HARPOONS AND HARPOONING

Most of us that were not raised in a harpooning culture have a simplified idea of exactly what an eskimo style harpoon is and how it works.

Many cultures of the northwest coast shared a tradition of respect for the great marine mammals they hunted. This respect went so far as to postulate that the great mammals did not like to be hunted with ugly weapons. Some groups also claimed that it was improper to use metal points, preferring the traditional harpoon head.

Accordingly, fine examples of harpoon points and rigging, some fancifully carved, have been produced for centuries to honor great whales and walruses.

How does a north country harpoon actually work?

Harpoons were an answer to several hunting problems.

1) The first need was to wound a giant animal.

2) After wounding, the animal must be tethered to the surface so that it is not lost.

3) Finally, whatever method is used must offer some measure of safety to the hunter who is floating on a frigid sea in a delicate craft.

Unlike the single piece forged harpoon that Cap'n Ahab might have used, the Amerindian harpoon often had several parts.


A flexible foreshaft allowed the point to seat properly on the giant quarry's skin for the best penetration.

Harpoon heads could have stone, antler, ivory, shell or metal blades that allowed deep penetration. To see a fine photo of moose antler and stone harpoon points click here (47KB).

To see a variety of north country hunting and fishing equipment replica collectibles click here.

What kept the quarry tethered to the surface? Sealskin floats that had been inflated and tied together along with drags that served to tire the wounded animal.

Harpoons, points, rigging and floats were made in many different shapes and of many different materials. For a good read on harpooning artifacts see "Prehistory of North America" by Jessie D. Jennings, or click on the following link,

Northwest Territories Harpoon Lore

If you have questions you can try:

 

BACK TO CAVEMAN'S ARMORY