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The Creation of the First Festival

September 21, 2016




The creation of the festivals has a mythical origin which began back in the days of the eagle-man as told in the first legend. According to the story, a mother eagle wanted to originate a festival which would bring pleasurable music to the inhabitants of the dark, primeval world. She and her son were the last mythical eagle- people who lived on the pinnacle of a high mountain. Although they were like eagles, they had power to transform themselves into human beings.


One day an eagle-woman sent her son out on a flying trip to search for a human being who would be willing to learn to sing songs to accompany dancing and folktales. If he found a man, he was to capture him and bring him to their home. If the man were not willing to come, the son was ordered to kill him.

Soon a man was found. The eagle-man landed nearby, uncovered his head and smiled at his prey. “Don’t be afraid of me. See, I am a man like you. Let’s sit down so we can talk.”

He presented his mother’s plan to him. “We will teach you festival songs, dancing, and how to build a qargi (council house) and how to make a drum.”

“That drumming sound is my mother eagle’s heartbeat. We will dance according to its rhythmic thump-thump beating.”


Trembling, the captive pleaded, “I will go with you... but... please don’t kill me. I am the only living son of my elderly parents whom I am supporting.” “You will not be harmed, I promise. If we are successful with our work, you will be the human originator of festival music.”

The captive smiled and nodded his head.

After the active had been securely fastened onto the eagle-man’s back, the two departed to the eagle-man’s pinnacle home. As they were circling over his home, the eagle man said, “Listen!” “What is that sound?” The captive asked “That drumming sound is my mother eagle’s heartbeat. We will dance according to its rhythmic thump-thump beating.”

At this moment, as they landed on the ridge near their home on the rocky pinnacle, all the captive’s feelings of anxiety disappeared. His captor led him into a rock-hewn cave. There the wise mother eagle, sitting on a straw-covered ledge, welcomed them and immediately presented them with the choicest food he had ever tasted.

The training of the human began.

“Tomorrow, I want you, son, and your guest to make the drum. But first, while I am tanning the covering of the baleen whale’s liver, bring three saplings. The length will be two wing’s stretches long and the thickness will be three fingers’ span. You will whittle the top ridge about one middle finger width. This groove will hold the babiche twine when you tie the skin onto the wood framing of the drum. Now leave and do, and bring the material.”

The wooden frame is made of driftwood which was originally a larch tree. The craftsman usually whittles it down to a desired length and width. He then carves a rove within one-half inch to one inch directly beneath the top rim of the frame.


Babiche twine will hold the edges of liver skin in this indention. Wet twine is wrapped around the circular frame over and

over again until the twine is very taut. The drum is then placed in a cool room to dry. The drum beater is also made from larch tree driftwood. It is about six inches longer than it is wide. It is tapered, with a handle that is thick enough to be easy to hold on to.

This flat drum is beaten on the back side rather than on its face.

This was the beginning of the training of the human. For many days, the eagle- mother and her son taught him how to compose songs and dances, how to beat the drum, and how to organize a festival program.

After the musical repertoire had been received and tested, the pattern for making the council house (qargi) was drafted on a bleached sealskin. Then the preparations for the reunion with his people was excitedly reviewed for the human, since his experience was an extraordinary event.

The greatest event for his people would take place shortly after his arrival. His agenda was prepared something like this: a reunion feast in the qargi; the news about his encounter with the mother eagle and her son; the art of making a drum; the compositions, dances of two types, social and interpretive; how to organize the first sauyak (festival); and how a festival should be introduced to the neighboring communities.

After he returned to his village, the first teacher of the festive celebration announced to his people: “This spring we will invite our neighbors to attend the first celebration of the year. The women will make new parkas and boots, the men will hunt for ugruk and other land animals. And we will enlarge our old qargi.”

Thus was instituted a new musical program for his people. And ever since that historical beginning, the eagles were considered by the Inupiat, the real people, as the wise originators of the festivals of the Eskimo people of the northern lands.

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