March 2015


Kivgiq – The Messenger Feast (Barrow, Alaska, part 2)

Kivgiq 2015

These dancers performed sitting down, as if in a boat. It was exceptionally beautiful.

It’s a little difficult to explain my rational for visiting Alaska in winter – and why in February.

Kivgiq 2015

Another amazing performance. I bet my captions get dull, quickly.

I’d go into the rational but it involves rental car pricing (August is incredibly expensive) and the collection of frequent flier miles (United is changing the rules on how they are awarded, effective today – March 1, 2015), to name two major variables.

Kivgiq 2015

Three dancers getting into their dance.

Given my constraint set, I decided that I wanted to go before the end of February – and that because I’d already been to the southernmost point of the fifty United States (note the careful wording there – this is a critical point to be expanded on in the future), I also wanted to go to the northernmost point of the United States, which is Point Barrow – I’ve covered my visit to that spot in my first Barrow, Alaska post.

An adorable coat...

Sorry about the fuzziness of this photo: this was a young kid wearing the most amazingly beautiful coat — unfortunately I never got a clear shot of it.

So I started examining my calendar. And reading up on all things Barrow – only to notice the announcement of Kivgiq 2015 – the Messenger Feast. With Kivgiq announced, my Alaskan dates were settled: I wanted to see it.

Kivgiq 2015

The audience appreciated this woman’s dance so much that she had to perform it again. I helped cheer her on.

I could try to explain it in my own words, but, to be honest, I’m just going to cut and paste from the Iñupiat Heritage Center’s description of area celebrations:

Kivgiq, the Messenger Feast, February (every 2-3 years)
Kivgiq was traditionally celebrated after a successful year of subsistence hunting. Kivgiq was hosted by an umialik, or whaling captain. It’s called the Messenger Feast because in ancient days two messengers would travel to a neighboring village to invite the residents to the festival. In modern times Kivgiq is hosted by the North Slope Borough in the regional hub town of Barrow. It takes place in February every 2-3 years and it consists of three days of Eskimo dancing, feasting, trading, and story-telling. Dance groups from across the North Slope Borough come to dance, and sometimes our neighbors from Greenland, Canada, and Russia come as well.

Kivgiq was fantastic – although, to be honest, I’m neither good at understanding dance nor do I speak Inupiat. About the main thing I noticed, after the beating of the drums, was that most of the dancers did not actually move their feet more than a couple of inches – if that. Most of the movement was in the upper body and arms.

Kivgiq 2015

Telling a story through dance.

Kivgiq was held in the Barrow High School Gym – I’d guess there were about 400 or 500 people there (although it’s hard to judge—but the gym was packed) watching dance troops from communities all over Alaska’s north slope and Canada perform.

Kivgiq 2015

Another amazing performer doing her thing.

Without a doubt some of the dancers were incredibly talented – and whenever a really good performance was presented, the audience went wild. I can recall at least two performances being repeated after loud audience cheers.

Kivgiq 2015

For many of the dances, the audience was invited to participate — this was one of the large group dances.

About the only downer – from my perspective – was that Wednesday was devoted to Christian choral music. So I ended up skipping Kivgiq that day in order to preserve my sanity. If I were to do this again, I would make a point of being there for either the first day or for the last day – but not set up a trip that spanned the middle of the event.

Kivgiq 2015

Clearly kids (and elders) were at the center of the celebration — with these five kids being the stars of one dance.


Click here to see my complete Kivgiq Flick Set.

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