Monday Morning Musings

Posted on October 26, 2020 under Monday Morning Musings with one comment

Mary Arngak tending to the qulliq


It seems to be a global phenomenon. More and more people are working their butts off trying to preserve their culture and heritage. Family trees have become all the rage. Until Covid made its unwanted appearance, we could attend music festivals, food fairs, visit museums and art galleries and experience the wonders of other countries.

In my hometown of Antigonish, Nova Scotia our very own Antigonish Highland Society has been in existence for over 150 years promoting Scottish heritage. I guess preserving heritage is not all that new, come to think of it. It is more likely because I have become more interested in culture. God knows I could use some!

I came to the north to teach but truth be told, I really came up here to learn. Most Canadians will never have the opportunity to see the north. I hope you are enjoying the experience vicariously.

This past week, I was given the opportunity to learn more about Inuit culture on two occasions. On Tuesday, a group of teachers went to the museum to listen to Maali give a presentation on the various plants found on the tundra. I won’t list them all here. There were 47 in total with pictures and descriptions. Amalinaaq; Imugaq(She loves me; she loves me not. You can remove the petals);Kakillanaqutik (used to protect the pads of dog’s feet); Kimminaqutik (for snow blindness); Mamaittuqutik (Labrador tea), Maniq, a moss for lighting fires; Pujurtuq (Like a puff ball) -if stepped on then it will rain within a few days; Suputik . It is similar to dandelions- when they are fully ripened and turning to puff balls, it is a signal to start hunting caribou. The plant is also applied to the belly buttons of newborns and it is also a source of fuel; Uivvaujait (used in tea and a form of tobacco).

My personal favourite? Silliit. Actually, silliit is not a plant but a rock with healing powers. It is found near the Bay. You can warm them up and apply them to painful areas of the body. It is an older version of a “magic bag”. I plan to try this out on my arthritic knee.

We had a wonderful evening and were served tea, bannock and a variety of jams and preserves made from local berries. Thanks so much to Maali.

Before school started in September, I went over to the museum to visit with Mary Arngak. She is the Pingualuit National Park Director and she runs the museum. She is held in high regard as she is involved  in many aspects of community life here in Kangiqsujuaq. I went there to talk about the wonderful archives stored at the museum including many stories gathered from the elders in the community. I hope to spend some times looking at archival material for my next book.

As we were talking, Mary offered to come and spend time with my students to share her knowledge and wisdom. Last Thursday she came to the school along with Lydia, a colleague and well- known teacher of throat singing.

For nearly an hour and a half, these two wonderful women kept my students enthralled. Nobody was paying as close attention as I was. Mary started off by showing us a qulliq. (Pronounced hoo lick). A qulliq is carved from soapstone and is used as a source of heat, a lamp, a dryer, and as a telephone and television! More on that later. The qulliqs come in different sizes. Hunters carried small ones with them on the land and larger ones were used to keep people warm inside igloos. Different mosses are used as fuel and they are mixed with oil. In previous times, the source of the oil was beluga fat but these days, it has been replaced by any one of the commercial cooking oils. The moss is lit and carefully moved around the edges of the qulliq as the fire spreads very slowly. Each of my students took a turn tending the fire. As mentioned, the qulliq is used mainly as a source of heat and as a dryer. The stick used to tend the fire is called a tarqutik. It is also a communication device. If a family wanted to invite friends for a meal, someone would take the tarqutik and tap on the qulliq with the sequence of 2,1,2,1,2,2,2,1 taps. This was the precursor to the telephone! And as far as television goes, what is better than gazing at a fire. There are entire television channels dedicated to fire gazing.

Lydia, wearing a stunning Amautik, the parka with the pouch for carrying a baby, gave us a demonstration of throat singing. I was mesmerized with the variety of sounds that she was able to make using just her throat. She told us that the sounds were used to mimic the sounds of nature, rivers, animals and insects. I was amazed when two of my students joined her. They have been taking lessons in throat singing from Lydia. Watching them trade sounds back and forth was quite thrilling. Seeing my students in their own element was very moving and inspirational. The teacher, once again, learning from his students.

Lydia also played a traditional drum during some of the songs that were sung after the presentation. Mary had compiled a number of songs written in Inuktitut and translated into words that I could read. Mary is a wonderful musician and has recorded a CD of songs. She asked me to accompany her and I was happy to oblige. I surprised her when I sang Taanisi, a song with lyrics in Inuktitut and English.

I want to thank Mary and Lydia for sharing so freely of their time, knowledge and talent. It is one of the highlights of my time in the north.

There can be no higher calling than to preserve and protect one’s culture and heritage.

Have a great week.


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