Dhr. Dr. Rob van Ginkel
(Universität Amsterdam)

Bloody Traditions and Clashing Cultures: On Whaling in Western Europe


Few people in Western Europe currently support whaling, perhaps with the exception of some so-called ‘indigenous’ modes of hunting. Killing marine mammals is considered to be wrong and heavily tabooed. However, this consensus-based stand is a relatively recent phenomenon. Only five decades ago, whaling was a source of national pride in several European societies. The shift of opinion occurred rather rapidly and whales turned into the venerated icons of everything that is considered sublime in nature. Yet there are still communities that kill whales, at the expense of being despised and dehumanized by anti-whaling campaigners and their supporters. In my presentation, I will deal with the symbolic significance of whales and the cultural contestations that whalers face. Their traditions and cultural claims are delegitimized and said to be inauthentic. The discourse is well beyond the issue of animal rights and ethics and centres on cultural rights and wrongs. The prime ethnographic example that I will use is the Faroese pilot whale drive, with some comparative notes on the exploitation of other large sea creatures.

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