Ancient Land

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

ANCIENT LAND: SACRED WHALE was two decades in the making. British poet Ted Lowenstein first became acquainted with the singer and storyteller Asatchaq in 1973. Over the next sixteen years, Lowenstein conducted fieldwork among the Alaskan Inuit people of Tikigaq (Point Hope, Alaska), the oldest continuously inhabited Native American settlement in North America. Under the guidance of Asatchaq, Lowenstein immersed himself in the traditions, customs, and myths of Tikigaq. This experience included three seasons during which Lowenstein actually participated in the tribe’s spring whale hunt.

The result of this extensive experience is a profoundly sympathetic and poetically satisfying rendering of myths and rituals central to the life of Tikigaq’s people. Lowenstein describes the spring hunt in great detail, including unique forms of cooperation between the sexes. He also provides poignant translations of Inuit myths recounting the formation of the Point Hope Peninsula, the beginnings of its human inhabitants, and the organic relation of those inhabitants to the omnipresent whale.

Lowenstein does a remarkable job of conveying the magic as well as the mayhem (murder, revenge, rape, incest and the like) of these myths. Though the book is not an easy read, its yield in terms of anthropological insights and poetic brilliance is quite breathtaking. This is truly a unique and beautiful book.