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Traditional Music of Alaska, "Drum Song"
The Bering Strait is the narrow strip of sea water separating North America and Siberia, and located between Russia, Asia, Alaska, and the polar circle. The strait is approximately 53 miles wide and connects the Chukchi Sea to the Bering Sea. Named after Vitus Bering, a Russian explorer who crossed the strait in 1728, it has many islands, including the two Diomede Islands and Fairway Rock. The strait is one of the most dangerous bodies of water in the world due to shallow depth, volatile weather, ice fields, and extremely cold sea temperatures. The waves are shorter and pack more power than deep sea waves. Strong currents add to the difficulties in navigating the water, especially during intense storms which are frequent and move quickly. There are no prevailing winds during the summer, and visibility is often limited with thick cloud cover, mist, and fog. Temperatures range from 20 degrees Fahrenheit in summer to -50 degrees in the winter. The unpredictable weather makes the Strait difficult to cross, and only seaworthy vessel are capable of handling the waters.
During the time of whaling in the mid 1800s, the water was populated with bowhead whales. However, due to the rough conditions many whaling disasters resulted in the loss of ships and lives.
For the native peoples of Alaska, whaling was a way of life. It began thousands of years ago. The whales provided the villages with a major food source, the meat, skin, and organs. The bones were used for housing equipment, the vertebrae for seats. Baleen was used for boot insulation and the stomach and bladder for drums. The entire community was involved in the whaling process, hunting, hauling, butchering, cooking and distributing.
Whaling songs have been dated as far back as two thousand years. Many songs are ancient, carried in the memories of old men and passed along. This song, "Drum Song", is a contemporary song, composed by Nick Wongatilin of the village of Savoonga, south of the Bering Straits. To hear a clip of it, click on the "play music" button above.