DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!
Dec 10 2012

Festival for the Souls of Dead Whales

by Amanda L

If you look at one of those calendars that mention all of the festivals and celebrations within a particular month, today is the Festival for the Souls of Dead Whales. I was so intrigued about what that day was about that I went off searching for information on the Internet and found an online article from the National Geographic. The author of the article, Hillary Mayell tried to research the importance of this festival to the Inuits of Alaska. Although she could not find where this festival is still celebrated, she talked to some Inuits and found that there are several celebrations throughout the year that give thanks for the whales gift to the Inuit people. According to this article, sixty to seventy percent of the northern Inuit diet is whale. Today there is limited whaling available in order to preserve the species.

I have always been intrigued by the historical whaling industry. I think my first love came from the whale song performed by the Limeliters:

I read Moby Dick when I was in middle school. Even though I did not really understand the whole story, it furthered my fascination with whaling. Finally, when I was in high school my father received a handwritten journal from a distant relative who served on a whaling ship in the 1800s. I poured through that journal until I had to reluctantly give it back. Not only was it about whaling, but it was a personal account written by a relative. What better way to bring history alive?

The Library has a book about the historical commercial whale trade titled, On the Northwest: commercial whaling in the Pacific Northwest, 1790-1967. Another general history on the whaling industry is Men and Whales. There is even a book about African-Americans and the whaling industry titled Black Hands, White Sails: the story of  African American whalers.

Besides Moby Dick there are several stories about whaling. The Widow’s War by Sally Gunning tells the tale of Lyddie Berry who lost her husband in a whaling accident. She becomes dependent upon her son in-law who tries to take everything she and her husband have acquired. The Journal of Brian Doyle: a greenhorn on an Alaskan whaling ship by Jim Murphy is told in journal form about fourteen year-old Brian Doyle’s trip from San Francisco to a whaling ship in the Arctic and the many adventures he experiences.

Even though this festival is not observed in Alaska anymore, it is a great time to remember and learn about our history.

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