and clothing, and their sinew for sewing thread and fish nets.
When the hunters have gone too far away to get home, they dig into the snow to be comfortable. They use the caribou skins or dry grass for their bedding. When they are near timbered country, they build a campfire and then put branches behind for a windbreak and stay there close to the fire to rest and sleep. They are always on the alert, for during the winter the wind can change all of a sudden. They do not take a chance of trying to get home when the weather is warm, because it is always dangerous when the weather suddenly gets cold, and the wet, sweaty clothes start to freeze.
The new sod houses are usually warm because there are no mouse holes like in the old ones. They are sometimes so warm while the campfire is burning that the men have their clothing off their chests and relax for the evening storytelling. To keep up the traditions of their ancestors, the old people tell stories to their children about what has happened centuries ago.
Some evenings a medicine man would show the powers of Satan. He would start from the other side of the campfire while the ashes are really red hot and crawl on top of the fire with bare hands and knees and still not be hurt by the fire. An evil-spirit-filled person cannot be hurt by natural things when he wants to go against them.
His power of healing is well known.
There was a man that had cut his foot below his ankle. It was so infected that every evening the family had to hold the suffering person and rub his leg. There was no medication of any kind that they knew of that would help so they just had to let him suffer the way he was, and then finally the infected leg became warm and swollen from his ankle to his knee.
One day a couple came from the Kobuk area, and the man had a power of healing sick persons. He was asked to help this suffering person and heal him. He was willing to try so he got his small walking stick, and asked another person to sit down in front of him, so he could test the evil power that he is going to use to heal the sick person.
When the medicine man puts the end of the walking stick under this person's leg and tries to lift up the leg and it will not be lifted, this best shows the medicine man that the evil power is going to work on the sick person who is sitting back in bed watching earnestly. The medicine man forces the power to really do the work. Well, if he does not heal the sick person it is just too bad. So the evil power of the world must work to show the people that he must be followed and be trusted for his power. So as long as the leg of the person used for testing is heavy and cannot be lifted up with this walking stick, the person that is sick will be healed. The medicine man works on this person a long time, and when he asks the evil power if he is going to heal this sick man, the answer is, "Yes, I will" and it is heard by the people, so the medicine man takes his mitten and then hits the leg of the person that he uses, and then the walking stick is free.
During that same evening the sick man is starting to get better and he is healed.
The evil powers working through the medicine men are very strong when the laws of that power are observed. This power and superstition are really a threat to the people, but they cannot get away from it because it is in the traditions of their ancestors. Sorcery or witchcraft moves from father to son or daughter. People believe that they must have protection during their lifetime through the evil powers of this world, so for that reason anyone who wishes to be a medicine man can be one if he follows the rules of getting that power. But everyone has to remember to observe the laws of Satan because the penalty is death for disobedience.
"Si khin ah chak"
Feasting and Gift-giving
The twelfth new moon December is called "Si khin ah chak," which means, "The sun rises and stays up only a short time."
This month has the shortest daylight in the whole year, but right after this last new moon the sun will start its climb to longer days. The sun is watched carefully every day as it goes down, down, down to see when it rises for these longer days.
When the sun starts rising up before the new moon shows up, the Ipani Eskimo is usually happy because it means that there will be an early spring break-up and for those who do not have very much food, there will be early fishing and muskrats coming out earlier to be hunted. And again, when the new moon rises before the sun starts going up, the spring break-up will be late because of the cold weather that will continue for a longer period of time.
Back in July and August, the Ipani Eskimo men were out hunting for caribou and sheep to get the needed furs for their winter clothing. All of what they took home was stored away in the cache, because the women were not permitted to tan or sew the skins during the fall time when the people were fishing. But the prohibition continues until the sun starts to rise up for the longer days after the shortest day has passed. They have patiently waited for this day.
The women gladly get down their caribou skins, sheepskins, and their sinew. They tan the caribou hide, and sew new mittens, nice caribou boots, and a sheepskin parka.
This is also the time when the people make some new things for presents to people who helped them when they were in need. The people remember the days when some of their relatives and friends were sick, and there would be someone who helped the sick person to get well. For their kind remembrance a lady can make a nice pair of mukluks. When they are finished, she puts them away to wait for the day of presentation as set by the village.
During the first rising of the sun everybody works to make their presents. And when everything is ready they call their friends and neighbors from their area or from the other villages, and invite them to their big feast and presentation of gifts. After the invited guest has arrived, the women stir up all kinds of Eskimo ice cream, which will be divided among the people at the big feast. To make the ice cream, the fat has been chopped into small pieces and then melted in seal oil in a big wooden bowl. The fresh fish are cooked nice and soft, the bone taken out from the meat, and the water strained out so the fish would get dry. When they are dry, they are ready for use in the ice cream.
When a lady puts her hand into the pot of melted fat and seal oil, her intent is to get this really white and foamy. When the stirring has started she makes her motions round and round clockwise until the fat and oil starts to foam and then the dried fish is added a handful at a time. The stirring continues on and on, with the dried fish added every once in a while. The motion made in the stirring must be even and it takes a long time to get the ice cream real white. When it is foamy white it is done unless some blackberries or salmonberries are added to have it more tasty for the children and adults who like it better that way.
Five or six big wooden bowls are made for the big crowd of people that get together for a big feast. Nice pieces of dried caribou meat are also cut into small pieces so they can be divided more easily. Dried fish and all kinds of berries are put on the caribou. Some pieces have a mixture of dried fish eggs. When everything is ready for the party, the people get together, everyone ready with wooden plates or bowls. A wooden spoon and a jade knife are ready for use. Everyone gets a share in this big feast, and it takes a long time to eat.
When this feast is over, the people then give out their presents to their friends and neighbors. The presents may be a pair of good mukluks, mittens, a good parka, a pair of good snowshoes, and a hunting spear. These presents are a thank offering for help given in time of dire need.
The people continue their good time in the evening with a big dance. Children learn the dances so when they get to be men they will be able to keep up the tradition.
In the big dance the men have a certain lively way of making their motions while the women have a slow-motion dance, following the rhythm of a song. They have a partnership dance in which a man and woman dance along together, and then another couple takes their place when they are through. This is a kind of a contest dance to see which couple makes the best motions in keeping to the rhythm of the song. There are also foot races and snowshoe races.
Some time after all this entertainment, some other village plans on having another big good time. They send two messengers to invite another village to this big gathering for having big fun and for the exchange of furs or caribou hides or seal oil. The invited village makes plans for the big foot race that some of their young men will enter to try and outrun the foot racers from the village that had invited them. When the best runners are chosen the people then begin to send a word to their opponents by tying a piece of string to a walking stick and then telling the messengers, "If you tell my opponent that I am coming, tell him to prepare some berries for me to eat when I first get there." Another gets up and ties another string to the stick and says, "Tell my opponent when you give him this string that I want to eat fresh bear meat."
Sometimes there would be ten or more strings tied to this stick. The strings are tied so the messenger will remember each message to certain individuals when he gets back home. Everyone that ties a string tells the messenger that he wants to eat this or that by mentioning what they want to eat first when they arrive.
The messengers leave before the invited guests who now prepare for their trip by taking whatever they can use for trading when they get there. When the messengers get back home, the people get together to listen to the words sent from the invited village. The messenger starts from the top string and he passes on the word to the man who it was sent to that he wants to have berries when he arrives. And then another string is taken off and given to the man it is sent to and he tells him that his opponent is coming and wants to eat fresh bear meat for his first meal when he arrives. Well, the messages continue until every string is given out, but every time, the sender calls for something he wants to eat at his first meal, whether it be fresh seal meat, fresh caribou tongue, or a mixture of duck fat with fish eggs and every time a guest calls for something he wants to eat, he tries to mention something that a person might not have. But when the inviter hears about the request, he gets it ready.
When the invited village is ready, they travel all together by dog teams or by pulling their sleds along if they do not have dogs. The village people calling for this big gathering again get together to choose their young men as foot racers to meet this big crowd of travelers while they are still about fifteen to twenty miles away. But the invited guests also have chosen their best young men to run this big feast foot race to the village. There is a big community sod house where the winning runner will have to walk in to get the honor for his people. The village expects their foot racers to enter in first because they want to keep the honor of being the winner of this big foot race. And again the travelers want to do the same. They would also like to see their runners enter this big hall first so they can have the honor of being the winner as long as they are there.
The foot racers work hard to win this foot race, a custom kept up from generation to generation.
When the travelers reach the village, each person that had sent a string to his opponent is called and he starts to eat what he asked for. This is a happy get-together. The chief announces that there will be a big dance and giving out of presents every evening while the invited guests are there. At the big dance every time somebody steps down to the floor to dance he holds something in his hand to give away as a present to his partner or his neighbors The song starts and the man dances until the song is over. Someone else then steps down with a gift in his hand, maybe a nice wolf ruff for his partner. There is big applause, the song starts, and this man too dances until the song is over. And so on for the whole evening, the giving of presents to friends and neighbors as they dance and have a happy time.
Whenever the people long ago wanted to have good times this is what they always did: they invited other villagers to come to their big gathering for dances and presents to their friends.