Grandmother and the Walrus
While in Alaska I purchased a small drum from an Inuit drum maker, Sivalauq. A wonderful artisan, he had many drums on display varying in size from a few inches to several feet. He spoke about village life and how selling his drums in town supported his family. He explained how each drum he made told a story. This particular drum, pictured above, was painted with the story of his Grandmother who participated in a walrus hunt with his Grandfather and the men of the village. You can see her face framed by the tusks of the walrus.
He related this story in the slow and melodic cadence of his people. His eyes seemed to glaze over, as if he were seeing the story as he told it. It was not hard to imagine this tale being told to family and friends huddled around a warm fire on a cold winter’s night.
“Grandmother liked to hunt with the men. She was skilled in the kayak and fearless. One day as the men were preparing their kayaks to hunt walrus, Grandmother told Grandfather that she wanted to go along. Grandfather said this hunt would be too dangerous and she should not go. Grandmother was very stubborn and brave. She insisted on joining the hunt. Grandfather finally gave in and let her go.
Several men along with Grandmother paddled many miles over the cold ocean to a small island. From the distance they could see walruses sunning themselves on the island. Walruses are very smart, so they needed a plan. It was decided that Grandmother would paddle back and forth in front to the walruses and keep their attention while Grandfather and the men paddled to the opposite side of the island, landed their kayaks and ambushed the walruses.
As the men quietly made their way across the island Grandmother paddled close enough to the walrus to keep their attention but not scare them off. In a sudden, fast and violent moment, the men attacked. A big male walrus saw what was happening and became enraged. Seeing Grandmother in her kayak he decided to take revenge upon her. He swiftly splashed into the freezing water and swam toward her. As he closed in, he disappeared below the waves. Grandmother was frightened and paddled away as fast as she could. Suddenly the big walrus appeared and in one swift motion his great tusks penetrated the front of Grandmother’s kayak. The men stood on the shore watching helplessly as the walrus shook his head tossing Grandmother and her kayak violently. As quickly as he attacked, the walrus let go of the kayak and swam away.
Grandmother was very frightened, but she bravely paddled her damaged kayak to the island. It had been a successful hunt. The men with Grandmother’s help had taken enough walrus to feed the village. After that day Grandmother decided that she would no longer hunt.”