Understanding Traditional Whale Hunting in the Faroe Islands (and why PETA can’t just come through petitions blazing)
It is amazing what you begin to see once someone makes you aware of its existence. In my historical ecology class, we were discussing the settling of Iceland, and during our module, a PhD student came in to discuss his work in the Faroe Islands. I had not heard of the Faroe Islands prior to his presentation, and so the annual whale hunt was definitely not on my radar.
No sooner than the discussion regarding culture, practice, and context of this whaling tradition ended, did I start to see PeTA posts about stopping this ‘slaughter’! For various reasons, I am not a PeTA fan, but I appreciate some of the work they do, and understand why they do it. (https://secure.peta.org/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=911)
But I as I began to read some of this ‘anti’ whaling’ information, and I started to laugh. It was so emotional and offered no explanation of why it was done and why it could stop. It was all, ‘look at the sad faces and blood’. I’m often annoyed by these type of snapshot explanations that take a singular aspect of a much more complex issue and reduce it to a Hallmark card, but I won’t get into that. It doesn’t matter whether or not I agree with this practice (BTDubs, I have no intention of whaling- I don’t have the heart for it). I won’t insert that commentary here. But it got me to thinking about the ways people go about creating change or ‘manufacturing consent’ within a cultural context.
The literature noted, “the Faroe Islands are allowed to preserve separate laws that allow inhabitants to continue the whale slaughter.” I wonder if they stopped to think about why that was, especially considering that the practice had been outlawed in all other parts of Denmark.
So, I did some more informal research and discovered that this practice is one that goes back over 1000 years, and involves the whole community. Does that mean that it can’t or won’t be changed? Absolutely not. However, this brings up the debate about creating change through forced ideas or practices (law enforcement) without respecting the cultural context of a particular act.
Once upon a time, this whaling tradition was a major part of the diet and economy of this area. In fact, it still is. It probably is the reason that the community was able to exist and grow. There is a community reverence to this practice, however barbaric some may see it as.
Another point that PeTA lovers or the whaling opponents may not want to consider, is that if this tradition has been occurring over such a vast amount of time, there has been an ecological relationship that has developed, and what would be the function or dysfunction if that relationship were to just stop?
The meat of whale has now been deemed ‘unsafe to eat’ because of rising mercury and toxin levels (debatable). So, why does the practice still occur, if they can’t utilize the whale as it once was used? Do you really think a few petitions will change a ritualized, cultural practice developed out of necessity? Well, government regulation of cultural practices has worked in the past to help to move societies “forward”, so it’s not unheard of, but think about the other ways that change has been created through cultural consensus?
This is probably a good time to through in some Antonio Gramsci (http://www.english.emory.edu/Bahri/hegemony.html) Perhaps this change to end “whaling in the Faroe Islands” will only occur when the folks in power no longer need it to occur, or there is no incentive for it to occur.
So, the question becomes, ‘what is the incentive for killing a whole bunch of whales you can’t eat or do anything with?’ Well, what about the tourism industry? That’s right! People come from all over to watch these whales get dead!
Have they really stopped eating the meat? If not, will this change cause an overall reshaping of the Island’s ability to feed its people? It appears that there is still consumption of the meat despite it being deemed unsafe.
And, I must return back to the community preservation of this tradition. It is STRONG. There is art and literature, division of labor (indicating social roles), a complex communication system developed around it. And the meat is not exported, or sold in supermarkets, only furthering the argument of the community reliance on the practice. Less than 3% of Faroese land is suitable for grain and vegetables. So, tell me, what is the solution?