Savoonga Whales Fulfill Musical Needs

Savoonga, a community on St. Lawrence Island, harvested two bowhead whales last week, both of them female.

While the island is praising the immense intake of muktuk and meat amid an economic disaster, Theodore Kingeekuk, a drummer on the island, is celebrating another part of the anatomy — the uterus.

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Theodore Kingeekuk is a 21-years-old singer, drummer, and dancer with the Savoonga dancing and singing troupe. He’s also co-captain of his dad’s whaling crew. And last week, after helping distribute meat and muktuk to the community from the two female bowheads, Kingeekuk returned to the beach where he collected the whale’s wombs. His plan:

“Cut them up, clean them out, hang them,” Kingeekuk said. “And that’s when I’ll be putting them on my drum.”

Traditionally, St. Lawrence Island drums are covered with walrus stomachs. But with this years’ bleak walrus harvest—in which the island gathered only one-third of its annual walrus intake—walrus stomachs are in short supply. So Kingeekuk decided to go a different route: whale uteruses.

“I just thought about it. And it actually worked pretty good. And the other drummers were amazed,” Kingeekuk said.

Kingeekuk used this method for the first time last year. He says he had never seen it done before but wanted to give it a try. And the result? Well, Kingeekuk says in addition to producing a lot more drums than walrus stomachs—six times more— whale uteruses are an all-around better drumming material.

“It’s [whale womb] a lot stretchier, and it’s much louder and you don’t have to spray, get it wet as much like stomach walrus,” he said.

Usually the whale wombs are pushed back into the ocean with the rest of the carcass where it becomes food for seagulls and other scavengers.

Not these uteruses, Kingeekuk says he will be making instruments for Savoonga’s drumming group. And if permitted, he will even try to sell a few.

Anna Rose MacArthur is a reporter at KYUK in Bethel.

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