Maritime Topics on Stamps
Whaling and Aboriginal Groups!
Whaling Part One

bowhead whale
Whales are descendants of land-living mammals which returned into the water about 40 million years ago. There are two large sub orders, the baleen whales and the toothed whales, and around 75 different genera. Whales have a length of 1.5 (pig whales) to 35 meters (blue whales). Their weight varies accordingly from 25 kg up to 150 tons.
Since time immemorial humans have hunted whales for food, clothing and bone. Some cultures where wholly dependent on them as their only resource (=subsistence whaling). Since it always concerned only a few animals, the nature's equilibrium was not disturbed. Only since commercial whaling started to become a thriving business in the last two centuries whole whale populations became exterminated.
The Bible already speaks of whales in its history of creation. The story of Jonas and the whale is the source of inspiration for many stamps. Jonas was a prophet in the Old Testament. When he tried to flee the call of God his ship was struck by a heavy storm. The crew threw Jonas over board and he was swallowed by a whale. When he repented after three days, the whale spat him out. Jonah and the whale

old picture
The enormous whales fascinated humans since earliest times. Together with huge octopi and sea-snakes they were used on old sea charts as icons for danger and uncharted areas. A typical picture stressed the nostrils of whales by adding large trunks.

The so-called aboriginal groups who used whaling for sustenance included the Kodiak Indians, the eskimos in Alaska, the Tschukts in East Siberia, the Japanese, the Inuit of Greenland, the eskimos in Canada, and the people living in Indonesia, Tonga, in the Caribbean, the Azores and Faeroe Islands. This was primarily "coastal whaling". A lookout ashore discovered the air streams of a group of whales at sea and reported back to the village. All men were immediately assembled and went off the hunt using only small boats.

These stamps were issued by the island state of Tonga. When the hunters were close enough, they threw as much as possible harpoons at the whale. The hurt animal struck with its tail fin and often drew along the boats for hours. If the whale decided to dive more rope let off. For the whalers it was always a fight of life or death. When the whale became exhausted, he was attacked with lances and knives, so that he could bleed to death. Some natives jumped in the water and cut the tendons of the tail fin. Others stabbed the animal under water where they assumed the location of the heart.

whaling boat
whaling boats
These are three stamps of whaling boats. To the left a boat of the Pitcairn Islands (South Atlantic), constructed out of wood, with several rudders and also known as a long boat. The picture on the stamp depicts how it is launched straight into the water. To the right two boats of the Tokelau Islands (east off Australia). An old rowing boat beside a modern design made out of aluminium and equipped with an outboard motor.

inuit whaling
Here you can see an Umiak. It is an open-top whaling and transportation boat ('woman boat') of the eskimos and Inuits respectively. It consists of a wooden framework covered with seal skins. Frame and keel are tied together with tendons and leather straps. The boat has a length from 7 to 12m and sometimes carries a small sail at the bow. The name 'woman boat' derives from the women rowing the boat. Men were busy hunting.
The whalers carried waterproof, so-called jumping jackets. They could be inflated, thus protecting the hunter against cold water. After the animal was harpooned the whaler jumped onto its back and stabbed with a lance or a spear until it died. On the Aleuten the harpoon points were prepared with poison. It was sufficient to cause a light wound on the whale. He died from the poison and, driven by winds and currents, floated onto the coast.

inuit whaling

Eskimo legends tell of a brotherhood of man and whale. Since a whale can nourish a whole settlement for months, the whale symbolises the unity of humankind and nature. The spirits of the hunted whales return to the sea and are reborn!
The Tschukts of Siberia have a similar religious relationship with the whales.
On this letter you can see a Narwhale, which gets primarily hunted by eskimos. He has a length of up to 6 meters. The left upper canine tooth of males can grow up to a length of 2.5 meters (The unicorn, well-known in mythology for its single long horn, is derived from the Narwhale). Note the pointed lances in the post mark.

The eskimos in the Alaskan region and the Tschukts in North East Asia poisoned their harpoon points with aconite (monkshood). After the animal was hit the hunters went home and returned three days later to collect the body. The Nootka Indians of the Pacific Ocean threw poisoned harpoons (see sheet to the right) and used lances for the mortal blow. Additionally they had knives tied to long poles to cut the tendons of the tail fin. A hunter even jumped into the water and tried to sow up the mouth of the whale thus it did not swallow too much water and sink!
Indians whaling

Japanese toy
The Japanese "Amitori" in the 16th century is whaling with several nets, which were stretched across a bay. Over 200 hunters in 20 to 40 boats were involved. The beaters shouted and struck the sides of their boats to confuse the whales and drive them into the nets. When the entangled animals surfaced they were attacked with harpoons and knives (Budhism teaches Amituo taking all faithfull believers to his realm after death.). Since I could not find a stamp depicting whaling using nets, this is a Japanese card showing a toy whale on wheels.

Fernando Po
A first day issue of whaling at Fernando Poo, a group of islands off Cameroon. The picture of two men dragging a whole whale can only be meant symbolically.
Whales are encounterd in every ocean, passing also the coasts of Africa. The region around Walvisbay in Southwest Africa serves as a good example.

whaling sailer
On the stamp to the left you can see the whaling boat "Karen", which was also used for mailing. The barrel depicted in the post mark was called "Quartel". Whaling ships used these to store pieces of whale bacon, in order to ship them to the fish oil boiling facilities or other commercial whale bacon centres. A Quartel was also used as a measure and corresponded to a volume of approximately 420 litres.
With these two pictures I want to switch over to modern commercial whaling, which will appear in a short time as Whaling Part Two.

To see our page about Sperm Whale catching in the Pacific - ‘Whaling, Part 2’ - please click on this link....

Source: Collection Klaus-Peter Reinhardt with Informations and Scans,
Richard Ellis, Men and Whales

© 1998 - 2005 Bjoern Moritz, all rights reserved.

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