‘Joy overflowing’: Widowed Point Hope whaling captain shares harvest at Qaġruq

Point Hope captains held a three-day whaling feast, Qaġruq, last week. Nuiqsut also honored its bowhead whaling season with Nalukataq.

For Point Hope whaling captain and widow Lenora Kaumauq Tuzroyluk, sharing the bounty during a whaling feast is a joy and a way to support women like her.

“It’s an honor for me to be here in Point Hope, to take my husband’s crew and carry it. It’s a blessing,” she said. “I’m gonna hunt all year round, and I’m gonna feed the widows because I know how it is when you love to eat the food, and your husband’s gone, and you have no one to hunt for you.”

Lenora Tuzroyluk was among eight successful Point Hope captains who held a three-day whaling feast, Qaġruq, last week. Nuiqsut also honored its bowhead whaling season with Nalukataq. This week, Wainwright, Point Lay and Utqiaġvik are joining the Nalukataq celebrations with feasts and blanket toss festivities.

The community of Point Hope, or Tikigaq, landed nine bowhead whales this season, and Tuzroyluk 157 Crew got the last strike May 30. A whale came up quietly to the surface early that morning, Tuzroyluk said.

“The whale gives itself to each captain, and everything falls into place for it to be a successful hunt for us to feed the people,” Tuzroyluk said. “This year, that’s how I felt.”

With less than two weeks until the feast, the 12-person crew had a lot of work ahead of them to process their more-than-50-foot whale, Tuzroyluk said.

What makes the experience so rewarding is that crews get a chance to share their harvest with more than just their community — oftentimes, residents who receive a piece of whale during the feast keep sharing with friends and family in the surrounding villages.

“Even people we don’t know get a taste of what we prepare,” she said. “It’s joy overflowing when you feed someone.”


While most coastal Arctic villages celebrate a successful whaling season with a feast, the traditions vary across communities.

[From 2022: The spirit of the whale: Utqiaġvik celebrates Nalukataq with feast and dancing}

In Point Hope, Qaġruq is a three-day-long celebration. The two Point Hope clans — Qaġmaqtuuq and Uŋasiksikaaq — have Qaġruq on the same day, but on opposite edges of town. The captain who lands the first whale of the season sets the dates of the celebration.

On the first day of the feast, whaling crews bring boats back from the ice to the beach and race to the whaling bone. Traditionally, the eldest person of each clan speaks about the importance of whaling traditions. That day, they also serve mikigaq, or fermented whale meat and blubber, doughnuts, coffee, juice, tea and cake, elder Steve Oomittuk said.

On day two, captain families, dressed in traditional regalia, slice and share whale flippers, or avarraq, and address the community. Captains who caught their first whale that season hold a blanket toss that day.

The last day of Qaġruq means a cookout of various whale parts, as well as bearded seals, walruses, belugas and ducks. The main blanket toss, or Nalukataq, and Iñupiaq dancing also happen that day.

“Lots of people, good food, company and dancing,” Oomittuk said.

Lenora Tuzroyluk said it’s important for her and other captains to pass down the traditions around whaling and celebrating Qaġruq.

[’Aġvagpaŋuu!’: 3 first-time whaling captains in Point Hope landed their first whale this season]

She started learning those traditions about 20 years ago when she and her late husband, Michael Paneeluke Tuzroyluk Sr., founded their crew. Determined to put all their effort toward harvesting a whale, the crew often stayed out on the ice late in the season, she said. She remembered how one time, she felt very tired and wanted to go home, but her husband convinced her otherwise.

“He was like, ‘Don’t you give up, Lenora, don’t you ever give up,’” she said.

She stayed, kept praying, and the crew caught a whale that day, she said.


Michael Tuzroyluk Sr. died from cancer almost three years ago, and Lenora Tuzroyluk registered as a captain and led the crew to a successful hunt that year.

“He prepared me for when he would be gone, to know what to do to take care of a crew and be a captain,” she said.

While she missed whaling last year because of health issues, this year Lenora Tuzroyluk led the Tuzroyluk 157 Crew as a captain with her youngest daughter as a co-captain.

“I’m going to keep our legacy, his legacy, going strong,” she said about her husband. “I’m not going to stop. I’m going to keep hunting.”

Alena Naiden

Alena Naiden writes about communities in the North Slope and Northwest Arctic regions for the Arctic Sounder and ADN. Previously, she worked at the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.