at the Eskimo Whale Hunts
Gift of the Whale
by Bill Hess
Who must have this book: Anyone with interest
in Eskimos, whales, or subsistence hunting.
Who should have this book: Anyone who wants
to see the non-tourist Alaska.
book gives a beautiful and frank view of Eskimo subsistence hunting.
The subtitle is The Inupiat Bowhead Hunt, A Sacred Tradition, but
the book is not limited to the Bowhead hunt and goes into many aspects
of Inuit life.
What truly makes this book a treasure are the striking black and white
photography that fills the pages. Hess’s camera captures the
realities of hunting and surviving the Arctic with stark effectiveness.
His photos of the Point Lay Beluga hunt are frank and unblinking.
This un-posed frankness treats the hunts and other stories with candid
Coupled with the photography are gripping stories from contemporary
Inuits. The Bowhead Hunt does thread through the entire book, but
the book takes up several other stories that help illustrate life
on the northern limit. Perhaps the most poignant instance in the book
that shows the marriage of great photographs and text is an image
of a Inuit man and woman walking through the empty streets of Barrow.
The caption reads that a week later these two were confronted by a
poloar bear at this same spot. The man fought the polar bear with
a pocket knife. In the process he gave his life to protect his the
The book is divided into chapters of stories. There
is a thread of the Bowhead hunt that flows through the entire book,
but between these stories are separate stories of Inuit life. These
stories include the discovery and loss of an archaelogical site, the
Point Lay Beluga hunt, the trapped gray whales that captured the media
in the 90’s and a search for a missing hunter. It is not a complete
picture of Inuit life, but it is a great introduction.
This is truly a beautiful book, both for it’s photography and
for its view into a world that few of us will ever get access to.
Bill Hess grew up in Montana with the dream of coming
to Alaska. In 1981, he packed up his family, sold his belongings and
head north. He took a series of jobs as a newspaper journalist. He
was quickly drawn into covering rural Alaska at the Tundra Times which
got him in contact with the northern Inuit and Athapascans.