Nalukataq (Inupiaq: [nɐlukɐtɑq], naluk- 'to throw it underhand; to toss it up' + kataq) is the spring whaling festival of the Iñupiat of Northern Alaska, especially the North Slope Borough. It is characterized by its namesake, the dramatic Eskimo blanket toss. "Marking the end of the spring whaling season," Nalukataq creates, "a sense of being for the entire community and for all who want a little muktuk or to take part in the blanket toss....At no time, however, does Nalukataq relinquish its original purpose, which is to recognize the annual success and prowess of each umialik, or whaling crew captain....Nalukataq [traditions] have always reflected the process of survival inherent in sharing...crucial to...the Arctic."[1]

Blanket toss in Utqiaġvik, Alaska

After the spring whale hunting season, successful crews celebrate with a Nalukataq festival.[2] Associated with the summer solstice,[3] these take place in June and are scheduled to avoid conflicts between villages in order to allow friends and relatives from distant communities to share the bounty and the fun. In Utqiaġvik, for example, Nalukataq is usually held in the third week of June. Other villages may be in the week before or the week after. Scheduling depends on how many whales were caught as well as other factors.

Over the course of a couple of weeks, multiple Nalukataq celebrations may be held, and each of these may be put on by several captains. Utqiaġvik, because of its large population, has the most events, but Point Hope, Alaska and other villages along the North Slope also stage several.[4][5] For example, Kaktovik and Nuiqsut.


Nalukataq serves two purposes. First, it is a celebration of thanksgiving for success. Second, it is the first of several times during the year when quaq (frozen whale meat)[6] and muktuk (whale blubber and skin) are distributed to the community. The ability to produce and distribute wealth among the community is highly valued in Eskimo cultures. Whaling captains who always give away large portions of their whales, gain great stature and respect within the village for every whale they catch. A captain, umialik,[7] is able to sponsor or host, nalukataqtitchi,[8] a festival after catching a whale.[9]

Festive clothing is commonly worn to the event, and highly decorated mukluks and parkas of seal, caribou, wolverine, wolf, and fox are abundant. "The game is played by contemporary Eskimos apart from its ceremony, which is a part of the nelukatuk. Legend tells that the raven gave the Eskimos the Blanket Toss."[10]


Lasting three days,[7] (Qagruq, Avarriqirut, and Igauqtut[11]) there are several stages to the celebration. It begins with a prayer or church service,[7] and a raising of the crews' flags at around noon. A windbreak is often constructed in front of the captain's qalgit.[7] Then bread, coffee, and initially various soups of goose and caribou are distributed. Following that, all of the food is one part or another of the whale. The flippers and certain of the guts of the whale are offered to visitors.

Inuit dance at Utqiaġvik

After a break, filled by singing and story telling, the whaling crews begin to distribute the catch to each family who attends the event. The amount that is given away depends on the size and number of whales harvested. First comes the quaq, which is whale meat frozen raw and cut into cubes. Next is the avarraq, the flukes of the whale cut into thin strips. Once these have been distributed, the various other cuts of muktuk are distributed frozen, with skin on. A hiatus of a couple of hours follows this, in which time everyone feasts on the catch.

In this interim period, the Nalukataq blanket is erected. The blanket, mapkuq,[8] may be made from several walrus or bearded seal, ugruk, skins, or canvas, and sewn together in a circle or square. Outdoors a rope extends from each corner, and is pulled tightly between four wooden beams, formerly three whale bones, using block and tackle. This raises the blanket to about waist height. With or without the beams, men and women, naluaqtit ('pullers'.[12] "the springs of a centuries-old trampoline."[13]), circle the blanket and hold rope woven around the edges, and rhythmically pull out on the blanket to throw the blanket dancer, nalukataqtuaq,[8] in the air.[14] "As effective as a trampoline," heights of twenty feet/six meters are estimated,[12][15] and heights of 40 feet are considered possible.[13] The minimum goal is to land back on one's feet, next to do this as many times as possible,[16] and advanced tricks include kicks and flips.[17]

Anyone may be thrown on the blanket, but traditionally the captains and their wives go first. Originally they threw out goods, such as baleen or tobacco,[12] clothing, tools, or food as a means of demonstrating their ability to provide, but today that tradition has evolved, and wives of the captains throw candy to surrounding children once airborne. This giving is also known as tossing, nalluġruq or nullui.[8] This event is the highlight and namesake of the festival, and may last several hours. Now a celebratory recreation, it may have originated for the purpose of being able to assist with hunting by helping participants to eye game at farther distances,[12][15][18][19][20][21] or to allow signaling at long distances.[22] The blanket toss is open to viewing by tourists, and in 2000 Scott Gomez was tossed twenty feet/six meters.[23] Former champion and state representative Reggie Joule,[24] once appeared on The Tonight Show to discuss the blanket toss.[22] Nalukataq is a men's and women's event in the World Eskimo Indian Olympics.[25][26] One of the goals in the Olympics is to touch the ceiling of the Big Dipper Arena,[22] now the Carlson Center.

Following the blanket toss, everyone gathers for a traditional dance. Here, everyone is welcome to dance.

Performance by Utqiaġvik's largest dance group. The white dress shirts seen worn by several members in this photo are a signature of the group during its major performances.

The beats are set by several men and boys playing drums. These were made traditionally from the skin of the liver or lungs of a whale, but today might also be made of synthetic materials. The men also sing songs (nalukataun[27]) for the dances. Following another prayer, the evening closes.

In addition to dances where everyone participates, there are usually dances by the organized dance group for that village. They sing traditional songs and perform what is essentially a "stage show" for everyone. The best front row seats are always reserved for elders.


  • Nalukataq: festival held at the conclusion of the whaling season featuring blanket tossing and a dance[8]
  • Mapkuq: blanket, originally bearded seal skin, used to toss jumpers[8]
  • Nalluaqtit: tossers, the people holding the skin[8]
  • Nalukataqtuaq: Jumper, the person on the skin[8]
  • Nalukataun: songs sung during Nalukataq[8]
  • Nalukattat: Nalukataq attendees[8]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Fast, Phyllis A. (2010). "Alaska at 50: Language, Tradition, and Art", Alaska at 50: The Past, Present, and Future of Alaska Statehood, p.78-9. Kimura, Gregory W.; ed. University of Alaska. ISBN 9781602231085.
  2. ^ Spencer, Robert F. (1959). The North Alaskan Eskimo, a Study in Ecology and Society, p.478. "The 'blanket toss' celebration held at the close of a successful spring whaling season."
  3. ^ Fair, Susan W. (2006). Alaska Native Art: Tradition, Innovation, Continuity, p.254. University of Alaska. ISBN 9781889963792. "Members of these groups harvest whales and celebrate with feasting and rituals honouring the traditional roles of Inupiaq men and women, the status of whaling captains, and the continued abundance of whales."
  4. ^ Berit Arnestad Foote, The Tigara Eskimos and Their Environment, North Slope Borough Commission on Inupiat History, Language, and Culture, Point Hope, Alaska (1992), ISBN 978-9993524700.
  5. ^ "Uiniq – The Open Lead" Fall 1995, Volume 9, Issue 3, North Slope Borough.
  6. ^ Eskimo Writing Key Archived 29 January 2008 at the Wayback Machine", Retrieved 4 December 2016.
  7. ^ a b c d Stern, Pamela R. (2013). Historical Dictionary of the Inuit, p.135. Scarecrow. ISBN 9780810879126. "Nalukataq is hosted by the successful whaling captains and their wives and is given in order to honor the whales that have been caught."
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j MacLean, Edna; ed. (2014). Iñupiatun Uqaluit Taniktun Sivuninit/Iñupiaq to English Dictionary, p.191. University of Alaska. ISBN 9781602232341.
  9. ^ Stern, Pamela R. (2010). Daily Life of the Inuit, p.112 & 117. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9780313363115.
  10. ^ Koranda, Lorraine D. (1983). "Music of the Alaskan Eskimos", Musics of Many Cultures: An Introduction, p.339. May, Elizabeth; ed. University of California. ISBN 9780520047785.
  11. ^ MacLean (2014), pp. 245, 64, and 71.
  12. ^ a b c d (2014) "Blanket Toss Archived 2016-12-21 at the Wayback Machine", "The participant is expected to keep his or her balance and return upright – a particularly challenging feat if the participant does turns or flips while in the air." Accessed: 5 December 2016.
  13. ^ a b Bragg, Beth (2002 ). "Blanket Toss More Than Spectacle Archived 2012-10-25 at the Wayback Machine",
  14. ^ "Whaling: A Way Of Life Archived 2007-12-22 at the Wayback Machine", Retrieved 3 December 2016.
  15. ^ a b Gates, Nancy (2006). The Alaska Almanac: Facts about Alaska, p.30. Graphic Arts Center. ISBN 9780882406527.
  16. ^ Perrin, William F.; Wursig, Bernd; and Thewissen, J.G.M. 'Hans'; eds. (2009). Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals, p.633. Academic. ISBN 9780080919935.
  17. ^ Burch, Ernest S. (2006). Social Life in Northwest Alaska: The Structure of Iñupiaq Eskimo Nations, p.355. University of Alaska. ISBN 9781889963921.
  18. ^ Blanket toss – Anchorage, AK (c. 1960) on YouTube (Alaska Moving Image Preservation Association (AMIPA)). Retrieved 4 December 2016.
  19. ^ The Inuvialuit Blanket Toss – Inuvik, NWT – GoPro on YouTube (2012). Retrieved 4 December 2016.
  20. ^ "Festivals: Blanket Toss Archived 2016-12-20 at the Wayback Machine", "The person being tossed throws gifts into the crowd and loses their turn when they lose their balance. The object: to maintain balance and return to the blanket without falling over." Accessed: 4 December 2016.
  21. ^ Swaney, Deanna (2012). DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Alaska, p. 231. Penguin. ISBN 9780756691912. "Historically, the toss was used to allow lookouts to gain a bit of elevation over the largely flat coastline and determine whether whales, seals, walrus, or polar bears were visible on the ice or out at sea."
  22. ^ a b c Freedman, Lew (2011). Thunder on the Tundra: Football Above the Arctic Circle, unpaginated. Graphic Arts Books. ISBN 9780882408446.
  23. ^ Stewart, Mark (2001). Scott Gomez: Open Up the Ice, p. 43. Lerner. ISBN 9780761322689.
  24. ^ Russell, Sandra (1998). "My Experience on the Blanket Toss", Authentic Alaska: Voices of Its Native Writers p. 57–60. Andrews, Susan B. and Creed, John; eds. U of Nebraska. ISBN 9780803259331.
  25. ^ "Games Archived 2013-09-03 at WebCite", (2007). Retrieved 4 December 2016.
  26. ^ Hirschfelder, Arlene B. and Paulette Fairbanks Molin (2012). The Extraordinary Book of Native American Lists, p.430, 473. Scarecrow. ISBN 9780810877092.
  27. ^ Koranda (1983), p. 358. "A wide ascending interval in a blanket toss song," is one of the few instances of programmatic music in Eskimo songs.

Further readingEdit

  • Brown, Tricia (2014). Charlie and the Blanket Toss. Martinsen, Sarah; illustrator. Graphic Arts Books. ISBN 9781941821312.

External linksEdit