Culture, Kayaks

“Societies’, wrote Mauss, ‘live by borrowing from each other, but they define themselves rather by the refusal of borrowing than by its acceptance” (..)

“Cultures were, effectively, structures of refusal.” (..) “It’s easy enough to see how this could be true of aesthetics – styles of art, music or table manners – but surprisingly, Mauss found, it extended even to technologies which held obvious adaptive or utilitarian benefits. He was intrigued, for example, by the fact that Athabascans in Alaska steadfastly refused to adopt Inuit kayaks, despite these being self-evidently more suited to the environment than their own boats. Inuit, for their part, refused to adopt Athabascan snowshoes.”

so Inuit kayaks are superior to Athabascan kayaks. This was an excerpt of The Dawn of Everithing by Graeber and Wengrow and I am trying to understand in which way the inuit boat is superior to the athabascan one. Let’s see

Googling i get a plan of an athabascan canoe from a museum, it’s a birch bark canoe, open canoe it seems, link×11.pdf

Now the Inuit kayak is the closed kayak that everyone identifies with the traditional kayak, made of whale bones and covered of skins, I can imagine its better performance, slender and more agile better fit for hunting, photo from wikipedia. Reading around I gather thers is a great variety of Inuit kayaks in different areas of the Arctic. But then, which one is the best?

It is an Aleutian kayak the Russians named Bardaika, which I got to know reading Analogia by George Dyson, who loves this kind of kayak and helped the world rediscover it, becoming a producer. And by the way, theu are the best kayaks according to Dyson himself, but I believe.

“The Aleut kayak’s bifurcated bow attracted the most attention, but there was just as much genius in the design of its compound, truncate stern, evolved to facilitate planing at high speed and minimize the quarter wave, which often exacts more of a penalty than the bow wave in a high-speed craft.” (..) “Fifteen years after the last baidarka left Nikolski, I was twelve years old, living in New Jersey, and began building a crude wood-framed kayak, oblivious to the ten thousand years of accumulated knowledge that was evaporating, at that very moment, four thousand miles away. I could have gone to Nikolski, Unalaska, or Atka and learned from the last of the master builders who were still alive at the time, instead of stumbling around on my own.” This is from Dyson’s book.

From wikipedia “A prominent feature of a baidarka is its forked bow (bifurcated bow). Very lightweight and maneuverable, it was made out of seal skin sewed only by Aleut women, over a frame made strictly of drift wood (since no trees grow in the Aleutian Islands), bone, and sinew. It was treated as a living being by Aleut men, and it was taboo for women to handle them once completed.”

I took the picture from the site of this producer of beautiful wooden baidarkas

Dyson’s Baidarka company website with a lots of beautiful pictures and a builder’s journal


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