• JW

The Festival of Death

And 0. Winter solstice. Today was the shortest day of the year over here, but it can be worse. Inside the polar circle it has been dark a long, long time.

As I was reading the rule book to Greenland, I was reminded of an album I bought some 40 years ago. The Residents' Eskimo. The mechanics of in-game hunting were explained, and I was looking at the Walrus-card. The album starts with the track The Walrus Hunt. The sounds immediately filled my head.


Eskimo does not have songs as such. There are six pieces of music, each bringing a part of Inuit culture alive.


The men are going on a walrus hunt in their kayaks. A child is born. The weeks of darkness lead to someone suffering from arctic hysteria. A hunter that challenges the tribes' shaman magically disappears. A spirit steals a child, the men go looking for it on their dog sleds.


And you get more familiar with a culture you never knew.


It is best to listen to the album in one long setting, reading the stories, closing your eyes and have another world come alive for you. Get engulfed by the darkness, the harsh circumstances of life in the Arctic. Until at the end you're afraid there will never be light again.

Perhaps no holiday is more important to the Eskimo than the Death Festival. More than a tribute to the dead, this festival marks the beginning of the yearly cycle by being held at the end of the six month Eskimo night.

This clip is a bit too explicit for me, as it is so much fun to try to decipher what they're chanting when they try to scare away the ghosts. But it's a good introduction to the Residents. And it's not possible anyway to ever capture in images what it meant to me when I listened to all this while I was 15 and I finally heard the sun come up.

Then, after being mesmerized for 40 minutes, I read the epilogue.

All the stories on this recording are expressed in the past tense. This is because the Eskimo, particularly the Polar Eskimo on which this album is based, was "rescued" from its "miserable" life style by welfare in the late sixties. The Polar Eskimo has been relocated entirely into government housing, and now spends most of the day watching reruns on TV.


And yes, the Residents made up the description of Inuit life and culture on this record. They made up the ceremonial instruments on which they played. You can see how they are dressed for the cover. They were in fact portraying Westerners looking at an indigenous people and making fun of us. It was the most amazing thing I'd ever experienced. As the fake stories had gotten me to care for the Inuit and their culture that was gone. Later, when I went to study anthropology, I always felt those staring eyeballs in my back.


Oh well, let's see how Phil Eklund's scientific fiction is. Where was I. The hunt.

0 views