Pictures taken Friday, February 9th at the Inupiat Heritage Center's "Traditional Room," which is open to the public.
Here are some pictures of the Agvitchiaq Whaling Crew preparing the bearded seal skins for sewing. Bearded seals were harvested last summer, and the skins were rolled up with seal fat and fermented so the fur will slip easily. The bearded seal skins are placed underneath houses and stored in gunny sacks (remember our houses are all on pilings). The men scrape the fur off of the bearded seal skins and then the women carefully cut off the flippers. Usually the flippers are left on the skins until the actual day of sewing, but Roberta Leavitt and Thea Jennie Brower knew how to properly remove them. Fermented flippers are a delicacy, and the Agvitchiaq Crew members invited locals (via VHF) to come and help themselves to this delicious treat. Some of the fermented flippers will be saved for the next day, so the skin boat seamstresses can snack on the flippers while they sew all day long. This whaling crew has 12 skins, but will most likely not need all 12. Extras are on hand in case some skins have fermented too much or other problems.
Agvitchiaq Whaling Crew Captain Gilbert Leavitt and his wife Roberta. Gilbert's son Isaac Leavitt and his girlfriend Thea Jennie Brower.
Delicacy - fermented flippers: Fermented flippers from bearded seals are a delicacy for the Inupiat. Here, several flippers carefully cut from the Agvitchiaq Whaling Crew's seal skins, are being offered to the community, especially the elders.
Gilbert Leavitt and Isaac Leavitt: Agvitchiaq Whaling Crew Captain Gilbert Leavitt and his son, Isaac Leavitt, remove a bearded seal skin after removing the fur.
Thea Jennie Brower: Agvitchiaq Whaling Crew member Thea Jennie Brower carefully removes the flipper from the bearded seal skin, making sure not to cut through the skin.
Isaac Leavitt: Agvitchiaq Whaling Crew member Isaac Leavitt scrapes fur off of the bearded seal skin. Leavitt is preparing the skins for the seamstresses so they can sew the traditional umiaq, which is still used for spring whaling. Experienced seamstresses, including Isaac's mother Roberta, will sew the skins together using waterproof stitches on both the top and the bottom side of the skins.
Isaac Leavitt 2: Same description as the first one, just a different view.
Roberta Leavitt and Thea Jennie Brower: Roberta Leavitt, wife of Agvitchiaq Whaling Crew's Captain Gilbert Leavitt, left, and Thea Jennie Brower, right, carefully remove the flippers from the fermented bearded seal skin. The flippers are a favored delicacy for the Inupiat, and this whaling crew invited locals to the Inupiat Heritage Center to take some home. Some of the fermented flippers will be saved for the next day for the seal skin boat seamstresses to enjoy.
Photo credit: Mary Anniagruk Sage