Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Goose Day

As many of you know, I've undertaken a journey of epic proportions this summer, at least in the sense of distance covered, and I'm looking forward to sharing some of those experiences here. But, a couple of weeks before I left the village, a brand new celebration was instituted in Atqasuk and I don't want to let that slip by unnoticed.

The Inupiat are traditionally a coastal people. Subsistence whaling has long been the basis for, Naluqatak, a time of feasting, dancing, and enjoying competitive games in the villages positioned along the edge of the Arctic Ocean. The inland villages of the North Slope (there are only two) concentrate on river fishing, caribou and bird hunting, as well as harvesting berries and other edible plants. Unfortunately, at least in Atqasuk, there has never been a celebration associated with these inland subsistence activities.

Until this year.

Atqasuk's first annual Goose Day was held on May 31, 2008. There was a goose calling contest, a goose plucking contest, and a community potluck. I think everyone agreed that the event was a great success and many are considering a celebration of caribou in the near future. In this tiny village where opportunities for fun or socializing are limited, that is an exciting proposition!

I would love to accurately identify these geese (maybe my birder friends can help?), but no one seemed to know their name in English. In Inupiaq they are called nigiliks. In English they are referred to as "regular" geese (as in, not snow geese and not Canadian geese...just regular geese). That is the actual response that I received when I inquired about a name.

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The geese that were originally donated for the plucking contest were frozen and had to be replaced with thawed geese because plucking frozen geese will tear the skin. So there's a tip you might keep in mind if you are ever tempted to pluck a frozen goose.

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The down can be collected and used to stuff pillows, a common practice in years past.

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The woman plucking here was amazing. Not only did she work quickly, but she was somehow able to contain the feathers better than anyone else. She told me she'd teach me how to do it if I wanted to learn. And I do.

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Mikigak (fermented whale meat) is a favorite treat among the Inupiat. Someone brought a bucket full to the potluck and it was accepted with a great deal of enthusiasm. I have to admit, with some embarrassment, that mikigak is the only traditional food that I've never tasted. The meat is cut up and left to ferment in its own blood for about two weeks. It smells like vinegar, though people tell me the flavor is sweet. In spite of the hardy endorsements, I have not been able to work up the nerve to put it in my mouth...mostly because I'm not sure that I'd be able to contain my response.

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Here's a single serving with a chunk of uunaalik (boiled whale blubber) in the center of the bowl.

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Not to end on a sour note...
These were two of the strongest competitors in the goose-calling contest! Although I'm only including two student participants, there were adults who joined in as well. This was a really fun contest. Next year I might compete. I have been practicing the sound of nigiliks for a while now and, if nothing else, it would give everyone else a good laugh.


An elder in my church asked if I'd like to have a goose for cooking. She said, "It's all ready to go. All you have to do is take the guts out." I smiled and thanked her and felt extremely honored to be the recipient of such an offering.

I guess after the plucking lessons, I'll be signing up for Gutting 101.

That should be interesting.

2 comments:

Steve said...

Howdy. Your goose in question is a Greater White-fronted Goose. Some hunters call them speckle-bellies. Interesting that it is the "regular" goose, as opposed to Snow Goose or Canada Goose. Here in SC, Greater White-fronted Geese will show up somewhere just about every year, but it wasn't long ago that even one such bird was really big news.

Kimberlee said...

Hi, Steve. I guess I should have been able to guess "speckle-bellies" just by looking at them, huh? :)

We get A LOT of this type of goose up here in May. The Inupiat hunt them (I'm told) until they pair up and begin to nest. Thanks for the identification!