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Full Circle

Day 1: Little Diomede Island, Bering Strait

Ignaluk, Alaska, USA 
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I've said I'm coming back, but I don't think they believe me.
Michael Palin - Full CircleThe village into which we are descending is called Ignaluk. It is the chief, indeed the only settlement on Little Diomede and within it are evident all the contradictions and complications of Eskimo life. The weather is fierce and pitiless. There is no shelter from the elements apart from the huts they build themselves and the few modern public buildings provided by the government. Living is still largely subsistence, and hunting methods ancient and traditional. Puffin-like sea birds called auklets are caught in nets at the end of 12-foot long poles. 'We basically scoop them out of the air,' one man told me. They hunt whales, though nowadays they shoot rather than harpoon them. When the first ice of winter, the 'slush ice' as they call it, comes down from the north, they lie in wait for the polar bears that come down with it. It's a hard life, but none of those I've met would dream of abandoning the island.

Eskimo culture is emphasized in school and in the local council. Alcohol is banned here, as in many communities in western Alaska; the Eskimos have a low tolerance of it. Half the population worship at the local Catholic church. Their Eskimo names have American counterparts - I've met Eskimos called Andy, Marlene, Orville and Anne-Marie. They may not have fridge-freezers (they bury food in the permafrost instead) but they do have satellite television and it's not long before word gets around that one of the actors from Monty Python and the Holy Grail is on the island. The last thing I have to do before leaving one of the most remote corners of the world is to sign autographs.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 1
  • Country/sea: USA
  • Place: Ignaluk - Alaska
  • Book page no: 15

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