World Eskimo Olympics held in Fairbanks, Alaska is absolutely stunning! Seal skinning, miss Eskimo, high kick, ear pulling and other crazy disciplines!
We found out about the World Eskimo Olympics by a coincidence, while we were hitchhiking from Denali to Fairbanks. Hitchhiking works very well in Alaska – an average waiting time was around 5 to 10 minutes. Swiss couple took us on our way to Fairbanks and thanks to them we visited the tourist center where they highly recommended us to visit the World Eskimo-Indian Olympic games.
Many inhabitants from the smallest and northernmost villages of Alaska as well as indigenous people from all around the United States are coming to this traditional event. The Eskimo-Indian Olympic Games are not only a sports event, it is also a festival of Eskimo culture. Apart from sports disciplines, there are traditional dances performed, music, and election of the Miss Eskimo every year.
Disciplines were formed for centuries. Purpose of these traditional disciplines was to prepare Eskimos for survival in very difficult Nordic conditions. Disciplines require strength, endurance, and dexterity. It was a really unique experience! We were literally watching this event with an open mouth. Thus, what did they compete in?
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Probably one of the strangest disciplines we have ever seen. At least until they explained to the audience that traditional contest was supposed to prepare the Eskimos for the cold winter and therefore they trained their ears to be ready for cold. Two athletes sit opposite each other and both of them put a string around their ears and the contest begins with a command. A man who can’t stand the pain first loses.
Athletes put the strings around their ears again, but it is about lifting the weights from the ground this time. The purpose is the same as the previous discipline - lifting weights was meant to strengthen ears, to prepare them for cold and frost during the winter.
Two Feet High Kick
High Kick was the closest discipline one to the traditional sports activity. The performance of the athletes was really incredible. The goal of this discipline was to jump from both feet, high kick the hanging leather ball and land again on both feet and keep the balance. Why was that an incredible show? Athletes were able to hit a leather ball which was higher than they could reach from the ground by hand.
Everybody was curious about this discipline! We were patiently waiting for it until midnight, but it was definitely worth it! You don’t see something like this every day, maybe once in a lifetime. We watched the whole "action" with an open mouth. They brought 8 dead seals to the center of the sports hall. Competing ladies were then choosing their seals one by one. Bigger seals were taken first and I wondered why, but I understood it very soon. Each competitor was using her traditional "Ulu" knife. When everybody was ready the competition (or should I say rather "slaughterhouse"?) started!
The competition has 2 criteria: time and precision – there should be no meat left on the skin. It was crazy to watch this contest! The first lady was done with her seal in 3 minutes! Incredible Performance! The last competitor was a lady with the smallest seal – it took her about 8 minutes to finish the whole seal.
How does the seal taste like?
Unexpected things happened - organizers decided to give seals to people from the audience after the competition. We wouldn´t be us not to be curious and don’t ask for a piece of meat. The smell of the meat was strong, but several plastic bags were good enough to keep it for a while safely in our backpack.
Since we got home late and there was no internet to find out how to prepare
The smell was rolling all over the house, and our roommates noticed it as well 😀 I would compare this smell to a slightly spoiled fish. When the meat was fried, the fish smell disappeared. It looked like a piece of beef but it certainly didn’t smell like that. After we tasted the first piece of it we could say that it tastes like a liver!
Later we learned that the seal meat can be prepared in several ways. Most usually, Eskimos eat seal meat raw or they dry it. Anyway - in the original language ESKIMO means the raw meat eater.
Besides the sporting event, we witnessed
Miss of World Eskimo Olympics
You might wonder who was the winner of this contest. We were really surprised when the portly lady climbed up the podium. But we soon realized that Miss Eskimo wasn’t only about beauty, but also about traditional skills, knowledge of Eskimo language and other traditions.
Blanket Toss - Nalukataq
This discipline was created to celebrate a successful whaling season. The blanket itself was originally made of old covers of whaling boats. This cover was made of seal skins, which were sewed together. Nalukataq was perhaps the most attractive discipline for the audience. 52 volunteers were needed for this discipline! Volunteers from the audience helped wit "throwing" the athlete into the air. The blanket itself had a rope with 52 handles around. Volunteers were holding them and pulling in the rhythm as was needed. There were few easy pulls at the beginning when the athlete was constantly in contact with the blanket. Last pull was strong and the athlete was thrown into the air - up to 9 meters above the ground!
Style, figures, and landing were evaluated. Some athletes showed great performances - flips weren’t an exception. And we enjoyed this competition as those volunteers, it was really nice to be involved in such an event!
Indian Stick P
This discipline used to be actually
Other disciplines that took place in other days of the World Eskimo Olympics:
- Whale skin eating
- Fish cutting
- Race of the torch - the winner has the honor to start the next World Eskimo Olympics
- Drop the bomb, one-foot high kick, and other hardly imaginable disciplines.
You can check more information on official Alaska website.
During the breaks, there performed traditional dances with music and the audience was also invited to join.
Witnessing the World Eskimo Olympics in Fairbanks was one of the greatest experiences of our Alaskan summer. And what discipline would you choose to compete in?
Read more about Alaska:
- Alaska Travel Guide
- Alaska – The land of extremes and untouched nature
- Alaska by train
- Work and Travel Alaska – Covered Wagon Guide Job
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