This superbly detailed account of nineteenth-century village life in northwest Alaska opens on the day in 1826 when a small party of Point Hope Iñupiat encounter a British naval ship. It concludes in 1909 when their missionary priest persuades the community to gather thousands of ancestral burials and relocate them in ground he has unilaterally consecrated.
Tom Lowenstein's highly readable volume traces the impact of commercial whale hunters, traders, and missionaries on Point Hope, the oldest continuously inhabited village in North America. While presenting the stories of key figures, he illuminates how disease, alcohol, material change, and a foreign culture profoundly influenced this isolated community.
During field trips in the 1970s and 1980s, the Tom Lowenstein recorded traditional narratives and songs at Point Hope and in other Iñupiaq communities. This research resulted in two books about precontact life in Point Hope, Alaska. A Guggenheim Fellow in 1979, his other writings include studies of Buddhist thought and art and several volumes of his own poetry. He lives in London, England.
An account of the founding of Port Hope, an Iñupiat settlement in northwestern Alaska, [Ultimate Americans] is the most authoritative account of this community and one of the richer ethnohistorical accounts of the relationships between settlers and Iñupiat. . . . The study focuses on the life-histories of two individuals: Ataŋauraq, a mercurial Iñupiat leader, and John B. Driggs, a ‘bohemian’ missionary. . . . In between these two biographies, Lowenstein provides the reader with excellent chapters giving details of economic relations, the earlier history of contact, and the health and spiritual life of the local population.